How to understand your baby’s cry

How to understand why your baby's crying

No mum likes to listen to her baby cry, but figuring out the cause of the tears isn't always that easy. Maternity nurse, Nicki Pope at Tinies Childcare helps you figure out what baby wants


How many different types of baby cry are there?

Each baby has their own cries but there are five main cries you can listen out for.
Hunger cries
Often begin quietly and can have a low pitch and escalate in to a rhythmic pattern until you feed them and can take a while to calm down and settle into their feed if you haven't picked up on their hunger cues.
High pitched cries
Usually mean baby is feeling some sort of pain; usually a high pitched shriek followed by a wailing cry which has no pattern to it and will carry on until baby is comforted or pain has gone.
Soft cries
Often a sign of tiredness. If baby is already where they sleep they may not need any attention as many use a soft cry to settle themselves into sleep so it's fine just to stand back and listen. New mums soon learn to read their baby's cries.
Loud angry cries
This can mean baby is over tired or sometimes over stimulated. Your first instinct will be to want to hold them and cuddle them but they may pull away and cry even more. Usually wrapping them in a swaddle and making a shhh-ing noise and taking them in a quiet room will help.
A low moaning cry
This is accompanied by a fever or anything that you deem unusual for your baby can indicate illness and needs medical attention.

If you've tried all the obvious things to settle baby, feeding, winding, nappy change, sleep and all have failed, what's next?

Sometimes babies just need to be held and reassured. Lots of books say never cuddle your baby for any length of time as it will spoil them. Remember as scary as you find being a brand new parent, your baby is also new to everything and the world can be a scary place.
Providing baby is in good health and older than six weeks but still isn't settling, try wrapping them in a swaddle and laying them in their bed, make shhhing noises and rub their belly or patting them rhythmically.
Take them outside or to another room; sometimes a change in temperature, lighting or noise can distract them enough to start calming down.
Noise can work with some babies like a low constant noise such as a hoover, tumble dryer or the noise of a radio between stations can even be used.

If you're baby is crying in pain, and you've given medicine, what do you advise to help baby settle while medicine takes effect?

Hold them close to you. Sometimes a baby sling comes in handy if baby is old enough; walk around with them, use slow rocking movement talking in a slow calming voice and slow shhing noises.
If after 40 minutes baby is still crying in pain and is under 12 weeks and shows any other signs of illness it is worth seeking medical advice.

If baby is crying for no obvious reason, what can you do?

Go through the usual list with baby - hunger, dirty/wet nappy, over tired/over stimulated, wind, too cold/hot, unwell. Sometimes going through them again and checking you can work it out. For instance, they could have been hungry all along but had gotten into such a state crying that when offered a feed they turned away from it so it's worth trying again.
Check baby is comfortable and no seams of clothing are rubbing or loose threads wrapped around toes. Some babies do cry for no apparent reason and if they are well and healthy they will eventually grow out of it.

Is holding baby continuously while crying the best advice?

Most new parent's first instinct is to hold your baby while they cry and there's nothing wrong with doing so but remember yourself too. Constant crying can wear you down. Place baby in a safe place and make yourself a drink or a sandwich or pop to the loo. If baby's crying really affects you, enlist the help of family or trusted friends to give yourself a break and take a breather. Take a walk; sometimes the action of the pram will calm baby and although the crying is still there, it canseems less than when you're isolated. Most people you meet on your walk will have been there or know someone who has and will sympathise.

How long a period of crying would you say warrants seeking medical advice?

You will soon learn you babies pattern or crying and how different each cry sounds. If baby has their pain cry and is not usually unwell but is crying more than usual and accompanied with any other symptoms such as fever or a low moaning cry and is unresponsive, seek medical advice immediately.
If your baby is generally ok but their cries are persistent and inconsolable this could be a symptom of colic, reflux and allergy or intolerance to substances in formula or breast milk. This is not as urgent but discuss with your GP.

What would you say to a new mum who just can't seem to settle her crying baby?

Many new parents feel it's something they are doing wrong and they can feel rejected by their baby and frustrated. Remember you are not the cause of the crying.

Don't beat yourself up over it. If your baby is feeding well and having plenty of wet and dirty nappies and you have checked the usual reason that causes crying then you have done all you can. Some babies are just more sensitive to change and the new world they live in.

Keep calm, look after yourself as well as baby (eat, drink, rest) and ask for help.

Remember, periods of crying in a healthy full term baby is not going to cause any lasting harm and it can be a stressful time for any couple that are new parents. Don't blame yourself or each other!

If you need to talk but don't feel there is anyone you can open up to, you can call Cry-sis on 0845 1228669.


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