A crying baby is often one of the biggest frustrations that new parents face. We fall for the unrealistic expectation that our parenting instincts will kick in immediately and we’ll be able to identify what each and every one of our baby’s whimpers means, only to end up on the verge of tears and feeling parentally deficient when we can’t decipher his cries. We’re also made to believe that a good baby is a baby who doesn’t cry. Sure, the absence of crying in a content baby is most certainly less stressful than the alternative. But be aware of the following:
- A healthy newborn will typically increase how often he cries over the first few months – starting around two hours a day at 2 weeks old to a peak of up to three hours per day at a couple months of age.
- Babies cry to communicate. In other words, a crying baby should never be considered synonymous with a “bad baby.” Instead, it’s worth taking some time to try and figure out what your baby’s cries mean.
Before running through the laundry list of common causes of crying, I find it helpful to first have parents consider what their baby’s cries don’t mean. As adults, we tend to assume that people cry because they’re upset, hurt, or both. Babies, on the other hand, have the uncanny ability to burst into tears for a whole host of other reasons. Crying is one of the few means of communication your baby has to convey his wants, whims and needs.
So, what should you make of your baby’s cries? First, consider the basics:
- Is your baby trying to tell you he wants to play…or that he wants to be left alone?
- Is he hungry…or does his diaper need changing?
- Is he gassy or in need of burping?
- Perhaps he is too hot, too cold, or just ready to go to sleep.
All are common causes worth considering. Of course every baby is different, and each communicates uniquely as a result. In my experience, for example, none of my three children ever cried about a dirty diaper, but I’ve certainly known other babies who did. One of my three cried like crazy if he had to wait more than three seconds to be fed, while the other two were more patient. My firstborn had me stumped for weeks until I finally discovered that her ever-so-convincing cries of distress were actually her way of saying, “I’m really tired and will fall asleep if you stop over-stimulating me in your counter-productive attempts to get me to stop crying.”
Even as a trained pediatrician, it took time to understand each of my babies’ unique communication patterns, and discover what made them cry (not to mention, learning what to do about it). Even then, I can assure you there were times when we simply didn’t understand each other and they were fed when they were tired or put down to rest when their diapers needed to be changed.
The bottom line is that babies cry for a variety of reasons, and although figuring out why is an acquired parenting skill, it’s not one you need to undertake alone. Should you ever find yourself faced with a baby who is inconsolable, seems to be in real distress, or just won’t stop crying, never hesitate to enlist your pediatrician’s help in assessing the situation, as crying can, in some cases, be a sign of illness, colic, or a more serious problem.
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