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Why do babies cry?

Babies can cry for lots of reasons and sometimes you won’t know why. As a new parent, this can be unexpected and often very worrying. Added to the fact that you’re probably having very little sleep and feeling exhausted, trying to soothe a crying baby can be hard work.

All parents will experience having to calm a crying baby for one reason or another. Whether your baby cries just because their nappy is dirty or is crying non-stop, this blog may help you to understand why babies cry.

So let’s start with the basics. The main reason your baby cries is because they’re trying to tell you how they are feeling or that something’s wrong. The only way your baby can communicate with you is by crying.

Have you noticed that your baby loves having you close by and hearing your voice? Crying helps your baby tell you they want some time with you, to help build a close bond with you.

You’ll probably have your own lists right now of reasons why your baby is “using their lungs” (or crying…I bet someone in your support network has said to you “their lungs are working well!”) but, in Health Visiting, we love a list so here’s ours:

  • Tiredness: Babies are learning and growing all time, this can mean they get overtired easily and need your help to soothe them to sleep.
  • Hunger: We all know that babies will cry when they’re hungry. Looking for early feeding cues can help spot a hungry baby before they cry. Remember babies have small tummies and will need feeding often!
  • A dirty nappy: A wet or dirty nappy can be uncomfortable on a baby`s delicate skin and can feel really cold.
  • Attention: Babies like to know you are close by to help them feel safe and loved. Simple things like talking, singing or cuddling can help soothe them.
  • Illness: If your baby feels unwell, their normal sounding cry may seem different to you – sometimes people say a higher pitch or constant crying may alert you to the fact they aren’t feeling too good. If you feel your baby is unwell, please call your GP or 111 for support and assessment. If you have a thermometer at home, check their temperature. Also look at how many wet or dirty nappies your baby is having and note if they are feeding well to keep them hydrated.
  • Pain: Babies can be in pain due to teething, colic, earache or wind. Sometimes they may be inconsolable and resist all attempts of soothing. If you are worried, seek help from a health professional. 
  • Temperature: It’s important to dress your baby according to the weather which normally means one more layer than you’re wearing. Check your baby throughout the day and add or remove layers if you need to.
  • Wind: Having wind can cause discomfort for babies which can make them cry. But there are some simple things you can do to help:
    • Rub or pat them on the back.
    • Gently massage their stomach in a clockwise direction.
    • Lay them on their back and slowly bend their legs toward their stomach, like they’re riding a bike.
    • Baby massage is often great for wind, and for helping your baby to feel calm. This video shows how to massage your baby:  

So I suppose you are asking right now, “Will it ever end?” The answer is: yes. By six months, babies cry less as they find more ways to communicate. But remember: Every parent has felt overwhelmed by their baby’s crying at some point – that’s totally normal! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, leave your baby safely in their cot and give yourself a break. It is just a phase and it will pass.

Don’t lose hope. This is a natural journey into parenthood that all parents go through. You’ve got this!

How to get help

If you are struggling to cope with your baby’s crying, speak to your Health Visitor on the duty line Mon-Fri (except Bank Holidays), or call the Cry-sis Centre on 08451 228 669, open 7 days a week from 9am-10pm. Cry-sis is a UK charity offering advice and support to parents and carers with babies who cry excessively. 

If you feel worried about your baby’s health, contact your Health Visitor, GP or NHS 111. 

You can also visit our support and advice pages for more information on looking after your baby, and ways to cope with their crying.

About the author

Samantha Hutchinson is a Community Nursery Nurse