- Babies communicate through crying. Understanding different cry styles helps you meet their needs.
- Identify specific cries: Hunger, Discomfort, Sleepiness, Pain, Boredom/Overstimulation.
- Responsive parenting is key. Immediate attention in the early months, varying approaches later.
- If crying persists, ensure basic needs are met, soothe with gentle actions, and remember, taking a break is okay.
In the first months of life, babies can’t state their needs with words, but they most certainly are communicating. Crying is your baby’s way of communicating with you and learning to understand the different types of cries will make for a happier baby and calmer parents.
Through careful observation, you will eventually be able to identify your baby’s specific needs according to the style of crying.
Different situations, different cries
- Hunger: As a newborn, your baby will cry most frequently due to hunger. A newborn’s stomach is less than one inch wide. Since this tiny tummy fills up quickly, newborns must be fed frequently. Your baby’s hungry crying will be accompanied by side-to-side head movements or rooting (breast seeking). Older babies may gnaw or suck at their hands and produce rhythmic strong cries. A hungry baby usually cannot be distracted for long.
- Discomfort: A wet or dirty diaper, heat, or cold all make your baby uncomfortable. This type of crying is typically softer and intermittent. Whining and crying may stop briefly and then begin again when the baby is uncomfortable, and it’s possible to distract them briefly with toys, caresses, or movement.
- Sleep or fatigue: A sleepy baby usually cries before falling asleep on their own. To find out if it’s a sleepy cry, look for tightly closed eyes or yawning. Listen for a low cry that intensifies and then dies down again.
- Pain: A baby may experience pain from an illness or an external impact, but most of your baby’s pains will be associated with gas, constipation, or teething. Cries of pain are typically intense and rhythmic; your child shows their distress with a sad face and lots of leg and arm movements.
- Boredom, annoyance, and overstimulation: Babies have mood swings just like the rest of us. This cry is typically whiny, nasal, and builds up slowly. When your baby is crying in this manner and you’ve ruled out other reasons, it’s possible to distract your child with songs, toys, movement, or even let them cry for a bit to release tension.
Babies are born with different temperaments. Some cry easily and often, while others are happy and calm in almost any circumstance. What’s important is to be attuned to your baby’s own patterns and types of crying. Years ago, it was acceptable to let babies cry for extended periods of time to avoid spoiling them and to “exercise the lungs”. More recent research supports more responsive parenting, understanding the needs of the baby, and keeping them as comfortable as possible.
According to M.D and author Harvey Karp, recent research shows that timely containment and comfort enhance neurological development, reduce feeding and sleep difficulties, and promote the capacity for future emotional self-regulation. In these studies, it was noted that babies who spent more time in contact with parents reduced their episodes of crying by approximately 50 percent.
How to manage crying?
During the first months, the best way to handle crying is to attend your baby immediately every time they cry.
However, as your child gets older and before they start talking, you can vary your approach to crying. Of course, it’s important to always attend to basic needs first: check for signs of hunger or thirst, wet or dirty diapers, fever, hot or cold body temperature, or any external source of pain. If these basic needs are covered, you can calm your crying baby with any of the following actions:
- Pat your little one on the tummy or back, making soft sounds, and verbalize what you think they may be feeling.
- Sucking motions are also calming, a pacifier or the baby’s own little hand sometimes does the trick.
- Swaddle your baby and turn on white noise, such as a hairdryer or hand vacuum.
- Carry your baby in your arms, rock them, or take a short walk in the stroller or baby carrier.
- Entertain your child by playing with toys, a rattle, or other objects.
- Sing or play some music, that usually calms a baby.
When nothing works…
If you’ve tried everything, eliminated the possibility of pain, illness, or injury, and your baby still won’t stop crying, it’s time to take a break. Put them in a safe spot and read a magazine, drink a cup of tea, or ask your partner for help. Reassure your baby that you’re listening and close by, and they may even self-soothe or fall asleep. A crying baby is not a reflection on your parenting. If you’re meeting your baby’s needs, try to relax and focus on enjoying all those times your little one isn’t crying.
Would you like to know more about each of the stages of your child’s development? Download Kinedu! This app allows you to better understand your baby’s milestones and offers personalized activities to support them in all areas of development.