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Understanding Baby Cries

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  • Understanding Baby Cries 1 of 12

    No More Baby Cries-what the tears really mean, and how to soothe them There is something miraculous about a baby’s cry. Okay, not every baby’s cry, but the piercing, unyielding shriek that your own child produces is a wonder of nature. It’s a hateful sound tuned to the absolute perfect pitch just for your ears, making it impossible for you to ignore or avoid. The problem, of course, is discerning the provocation of this guided sound missile.

    Here’s a cheat sheet to help you decode (and diffuse) your baby’s cry.

    *Important note: shaking your baby is never, ever, ever the right response.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 2 of 12

    1: The Cause: Real Pain

    The Cause: Real PainThe Clues: Violent, high-pitched, short and loud screams, closed eyes, skin flushed and feverish or sometimes pale

    The Cure: Severe pain or illness cannot be ignored! Your gut will tell you something is wrong. Check for high temperature, swelling, rash, blood, breathing issues. If necessary, call a doctor or health line.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 3 of 12

    2: The Cause: Discomfort

    The Cause: DiscomfortThe Clues: Whiny, breathy, indecisive, repetitive sound, increases in volume and intensity. Wriggly body, maybe flushed or cold skin

    The Cure: This is a pretty common, all-encompassing one that generally means, “Mom, this sucks.” Your child could just be in an uncomfortable position, have a dirty diaper, feel too hot or too cold, be getting poked by clothing or tags, teething, or maybe have a hair or thread wrapped around a digit. Check the obvious: diaper, skin temperature, clothes (including socks!) and adjust accordingly. The crying should stop forthwith.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 4 of 12

    3: The Cause: Hunger

    The Cause: HungerThe Clues: Short, siren-like, rhythmic “nyah-nyah” cries, builds in volume and intensity

    The Cure: This is one of the most common cries — pretty simple to resolve, really. Get that child a boob or a bottle! If your baby has eaten a full feeding in the past two hours, he might just need to suckle. Don’t be afraid to pass him a pacifier or a finger.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 5 of 12

    4: The Cause: Fear

    The Cause: FearThe Clues: A confused pause and then quick onset of high-pitched wailing, stops easily when the child is held.

    The Cure: Some babies are easily startled, others are very attached to their caregivers and don’t like being separated. This is an easy one to address; usually your baby just needs a cuddle and maybe a little bit of rocking to calm down and be reassured.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 6 of 12

    5: The Cause: Tiredness

    The Cause: TirednessThe Clues: A sharp, open-mouthed wail that can come on gradually. Eye-rubbing is a dead giveaway

    The Cure: It might take a while, but the best way to combat this is to let the baby settle in the crib. Some children (especially newborns) are much happier being swaddled — the coziness reminds them of the womb. Try warming the swaddling cloth in the dryer first. Dark rooms and soft music can be helpful (there’s a reason for lullabies). Consistent, rhythmic movement (rocking or swaying) can encourage the Sandman’s visit, too.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 7 of 12

    6: The Cause: Indigestion/Gas

    The Cause: Indigestion/GasThe Clues: Ranges from a whimpering, pushing sound to an urgent, panicked grunting cry, often legs are pulled up, or baby is flailing

    The Cure: It might just be swallowing air and needing a burp, or maybe more severe abdominal pain and making really big farts. Yep. As long as that gas gets out somehow, that mute button will come on. Try burping baby with your knee or shoulder in her belly. If the pain seems more intestinal, try the “bicycle” (lie baby on back and make exaggerated pedalling movements) or massage the lower abdomen in the shape of a lowercase “n” from left to right. If the problem is continuous, check your own diet or the baby’s formula.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 8 of 12

    7: The Cause: Colic

    The Cause: ColicThe Clues: A piercing, howling, “aaah” cry, relentless, inconsolable, accompanied by tensed limbs, arched back, clenched fists. Your child cries at least 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks (usually late in the day)

    The Cure: This only affects about 20% of babies. If yours is one of those, this is one of the most trying stages a new parent can suffer through. The good news is that you can set your clock by it, and the fuse will burn out very suddenly by about 14 weeks. The bad news is that there’s not much you can do in the meantime. Some things to try: the football hold (carrying baby face down across your forearm), a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel under baby’s tummy, skin to skin contact, a warm shower (hold your baby tightly: slippery when wet!) — and summon up all of your patience, it’s your most important weapon.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 9 of 12

    8: The Cause: Night Terrors

    The Cause: Night TerrorsThe Clues: Sudden, LOUD shrieking, sometimes calling for a parent. Eyes are open, but child won’t recognize you and will even fight you, inconsolable, can last anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes.

    The Cure: This only happens to about 5% of babies, but it can be petrifying. Fortunately, after the first few times, you’ll recognize a pattern. It usually happens within an hour of going to sleep, and the child will fall immediately back into a normal sleep/wake routine once the terror passes, with no recollection of anything having occurred. Night terrors can be prompted by changes to routine (like potty training or dropping a nap) or teething. Many people suggest you don’t wake the baby. Make sure the child is safe and out of harm’s way (in the crib) and then just let him cry 'til his dream is done. It will be awful but it will be okay. Some babies do respond to being held and hearing parent’s voice in calm, monotonous tones. It can take awhile to soothe the baby, so be prepared.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 10 of 12

    9: The Cause: The Existential Crises
    (a.k.a. Fussiness)

    The Cause: The Existential Crises (aka Fussiness) This is probably the most common cry, and of course, the hardest to pinpoint. The good news is that there are several all-encompassing tricks to soothe this distress. Maintain an arsenal of these, use them in combination. Babies are fickle little creatures, and you’ll likely try all of these out at least once.

    Potential provocations:

    • The Witching Hour: Most babies hit this at some point. Notably different from colic, ‘cause the baby can be consoled, and it lasts for about an hour, though it can persist for several weeks.
    • Annoyed/Overstimulated: “Stop poking the baby, Lady! What am I, a piece of meat?”
    • Understimulated: “La-la -la, I’m bored. Entertain me.”
    • Dependent: “What? But you always hold me/nurse me/sing me to sleep! Do it forever.”
    • Commisserating: “Aw, that other baby is crying, it’s so sad!”

    The Clues: There’s a wind up to the big cry; mild and intermittent, breathy, slow, increasing to siren-like and may include flailing. Stops abruptly with distraction.

    The Cure: White noise (hairdryer, vacuum cleaner, washing machine), swaying/babywearing, driving in the car, making funny faces, looking in a mirror, skin-to-skin contact, swaddling, going outside (this is a great one!), bouncing on an exercise ball while holding your baby, soft music and low light, loud music (great cure for boredom), tummy time, twinkling or moving lights

  • Understanding Baby Cries 11 of 12

    10: The Cause: The Last Straw

    The Cause: The Last StrawThe Clues: Hot, frustrated, often silent and uncontrollable tears. Coming from your own eyes.

    The Cure: If you are overwhelmed, you can’t help your baby. Put her down someplace safe (like the crib, buckled in the carseat, or in the arms of another person), and walk away, out of earshot, for 10 minutes. Fresh air can be a huge help. The baby will be fine, and yes, probably still crying, when you come back, but sometimes all you need is a second to breathe and compose yourself. Take it, for everyone’s benefit.

  • Understanding Baby Cries 12 of 12

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