Why Does My Baby Cry? 5 Things You Should Know
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When Genny was about ten weeks old, I was on my last leg. My milk supply had dropped, and Genny was not sleeping well. After about twenty minutes of napping, she would wake up and cry. If she fell asleep in my arms, she would wake up and cry when I laid her down. The same question kept flashing through my head: Why does my baby cry?
The “W” word
When you’re a new mom without any answers, the word “WHY” comes up a lot. At the time, my milk supply had dropped, leaving me asking, “why”. Of course sleep deprivation dulled my senses and my energy level, leaving me asking, “why”. But the one question that returned most frequently was “why does my baby cry?’. This left me to scour Pinterest, read free excerpts from books, and text my sister-in-laws furiously. Did I have time to read entire books? Hell nah!
Eventually, Genny and I worked out a routine, and she became a wonderful sleeper. However, looking back there are things I wish I had known. Many factors contribute to why your baby cries, but the only factor you can really change is you. Good thing you’re all your baby wants anyway!
Why do any babies cry?
Crying is a baby’s only form of communication. Research has shown that the age and development of your baby can shed some light on why he is crying. For instance, a newborn baby (that is healthy and safe) means something is going on that the baby does not understand. This baby needs his mommy (or primary caregiver) to make him feel safe about the world again. Whether in the form of a diaper change, a burping, a feeding, or simply comforting, feeling safe is the key. On the other hand, a (healthy) 14 month old who is put to bed and stands there screaming may a) need a diaper change, b) be hungry, c) be overly stimulated, d) need to know that mommy is going to come back.
Every baby is different, but every baby also has the same instinctual emotions. Depending on the developmental stage, there is usually a finite number of reasons why a baby cries. Understanding the why when it comes to dealing with our kiddos helps mamas to best respond to their needs. It also helps to avoid unneeded frustration along the way.
Most Common Reasons Babies Cry
Aside from being sick or neglected, these are some of the most common reasons babies cry. While they are broken into developmental stages, this list is cumulative. For example, a 0-3 month old may cry because he needs changing just a newborn would, and so on.
- Is hungry
- Is tired
- Needs changing
- Needs burping
- Is developing quickly
- Has colic
- Doesn’t understand something that is happening
- Needs to know his primary caregiver is coming back
It’s not until about 6 months that your baby understands that you are a person and she is also a person. This means that whenever you are away from your young baby, she may cry because she does not understand who she is without you.
A simple answer
This is something I wish I had known when Genny was small. The real answer to, “Why does my baby cry?” is “Because she needs her mama.” As her mama, my Genny simply needed reassurance that I was going to come back for her. Knowing this fact would have saved me so much anxiety and worry as a new mama!
Here are 5 answers to the big question: Why does my baby cry?
- Your baby loves and needs you, even if he is crying. Crying is a way of communicating and does not indicate that your baby does not like you or your spouse.
- Your baby feels safest with you. If you are the birth-giving mommy, then that baby knows you literally inside and out. Your smell, your voice, your touch all are characteristics that your newborn uses to differentiate you from everyone else. Even adopted babies quickly recognize these characteristics of their primary caregiver.
- Your presence makes your baby comfortable enough to develop socially, emotionally, and physically. Psychoanalyst John Bowlby said, “the point of attachment is to maintain proximity between a child and mother to promote the protection and survival of the child. When the child is confident of his mother as a secure and safe base he is free to explore the environment”.
- Nighttime is a scary time for babies and requires some reassuring from mama to feel safe. This involves establishing routines, walking through transitions, and yes going in repeatedly for additional hugs, kisses, and comfort when baby is crying. You might think this will last forever, but it honestly will not. If your baby is healthy and safe, then after a routine has been established, sleeping will come easier.
- You’re not going to spoil your baby by going to him when he cries. In fact, by doing so you are giving him exactly what he needs. If you’re having a hard time with the constant needs of your baby (girl, we’ve all been there!), talk to another mama! I’m always available for messaging if you’d like to chat. 🙂
Who is “mama”
Sometimes “mama” is an adoptive mother, a father, a grandparent, or even a nanny. The important factor is whoever is consistently meeting the needs of the baby. Who wakes her up in the morning? Who puts her to sleep at night? Who feeds her? A baby’s birth mother is a special person, unique and irreplaceable. But whoever is the primary caregiver can provide all the love and attention a baby needs as well.
Tips for keeping baby happy
Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean that you have to give up your entire life. There are definitely changes you will need to make, but here are some tips for making this transition easier. (Remember, we’re trying to avoid screaming out in the night, WHY DOES MY BABY CRY).
- Pat-Pat: Genny loooved it when we patted rhythmically on her back as an infant. It nearly always worked to calm her down.
- Swaddle: This trick works best for under 3 months old. It helps babies to feel safe and secure, much like the feeling of being in the womb. You can watch this video to learn how to swaddle correctly and safely. Always place a swaddled baby down on his back.
- Co-sleeping: This may not always be an ideal situation, but this is an especially attractive option with newborns. I would recommend investing in a Snuggle Me. This lounger helps your infant sleep with the feeling of being held. It also prevents the startle reflex, which was a big pain when Genny was small.
- Don’t Cry it Out: While your baby may eventually stop crying for you, it’s not always because he has self-coped. Sometimes a baby or toddler will decide his primary caregiver is simply not going to respond. These little ones may begin to withdraw from even his mama. A healthy alternative is to begin “sleep training” by checking on your little one in intervals. This should usually not be done until the baby is 3 months old. Begin with a short amount of time, like 3 minutes. Go through the sleepytime routine, set your baby down, and leave the room for about 3 minutes. If he still cries, go in, comfort him, then leave the room, this time for 5 minutes. Increase the time until you get to about 15 minutes. Each time you comfort, ask yourself, “Why does my baby cry usually?” If it’s simply he needs a new diaper or a burping, then take care of those things first. The most Genny ever cried was about 20 minutes before we went in and got her up for awhile.
Take a deep breath
Last of all, and most importantly, take a deep breath! Make sure you take plenty of mental health breaks. It’s always okay to leave your little one for a little while in order to collect yourself. That’s what daddies and grandparents are for! Take a walk, go get a coffee (or tea), or simply step into the next room and take a deep breath.
Whenever the thought “WHY DOES MY BABY CRY? I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT!!” flashes across the broadcast of your mind, remember this. You are the best parent for your kiddo! You’re doing the best you can, and all your baby wants is you anyway.
For more information on why mama is so special, check out Erica Komisar’s book Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. This book truly changed the way I parent!
I hope you gathered some tidbits on why you’re so special to your little one! Comment below with how you deal with the question, “Why does my baby cry??”
Love, Emily XOXO