Facts about babies’ crying

To hear your baby cry is, at first, one of the most joyful occasions in your life. However, prolonged crying can quickly turn into a parent’s worst nightmare soon after that. When your baby won’t stop crying, you might feel frustrated or anxious that you’re doing something wrong, or even angry. It just seems like you and your baby will never connect! But you shouldn’t despair. All you have to do is weather those first few months. After that, things will become much easier and you and your baby will develop a friendship like no other.

Here are a few facts about babies’ crying that might help you through your hard times:

  • A baby is not aware of the effects his or her crying is having on you. This means that your baby doesn’t cry to make you angry or to manipulate you, but simply because it is his /her only means of communication. It is only around 10 months of age that some experts believe babies change their crying goals.
  • A newborn baby will not actually cry tears for the first three or four weeks of life because their tear ducts have not formed yet. This sometimes lasts all the way to four or five months of age.
  • Don’t believe that babies’ crying is pointless. Researchers have shown that a baby’s cry is specially designed to make you take notice. Indeed, after only three days from giving birth, a mother can distinguish the crying of her own baby in a ward full of other babies.
  • You might be wondering if the amount of time your baby spends crying is normal. Well, statistics show that crying during your baby’s first months of life follows a certain pattern, known as a crying curve. This means that crying increases at two or three weeks of age (about one hour a day spent crying), peaks between six and eight weeks (with up to two hours a day), and then gradually slows down, with the lowest level at about four months of age. It is also known that babies cry more in the late afternoon and early evening than in any other time of the day. This is the pattern of what you would call a normal crier.
  • About 20% of babies, however, are excessive or high criers, also known as “colicky” babies. The excessive crier can cry up to six hours a day, as opposed to the normal crier with only two hours. They can do this for even two hours straight and this can carry on for several days or even months. Some scientists have previously related colic with pain or discomfort in the stomach area, but nowadays it is believed that about 60% of a colicky baby’s crying is because of fussiness. Around 30% is due to genuine upset and only 10% is emblematic of true colic, which means that it cannot be soothed.

An essential, but extremely difficult question for all parents is, why do babies cry? Here are some possible reasons:

  • Hunger or thirst – This is recognized as the most common reason babies cry, especially from birth until about 3 weeks of age.
  • Tiredness – Too much excitement or a busy event can be exhausting for a baby, which will make him/ her irritable and even unable to sleep.
  • Closeness – Sometimes, your baby might cry because they simply want human contact and closeness. This is only natural since your baby is most likely used to being hugged, swayed and rocked by the womb.
  • Wind – A newborn’s digestive system is immature and can therefore produce a lot of wind.
  • Overstimulation – It’s only natural that after nine months spent in the calm and dark environment of the womb, your baby will feel overwhelmed with all the visual, tactile and auditory stimulus of the real world.
  • Lack of comfort – This can happen because your baby feels too hot or too cold or because of a wet or pooey nappy or any other such reason.
  • Pain or illness – If something hurts, then your baby will cry a lot and loudly.

So what can you do as a parent to help your baby in distress? Here are a few ideas:

  • For young babies, carrying them around can help you reduce their distress as you can recreate the movement a baby experiences in utero.
  • Touch and skin-to-skin contact is another proven calming technique for babies. Researchers found that through touch a parent helps a baby regulate their body temperature, heart rate and even cope with stress. This sort of contact is known to stimulate the release of the hormone called oxytocin (the love hormone) both in the parent and in the baby.
  • Breastfeeding is yet another effective way to soothe your baby. It combines the skin-to-skin technique and you tend to their nutritional needs at the same time.
  • As the first three months of an infant’s life are generally referred to as “The Fourth Trimester”, recreating familiar sounds from the womb has also proven effective in managing your child’s distress. White noise is a great way to calm a distressed baby.

Of course, it would be much more convenient for everyone if you could prevent the crying before it actually happens. This can be tricky, but here are a few ways you can make sure your baby doesn’t start crying:

  • Feed your baby regularly, every 3 to 4 hours and for some newborns it may be even more than that.
  • Don’t let your baby get overtired. Signs such as yawning, eye-rubbing and looking glazed are indicators of your baby being tired. At this point you should try and get them swaddled and into their cot for a nap.
  • Try to make sure that your baby’s nappy is clean, particularly before you put them down for a sleep.
  • In the case of overstimulation, you can help your baby calm down before they even start crying, by watching out for early signs, such as avoiding eye contact, jerkiness etc. You can try rocking, swaddling or even letting him or her suck on a finger or a dummy if that helps.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.