Your baby is fully dependent on you. You provide her with the food, warmth and comfort that she needs. When she cries, it's her way of communicating any or all of those needs and of ensuring a response from you.
It's sometimes hard to work out which need your baby wants you to take care of. But as your baby grows she'll learn other ways of communicating with you. For example, she'll get better at eye contact, making noises and smiling.
In the meantime, here are some reasons why your baby may cry, and what you can try to soothe her:
I'm crying because I'm hungry
Hunger is one of the most common reasons why your baby will cry, especially if she's a newborn. The younger your baby is, the more likely it is that she's hungry.
Your baby's stomach is small and can't hold very much. So it won't take long before it empties. If you're breastfeeding, offer your breast, even if her last feed doesn't seem that long ago. This is called feeding on demand.
If you're formula-feeding, your baby may not need more milk for at least two hours after her last feed. Every baby is different though. If your baby is consistently not finishing her feeds, she may prefer to drink formula little and often. In this case, you could try offering her another feed early.
Your baby may not stop crying immediately, but let her keep feeding if she wants to.
I just feel like crying
If your baby's less than about four months old, she may cry more in the late afternoon and evening. This is normal, and doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with your baby.
Persistent crying in an otherwise healthy baby is sometimes called colic. Your baby may become flushed and frustrated, and refuse your efforts to comfort her. She may clench her fists, draw up her knees, or arch her back.
Some people associate colic with tummy problems, maybe caused by an allergy or intolerance to something in your breastmilk or a type of formula milk.
These days though, we have a greater understanding of how normal this pattern of baby crying is. Some experts think colic is not linked to tummy troubles, but is instead a stage called the "period of PURPLE crying®". PURPLE is an acronym and the letters stand for:
- Peak of crying. Your baby may cry more each week, the most at two months, then less at between three months and five months.
- Unexpected crying. It can come and go and you don't know why.
- Resists soothing. Unfortunately, your baby may not stop crying, no matter what you try.
- Pain-like face. Your baby may look as if she is in pain, but it's unlikely that she is.
- Long-lasting periods of crying. It can last for several hours a day.
- Evening. Your baby is most likely to cry more in the late afternoon and evening.
Living with a baby who regularly cries inconsolably can be very stressful, but there are tactics you can try to help you cope.
I'm crying because I need to be held
Your baby needs lots of cuddling, physical contact and reassurance to comfort her. So her crying may mean that she just wants to be held.
Swaying and singing to her while you hold her may give her added comfort.
When you hold your baby close she may be soothed by your heartbeat, the warmth of your body and your smell. You could try babywearing to keep her close to you for longer spells.
I'm crying because I'm tired and I need a rest
Babies often find it hard to get to sleep, particularly if they're over-tired. You'll probably become aware of your baby's sleep cues soon after birth. Whining and crying at the slightest thing, staring blankly into space, and being quiet and still are just three examples.
Lots of attention from doting visitors may over-stimulate your baby and make it hard for her to sleep. Try taking her to a quiet room before bed to help her calm down and switch off.
I'm crying because I'm too cold or too hot
You can check whether your baby is too hot or too cold by feeling her tummy. Don't be guided by the temperature of your baby's hands or feet. It's normal for them to feel cold.
Use sheets and cellular blankets as bedding in your baby's cot or Moses basket. If her tummy feels too hot, remove a blanket, and if it feels cold, simply add one.
Keep the temperature of your baby's room at about 18 degrees C. Place her down to sleep on her back with her feet at the foot of her bed. That way she can't wriggle down under the blankets and become too hot.
Take care not to overdress your baby, or she may become too hot. She'll generally need to wear one more layer of clothing than you to be comfortable.
I'm crying because I need my nappy changing
Your baby may protest if she has a wet or soiled nappy. Some babies don't seem to mind unless their skin feels irritated.
If your baby doesn't like having her nappy changed, it may be because of the strange feeling of cold air on her skin. After a week or so, you'll probably be a pro at quick nappy changes. Otherwise, distracting your baby with a song or a toy she can look at during changes may work well.
