Crying is one of the most difficult and heart-wrenching sounds to a parent. Crying is a signal (cue) that lets you know that your baby needs help and support.
The most common cause for a baby’s crying during the first 3 months is to alert you that they need to re-establish close, physical contact with you.
When your baby cries they do not just cry for physical needs, they also cry for social-emotional needs. The more distressed your baby gets the harder it is for baby to calm down. When you respond to your baby’s cries quickly with reassurance, warmth and affection they’ll feel safe and secure and usually calm down more quickly. Then your baby can enjoy a feed, cuddle or play.
Unfortunately during the first 4 months there will be times when you won’t be able to calm or soothe your baby no matter what you do. This sort of crying is part of what’s called “Normal developmental crying.”
How can you tell if your baby is crying excessively and you and your baby need extra help and support?
A good way (while otherwise being well and healthy) is if your baby cries and fusses for more than:
- Three hours a day
- Three days a week
- For three weeks in a row
This type of crying is often long, drawn out and persistent, it sometimes seems that nothing you do can calm your baby. You might notice that your baby:
- Resists being held
- Resists being laid down
- Resists being cuddled and won’t snuggle for comfort
- Becomes stiff and arches back
- Prefers to be held upright
- Looks wide-eyed and frightened
- Needs you to rock, sway, nurse and walk for hours at a time
- Doesn’t want to look at you
- Fights against falling asleep
- Sometimes has a swollen tummy and flexed knees which is often mistaken for colic
- Cluster feeds in the afternoon or evening
This type of crying is due to immature neurobiological processes that occur in the first 4 months and are normal.
First and most importantly remember the crying is not because of:
- Your lack of care and efforts to soothe
- Your inexperience
- Your baby’s birth order
- Your baby’s difficult temperament or personality
- Your fault
Reassure yourself that it’s not your fault that your baby is going through this normal crying phase. Don’t try to tough it out on your own. It's ok to ask someone for help to understand any intense feelings you may have.
It’s important to use a range of 3-4 gentle and affectionate strategies that are easy to follow and have a slow, soothing pace.
- Carry your baby in an approved baby carrier next to your chest, making sure you are as relaxed as you can be. Your baby will hear your heartbeat which is better than a heartbeat app. Your baby knows the difference
- Speak to your baby in a calm soothing voice
- Sing in a low soft voice
- Cuddle and gently kiss your baby’s head
- Put your baby on their back or tummy and use a gentle, rhythmic pat, rub or touch to soothe
- Take your baby for a walk in the pram
- Place your baby in a soft, firm wrap with arms flexed on chest and your baby’s hands available to suck. This enables your baby to soothe
- If you use white noise, baby-safe massage oil etc, incorporate this into the routine
Whatever strategy you use don’t keep changing for new and different ones. You and your baby need a familiar comforting routine during this period. By 4 months this normal crying period should resolve with no long term effects.