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When Baby Won't Stop Crying

Little else can make a parent feel helpless more quickly than not being able to stop the piercing screams that emanate from the new center of their universe. If your baby could talk, he wouldn’t need to cry; but until he starts using words like, “No” and “Nooooooo” and “No! No!” he’ll continue communicating via whimpering and tears. Here are some things to know—and do—about when your baby won’t stop crying.

What’s Making Your Baby Cry?

Your baby’s crying spells have different sounds because they mean different things. Baby might be hungry, thirsty, tired, frustrated, wants to suck on something or needs a diaper change. If you haven’t already done so, you will soon learn to distinguish what your baby’s cries are trying to tell you. (Read more about learning to differentiate Baby’s cries here.)

Another possibility: studies reveal that babies will often cry right before starting a period of developmental growth. Your intuitive little baby senses the change that’s coming up and will cry as an expression of the excitement or fear as well as other emotions that accompany the change.

Babies who cry and fuss before bedtime might be trying to discharge the wound-up energy that’s been gathering up during the day. It’s a way Baby has to settle himself down for a night’s sleep. (The good news says that babies who fuss to a greater degree usually sleep more soundly—and longer—overnight).

Babies pick up on their surroundings. They know when you’ve had a stressful day or when others in the family are feeling blue. This sensitivity will sometimes cause them to cry.

It could be Baby just wants to be held. For nine months she was in a warm and peaceful environment known as the comfort of the womb. Now she’s sleeping in a crib where people, lights, experiences, and sounds come and go out of her control. Wouldn’t you want someone to hold you?

Tricks to Soothe Your Crying Baby

  • Holding your baby to your shoulder not only comforts her, but aids in helping her become observant. From this vantage point she can see what’s going on around her and may become so involved in what she sees that she forgets to cry.
  • Mothers—from those in art to real life flesh and blood ones—instinctively hold their babies on the left side, where the heart is. This is true regardless if the mother is left- or right-handed.
  • Because a mother’s heart beats at the same beats per minute as most music does, listening to music often soothes babies. Try classical; not only is it rarely jarring, research indicates that listening to this genre, as a baby will increase math skills later on.
  • Certain sounds are able to soothe Baby without frightening him. Turning in the vacuum, dryer, air conditioner, or running bath water have all been reported to work. (Learn more about how white noise affects babies.)
  • Is your baby attached to a particular blankie, toy, or other comfy object? The familiar feel and smell of transitional objects may relax Baby enough to eventually lull him into sleep.
  • Visual stimuli can include watching the fish in a tank do its thing, winding up a favored mobile, or turning on one of those newly designed lamps that hypnotically swirl shapes over the wall. Try a variety, but only one at a time so Baby doesn’t get over stimulated.
  • This makes sense: Snuggly baby holders are perfect for baby bonding. A nice side benefit is that the more you hold Baby—even when he’s not crying—the more likely she is not to cry so much or so frequently. (Read more about the surprising benefits of slings and carriers!)

Let’s face it: Some babies are just harder to soothe than others. There will be some that cannot be settled down by any amount of soothing on your part. As hard as those incidents are for a parent to face, they are (usually) just passing events. (Check out these cry-stoppers, caught on video!)

How Do I Know It’s Not Colic … or Worse?

You don’t until you check. Colic—which can cause hair pulling amongst even the most stoic parents as a reaction to the hours-long crying spells that accompany it—is not life threatening (though it can sound that way), nor is it an illness or a disease. Be observant. Is the crying intense and start around the same time each day? Is Baby’s tummy bloated? Is she pulling her legs up to comfort herself? How long ago was she fed? Colic usually disappears by the age of four months. (Read more about the mystery of colic.)

Is your baby running a fever? Is she whining more than usual? Does she also have diarrhea or is she throwing up? These are all signs that a pediatrician should be consulted. (Read on for other indicators.)

Is this cry different than any of her other usual cries—more whining, more screaming, more out of breath or even holding her breath? (FYI, breath holding is not uncommon. Baby may even start to turn bluish. Toddler and preschoolers have been known to hold their breath so long while crying they pass out. Some pediatricians recommend blowing air or spraying water on your breath-holding child’s face to get him to snap out of it. While it is incredibly frightening for the parent who has to witness it, it is not dangerous—when the child “passes out” he’s forced to start breathing again.

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