I'm crying because I don't feel well
If your baby's unwell, she'll probably cry in a different tone from the one you're used to. It may be weaker, more urgent, continuous, or high-pitched. If she usually cries a lot but has become unusually quiet, this may also be a sign that she's not well.
Teething may also cause your baby to be more upset than usual. Babies are often irritable and restless in the week before a new tooth comes through. Learn the other signs of teething to look out for.
However, nobody knows your baby as well as you do. If you feel that something's not right, call your GP, midwife or health visitor. Health professionals will always take your concerns seriously.
Call your doctor straight away if your baby is persistently crying and has a fever, is vomiting, or has diarrhoea or constipation.
If your baby has difficulty breathing through her crying call 111 for advice immediately or take her to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E).
My baby's still crying. How can I soothe her?
As you gradually get to know your baby's personality you'll learn which techniques work best for her. If a cuddle or a feed doesn't do the job, these suggestions may help:
Play a constant sound
In your womb (uterus), your baby could hear the beat of your heart. She probably enjoys being held close to you now because your heartbeat is so familiar.
Other noises mimic the sounds she'll have heard in your womb. The repetitive noise of a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer may lull your baby to sleep. Or you could supervise her on the floor next to the washing machine. The steady rhythm of the machine can have a calming effect.
You can also download white-noise sounds or a white-noise app to your phone, or buy a white-noise CD created for babies.
Most babies love to be gently rocked. You could rock her:
- while walking around
- in a rocking chair
- in a baby swing
You could also try taking her for a ride in your car or for a walk in her pushchair.
Try a massage or a tummy rub
Using massage oils or cream, gently rub her back or tummy in a clockwise direction.
Doing this regularly may help your baby to cry and fuss less. However, the best time for massage is when your baby is settled and alert. If she is crying during the massage, then stop, because she's telling you she's had enough.
Try a different feeding position
Some babies cry during or after feeds. If you're breastfeeding, you may find that improving the way your baby latches on helps her to feed calmly, without crying. Ask your health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor to check your positioning.
If your breastfed or bottle-fed baby seems to have painful wind during feeds, she may prefer to feed in a more upright position.
Burp your baby after a feed by holding her against your shoulder and gently patting or rubbing her back. If your baby cries straight after a feed though, she may still be hungry.
Let her suck on something
For some babies, the need to suck is very strong. If you're breastfeeding, you could let your baby suckle your breast for comfort. Alternatively, let her suck on your clean finger or knuckle. Most babies will never need a dummy, but this is another option to try if you think it may help her.
Give her a warm bath
A warm bath may help your baby to calm down. Check the water temperature before placing her in the bath. It should be about 37 degrees C to 38 degrees C. If you don't have a thermometer, dip your elbow into the water. It should feel neither hot nor cold.
Bear in mind that a bath may also make her cry more. Not all babies enjoy the sensation of being in water. In time, you'll get to know your baby's likes and dislikes.
What should I do if nothing seems to help?
It is normal for babies to cry, so try not to blame yourself if your baby simply won't be soothed.
If your baby cries almost constantly she won't do herself lasting harm. But it's likely to put you and your partner under strain. If she's unhappy and resists every effort to calm her down, you may feel rejected and frustrated.
But you are not the cause of her crying. Sometimes, simply accepting that you have a baby who cries a lot can help. If you've met your baby's immediate needs and tried everything you can to calm her, it's time to take care of yourself:
- Put your baby in her cot and let her cry for a few minutes out of your range of hearing. Take deep breaths and let yourself relax for a moment or two.
- If you and your baby are both upset and you've tried everything, call a friend or relative for support. Give yourself a break and let someone else take over for a while.
- Find a local support group or parent-and-baby group. That way you can meet other new parents in the same situation and offer each other moral support.
- Talk to your health visitor or GP about coping strategies before everything gets too much. Don't let things build up, as it could make things harder for you and your baby.
- Call a helpline. Cry-sis offers support seven days a week for parents of babies who have sleep problems or who cry excessively. Contact Cry-sis on 08451 228 669.
This crying is probably just a phase. It is very common and it will pass. As your baby grows, she'll learn new ways of communicating her needs to you. And when this happens, the excessive crying will soon stop.