9 Reasons for Newborn Baby Crying (and What to Do About It)

Newborn babies sleep. Newborn babies eat. Newborn babies cry. That’s pretty much it.

Sandwiched in between are short, but ever-increasing moments of wakefulness, but many new parents are shocked at the frequency of newborn baby crying.Of all the joys that lighten suffering earth,
what joy is welcomed like a newborn child?”
–Dorothy Nolte

Isn’t it ironic that you spend the 9 months of your pregnancy yearning for that moment of birth when you hear your baby crying, and from that moment on, you invest tremendous effort to quiet those same cries?

The first thing to understand is that babies cry to communicate something. It is basically their only manner of communication, so just because your baby is crying doesn’t necessarily mean its the end of the world (even though she might sound like it is). Knowing this will help you remain calm in the face of very determined baby crying. In turn, your calmness will go a long ways toward helping your newborn calm down.

Most of the reasons that babies cry have to do with discomfort – either physical or emotional. Below I’ve listed the top 9 reasons for newborn baby crying, beginning with the most common and ending with the least. When you are unsure of why your baby is crying, work through this list from top to bottom.

Put On Your Sleuthing Cap!

Over time, as you begin to get to know each other more and more, your instincts when it comes to newborn baby crying will become stronger. You will get to the place where you will be confident that your baby is crying because of _______ (fill in the blank), and you might not even be able to say why you know this is the reason. That’s the gift that God gives to loving mothers (and occasionally, dads).

Until that day arrives, run through this list:

