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Find Out Why Your Baby is Crying

By Celeste R. Phillips , RN, MSN, EdD

Find Out Why Your Baby is Crying

Babies cry. It’s a simple fact of life. Nature has designed the infant’s cry to be disturbing. It makes us want to do something. It’s one of the ways newborns communicate with us.

Babies cry for lots of reasons. They might be hungry or thirsty. Perhaps they’ree uncomfortable or having gas or other pain. Sometimes babies are lonely or just want to be held and loved. Other times just a change in routine or a new experience or feeling tired is enough to start a baby crying. When infants cry, it’s our challenge to figure out why.

Crying is one of the six behavior states that every baby expresses, including deep sleep, light sleep, quiet alert, active alert and drowsy.

If you can recognize which behavior state your baby is in, you will be able to communicate better with her. Your baby is unique and so will be her combination of the six behavior states. Let’s look at each of them more closely:

Quiet sleep: During quiet sleep, your baby is very still except for an occasional startle or twitch. Breathing is smooth and regular. This is no time to disturb her.

Active sleep: During active sleep, she appears to be dreaming. Her eyelids may flutter, facial expressions may change, and she may make sucking movements. She may move an arm or leg, and her breathing is not regular as in deep sleep.

Drowsy: The drowsy state occurs when the she is waking up or falling asleep. We all recognize the common signs of yawning, unfocused eyes, and droopy eyelids.

Quiet alert: During the quiet alert state, she is alert and relaxed. Her eyes are wide open and bright. Her breathing is regular. She will look into your eyes, respond to your voice and may even mimic your facial expressions. For example, if you stick out your tongue, she might imitate you. This is a great time to encourage her interaction!

Active alert: Her eyes are open, as in the quiet alert state, but she has bursts of movement involving her whole body. Her breathing is irregular and she may be fussy. This state often occurs before a feeding and can be your cue she’s starting to get hungry.

Crying: Whether her eyes are opened or closed, crying often comes with a lot of body activity. The noise can be especially stressful for you. She’s sending you signals and it’s your job to learn what she needs – feeding? Changing? Cuddling? A tummy rub to rid her of gas?

Recognizing your baby’s behavior states helps you to be more sensitive to her needs. Ask your mother-baby nurse to help you recognize your baby’s different behavior states before you head home from the hospital.

About the Author: Celeste R. Phillips, RN, MSN, EdD, is president of Phillips and Fenwick Inc., The Women’s Health Care Consulting Company, and a passionate expert and advocate on mother-baby nursing and care.


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