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Understanding Your Baby’s Cries

Written by Pinky McKay, IBCLC   
Tuesday, 01 June 2010 00:00
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One of the inevitable realizations experienced by new parents is that there are times when your baby will cry, and be seemingly inconsolable. This often leaves you, the parent, feeling inadequate, frustrated or as though you’ve done something wrong. But the first rule of the crying game is “don’t blame yourself.” It’s not your fault, or anybody’s, that your baby cries—and cries! According to a University of London study, there is no correlation between persistent crying and a stressful environment, inadequate parenting, obstetric complications, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, birth order or sex.

Crying is your baby’s first language. It’s pretty much the only way an infant can express feelings like discomfort, hunger, exhaustion and loneliness. By understanding your baby’s cries, you will find that you can comfort your baby more often, and more easily, than you might have initially thought.

Crying is also the only way your baby can release pent-up stress. He might be saying, “I don’t feel right; please help me.” As your baby grows, he will learn other ways to communicate—through facial expressions, body language and, eventually, by telling you how he feels and what he needs. For now, though, here are some tips to help you soothe the sobs.

Learn Your Baby’s Language

By learning your baby’s pre-cry signals—wriggling, anxious facial expressions, little grimaces, flailing arms, “rooting” at the breast, changes in breathing and little noises that say, “I am working up to a cry,” you will be able to see when he is bored, frightened, hungry, tired or overwhelmed. By responding accordingly, you may be able to avert full-blown crying.


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Ease the transition from womb to room by snuggling your baby against your bare skin, letting him feel your heartbeat. In the early weeks, protect your little one’s senses by avoiding sudden movements, changes in temperature, loud noises, bright lights and excessive handling by “strangers.”


Feed Him Well

Tiny tummies don’t hold enough food to go for long between feedings—day or night. If you are breastfeeding, remember, the more your baby nurses, the more milk you will produce. He needs to suck long enough to get the more satisfying hind-milk, which is thicker, richer and higher in calories. The best way to do this is to watch your baby, not the clock. Allow him to decide when he is finished at the first breast before you switch sides.


Respond Quickly

If you leave your baby to cry, she will become more upset as her crying picks up momentum. Soon she won’t even know why she was crying in the first place, and she will be much harder to soothe. If you are breastfeeding, it is particularly important to respond quickly to hunger cues. A baby who has worked up to a full-blown cry will have a less efficient latch, or she may only nurse for a short time before she falls asleep from exhaustion.


Wear Your Baby

Studies have shown that carrying your baby may minimize crying. Having her in a sling against your own warm body will reduce your baby’s stress levels and help relieve symptoms of colic and reflux. Baby-wearing is also reputed to help babies adapt more quickly to a day/night sleep cycle. As an added bonus, you’ll have both hands free!