Common Causes of
Newborn Baby Crying

  1. Hungry – Newborn babies need to eat frequently, and that is an understatement. Their tiny tummies don’t hold very much, and what they are consuming is liquid. When they get hungry, they experience true discomfort – not just the mild hunger pain that we as adults feel when its past our mealtime.Your newborn baby will need to eat 8-12 times every 24 hours, which equates to every 2 to 3 hours. If she stretches that time out longer at night (lucky you), then she will want to make up for that during the day so that she still receives those 8-12 feedings.When you have a fussy baby, the first thing to consider is when was the last time she ate? To help you keep track of feedings, keep a log of the feeding start time, noting how much or how well she ate.I like to keep track of this on a simple notepad my cell phone, but now I see that there are some really cool apps to help keep track of everything newborn-related. I’m in the process of checking some out, so if you have any specific recommendations, or write your own Baby Product Reviews.I should note here that newborn babies have an instinctive desire to suck. For some babies, the urge is quite strong, even when they are not hungry. These little ones benefit greatly from pacifier use. I have often marveled at the way the tension leaves a newborn’s body the moment they begin sucking away on something.
  2. Burp – Babies swallow a fair amount of air when consuming their meals, whether it is bottle feeding or breast feeding. Its no wonder that they need to burp. Unfortunately, they are not equipped with the ability to release that air at will (like the “men” in my household have learned to do).Even if its been an hour or two since your baby last ate, a needed burp might be causing her discomfort.
  3. Tired – A newborn baby spends 16 to 20 hours out of every 24 in some stage of sleep. Its a pretty fair guess that if she has been awake for any length of time, it is now time for a nap.As the days pass, you will begin to get a feel for how much your baby needs to sleep, and a pattern will emerge. Getting a Newborn to Sleep gives you tips to help your baby settle in to sleep.It’s important to watch for signs of tiredness, for if your baby becomes over-tired, she will have a much harder time settling down to sleep.
  4. Insecure/Lonely – Your baby has just spent the last 9 months of her existence cradled snugly within your body. It’s a big, unfamiliar world on the “outside”, and she doesn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with those changes very well.Some parents worry that they will spoil their newborn baby by responding to her cries and holding her. This should not be a concern. Parents need to remember that their baby has already been through a huge change when she entered this world. Even if she is now held for 12 hours a day, that is cutting back by 50% from the 24/7 she was used to in the womb. She is learning that when she cries, you will be there for her to help with her needs. This fosters bonding and trust.That being said, this time of life is a great opportunity to begin good habits that will eliminate potential difficulties in the future.For example, if you can coax your baby to go to bed when she is sleepy, but still awake, and she can fall sleep on her own without difficulty, you will enable her to sleep longer and better as she gets older (because she can put herself to sleep unassisted). If you train her to require being rocked to sleep every time, you will have a harder time getting her to learn to go to sleep on her own as she gets older.
  5. Hot or Cold – During the first 48 hours after birth, your newborn will need a little extra help to keep warm while her body learns to regulate her own temperature. Once that time period has passed, she generally will do fine in the same temperatures that you find comfortable. She may need one light layer more than you do, but bundling her up too much is a bad idea, since her immature system is unable to do a good job of sweating to cool her down.
  6. Diaper – Some babies seem to hate not having a dry diaper, but most don’t seem to even notice it. The real problem is when your newborn has a diaper rash and the urine or feces irritate it further. A diaper rash develops fast, so keep your baby’s diaper clean and dry. If diaper rash is already a problem, your best bet is a good diaper rash remedy.
  7. Overstimulated – Think of the contrast between the quiet, dark world of the womb and this busy, noisy, bright, flashing world that we live in, and you might comprehend how overwhelmed a newborn baby can become. Sometimes it just becomes too much, and your baby crying is the only way she can to let you know about it.I’ve known some babies that are more susceptible to overstimulation, and their parents have needed to be vigilant to watch for the signs.Most babies, such as mine, seem to only have this difficulty in extreme circumstances – such as a shopping mall or a sporting event. If you think this might be the reason for your baby crying, swaddle her up and get her to a dark, quiet area to help her calm down. When you are out in public, you can keep a blanket over her car seat or stroller to cut down on bright lights and noises.Less Common Causes of
    Newborn Baby Crying
  8. Pain – Another possible source for newborn baby crying is pain. Its very disconcerting to think that your tiny baby is in pain and unable to completely communicate it.But there are often clues….This will require some sleuthing, so begin by examining every inch of your baby’s skin. Look for anything unusual – bug bites, bruises, scrapes, rashes, etc.
    When my oldest daughter was a newborn, I went through this process with her when she was crying inconsolably. After removing and searching under each piece of clothing, I found that one of my long hairs had somehow wrapped itself around one of her tiny toes, limiting circulation. Ouch!Obviously a newborn’s immature communication skills (baby crying) make accurately pinpointing the source of pain (or even the presence of pain) very difficult.If a quick check of the external reveals nothing obvious, thoroughly check the extremities. Gently probe limbs, fingers, and observe movements for anything awkward.
    I have a friend who was holding her baby in a wooden rocking chair and, unknown to her, had his leg between the wooden spindles under the armrest. When she arose to stand… well, you can guess what happened. He ended up in a cast and the mother was heart-broken. My point is that “things” sometimes happen and we aren’t even aware of it. So check your baby head to toe for any clues.
  9. Illness – Other possible sources of baby crying due to pain are indigestion, colic, constipation, or illness. These are also difficult to identify, but there are ususally some signals.
    • How long has it been since your baby’s last wet diaper? Fewer than 5 very wet diapers in a 24 hour period (by the end of the first week) may indicate that your baby is not getting enough to eat.
    • How about a dirty diaper? What was the consistency of it? If you suspect that constipation is the source of the problem.
    • Has your baby been spitting up excessively?
    • Any fever, coughing, congestion, stuffiness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, lethargy? A simple cold can become something serious in a newborn. Does she have a fever? See this article on Determining a Baby Temperature for Newborns, and if she shows a temperature of 100.4 or greater, or if she shows other signs of illness, please consult your health care provider right away.

Nothing is Working!

At times, something might set your baby crying, and in her immaturity she is unable to calm herself. This is when she will rely on you to help her settle down.

If you have gone through the list above an still are unable to determine the cause of your newborn baby crying, do try the following routine:

  • Swaddle your baby snugly
  • Hold her on her side or tummy in your arms
  • Use a loud noise machine, or “shush” loudly into her ear
  • Jiggle her in your arms
  • Give her a pacifier, if you have decided to use one
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