Don’t let a crying baby get you down! Our checklist can help you work out reasons why your newborn is crying – plus our tips will help you calm & comfort them
All babies cry, and a healthy newborn can cry for up to three hours a day. "They can’t do anything for themselves, so crying is how they express their needs," says Boots Parenting Club midwife Emma Mills. "Over time, you’ll learn the difference in babies’ cries and even begin to pre-empt their wants."
Is it hunger?
Newborns feed every two or three hours, and even more during growth spurts (common at two and six weeks). Some days it can seem they’ve just finished one feed when they want another. If your baby chews on their fingers or makes sucking noises, chances are they’re hungry.
Top tips: If you're breastfeeding make sure you drink plenty of water. "Drink at least six to eight glasses over 24 hours," says Emma. "And have a glass of water handy at every feed, as you might get very thirsty." If your baby dozes off mid-feed, try stripping them down to their nappy beforehand, so they don’t get too snug in your arms and drop off before they’ve had their fill.
Baby too hot?
Is the back of your baby’s neck clammy? If so, take your tot’s temperature: if they’re under three months old and have a temperature of 38˚C or higher, make an urgent appointment with your GP. Between three and six months old, you need to see your GP if their temperature is 39˚C or more.
Top tips: Our temperature rises to fight infection. Babies’ immune systems are less developed than grown-ups’, so their bodies react quickly. To help lower a temperature, strip your baby down or sponge skin with tepid water. A non-contact or digital ear thermometer are easy to use and gives a clear reading in seconds.
Baby's bottom sore?
Unlike those around them, most babies aren't much bothered by a dirty nappy. However, a sore, irritated bottom can make your baby feel distressed, unsettled and uncomfortable.
Top tips: Prevention is the best remedy for nappy rash which means changing your baby regularly. Get into the habit of giving your little one a change before feeds, which usually works out at about every three hours. If your baby’s nappy is dirty or wet between feeds, try to change it as soon as you can. If you notice that skin looks tender or inflamed, consider using a nappy rash cream. You’ll be amazed how quickly newborn skin can recover.
Are you trying too hard?
It’s always stressful when your baby is upset – but if your little one senses you’re feeling tense and anxious too, it’s quite likely that the crying will get worse. It’s uncanny, but the more you rock the cradle and frantically whisper, ‘Ssssh! Time to sleep now’ the less likely a fretful baby will be to calm down.
Top tips: Give yourself a break occasionally. If your baby won’t stop crying, put them in the cot for a few minutes or on a blanket on the floor in a safe environment. Take a few deep breaths and give yourself time to relax. "It’s important to break the cycle, and it’s fine to put your baby in a safe place for a few minutes while you collect yourself and regain your calm," says Emma. "Knowing when to take time out is important for both your health."
Could it be colic?
Colic is usually ‘mega-crying’ that lasts about three hours. Colicky babies may pull up their knees, clench their fists and scream.
Top tips: Health specialists don’t agree on the cause of colic, but everyone knows it can shred your nerves. If the colic does not seem to be related to trapped wind, giving your baby a dummy to suck on, or a soothing warm bath can sometimes help to calm things down. Alternatively, try holding them in different positions – such as on your shoulder, cradled in your arms, or lying with their tummy facing down along your forearm. If you are concerned about your baby’s colic, speak to your health visitor or GP.
Could it be tiredness?
An over-tired baby can fight sleep. Typical signs of over-tiredness are crying at every little thing, staring into space, and being quiet and still.
Top tips: Massage is a comforting way to settle your baby. It’s best to wait until your baby is at least a month old before using any oils or lotions. Make sure the room is warm enough, then apply a little baby oil and stroke your baby’s arms, legs, tummy and back. Swaddling may be worth a try, but make sure you use a thin material, you don’t swaddle above the shoulders, never put them to sleep on their front, don’t swaddle too tight (their legs should be able to stay in the ‘frog’ position), and don’t let them get too hot.
If there’s too much going on, your baby can become upset. The sounds, colors and touch in the world outside the womb are overwhelming to a newborn. Lots of attention from doting visitors may over-stimulate them and make it hard to sleep. Sometimes it's just too much!
Top tips: Try taking your baby to a quiet room before bed to help them calm down and switch off. The monotonous drone of the washing machine can remind your baby of the muffled sounds heard in your womb, making it a surprisingly effective source of comfort. Alternatively try a white noise baby calmer, or soothing toy that can be attached to the side of the cot.
Why is my baby crying in their sleep?
New babies can be restless sleepers: their internal clocks aren’t fully functioning yet so will only sleep for a few hours in one go. They are unlikely to sleep for a glorious eight or nine-hour stretch at night before three months, and some will take even longer than that.
Newborns spend about 50 percent of their sleep in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, which is ‘active’ sleep. Babies might twitch and move their eyes and breathe rapidly – and even cry out in their sleep as they move from one sleep cycle to the next. If your baby cries in their sleep, the best tactic is to wait and watch for a few minutes. There’s a good chance that your tot may drift into deeper sleep.