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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. Nature has designed your baby’s cry to be disturbing; to get your attention. Your baby is trying to communicate.

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

When Babies Cry

Babies typically cry during different stages of sleep and wakefulness. If you can recognize the stage your baby is in, you can use this information to better soothe and communicate with her. Follow her cues when she’s crying 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: She appears to be dreaming. Her eyelids may flutter, facial expressions may change, and she may make sucking sounds. She may move and her breathing is not as regular as in deep sleep. Again, watch but don’t disturb or soothe baby unless it seems to help calm her.

Drowsy: Baby is sleepy and she may be waking up or falling asleep. Watch for yawning, unfocused eyes, and droopy eyelids. Help her awaken or drift off to sleep to soothe her tears.

Quiet alert: Baby is awake, alert and relaxed; her eyes are open and bright. Her breathing is regular. She will look into your eyes, respond to your voice and may even mimic your expressions. This is a great time to encourage interaction and distract her from her crying!

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; this may be your cue she’s starting to get hungry.

Purple Crying

Sometimes young babies tend to cry without reason—and just because you can’t soothe them, it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job. Their crying is perfectly normal. All babies go through a period of increased inconsolable crying between ages 2 weeks and 2 months and continues for a couple of months; it’s called the Period of Purple Crying. Experts consider it a normal stage of development for every baby. Don’t be surprised if what typically calms or comforts baby doesn’t work. Ask your partner or relative for extra help if you need to take 5-10 minute breaks from baby’s crying during these episodes.

Celeste R. Phillips, RN, MSN, EdD, is president of Phillips and Fenwick Inc., and a passionate expert and advocate on mother-baby nursing and care.


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