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For Crying out Loud! The Many Things That Set Baby Off

Why on earth do babies cry so much?

We know that newborns come into the world unused to bright lights, loud sounds, or varying temperatures—and those things in and of themselves would probably make a grown-up cry, as well. But the biggest tear-inducer is this: Newborns never knew hunger when attached to the umbilical cord, and now they feel it every few hours.

If your child begins to cry, it's logical to first assume that baby is hungry for a meal. Infants need to be fed every one-and-a-half to three hours, so hunger cries come fairly frequently. By the time your child is about four weeks old, you'll be able to discern the hunger cry from the 'I'm sleepy' cry or the 'I just need to blow off steam' cry. But for now, offer the breast or bottle and see if that does the trick. Soon you will recognize the wiggles, squirms and mouthing movements baby uses to signal hunger before you hear cries.

Babies older than two or three months will cry for attention and to be held simply because they crave companionship. If you ignore your child for too long, expect a 'Look at me!' cry. One way to give constant comfort is to 'wear' your baby in a sling or baby carrier, so the two of you are always connected, even as you go about your chores. Or seat baby in an infant carrier or bouncer seat facing you. Even if you're busy making dinner, working on the computer or resting, you can still hang out with and talk to your baby.

Could it be Colic?
Periodic fussiness at the end of the day is to be expected from every baby. But when that crying reaches three hours a day for three days or more per week, experts say a baby has colic. This incessant crying can be a challenge for even the most experienced parent. Experts believe that colic has something to do with babies' supersensitivity’—possibly due to their immature nervous systems or an overly reactive intestinal tract producing a lot of petrol. A few infants with colic may be reacting to milk protein, and changing to an extensively hydrolyzed protein-based formula is a way to bring some relief. A few other techniques:
  • Carry baby during the day, when the crying isn't as bad. Research shows that doing so will make early evening crying spells shorter.

  • Try burping your baby during and after each feeding.

  • Infant massage can help a baby expel petrol, as can holding baby stomach-down along your arm, with legs and arms dangling.
Your baby may be reacting to the excitement of the new world—too many people, noises, shiny bright lights—although some little ones just go to sleep in these circumstances. A baby may also cry about being too hot or too cold. Often new parents make the mistake of dressing baby too warmly, and then swaddle on top of that. A sweaty head means baby is too layered. Babies older than three months may cry if their clothes are confining or scratchy, too.

Whatever it is that makes her cry, parents have to realise that there’s plenty to stress out an infant. Once you begin to appreciate that crying is the only way baby has to communicate her needs, you’ll be able to calm down – and calm your baby down as well.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education