How To Identify Common Baby Cries

Oftentimes the predicament of dealing with our dearly loved red-faced squawker can result in us self-reprimanding our seeming inability to solve the riddle of what the heck is wrong with our baby. But we need to remind ourselves that crying is simply what all babies do: We are right on track, this is a normal part of parenting … and a crying baby does not equal a bad parent! Welcome to the frustratingly confusing world of babies!

The good news is that most newborns’ crying begins to reduce, so that by about three months of age, a baby is typically crying for only about an hour each day – but a couple of hours can still be totally normal.

Some cries can mean “I’m hot”, “I’m cold”, “I’m uncomfortable”, “This place is too noisy”, “Those lights are too bright”, “I need a predictable routine”, “My nappy is wet”, “My nappy is dirty”, or “Wow – that was scary!”

Once a bit older with a maturing brain, soon new cries eventuate that can mean “I want a cuddle”, “I want my Mummy”, I’m in an angry, furious or annoyed mood for no particular reason”, “I’m in a grizzly, cranky, sooky mood for no particular reason”, “I’m upset ‘cause you’re upset” or “there’s nothing wrong with me at all – I’m just checking where you are”.

Each time, our job is to get behind the eyes of our baby to try to understand why they’re crying, and fortunately when we look at the whole picture there are often other signs also indicating what is going on.

I’M TIRED CRY – Nasal-sounding wail or cranky grumpy fussing noises, accompanied by a tense body, jerky arm and leg movements, clenched fists, frowning grimaces, big blinks or a first yawn.

I’M OVER-TIRED or OVER-STIMULATED CRY – Short wailing or long-hard crying accompanied by an angry temperament, flailing arms, kicking legs and second or subsequent yawns.

I’M HUNGRY CRY – Licking lips, lip-smacking, sticking tongue out to the sides, trying to suck fist or hand, or the I’m Very Hungry sign of throaty cough-cough sounds or “aaah-aaah-aaah” cries.

I NEED BURPING CRY – High-pitched wailing shrill or silent screams, gasps and pants, accompanied by curling the tongue upwards, screwed-up face, rigid tense body, shaking jerky arm movements or squirming pulling legs upwards.

I AM TONGUE-TIED AND CAN’T SUCKLE PROPERLY CRY – Slipping off the breast as unable to maintain latch, irritated ‘head-banging’, frustrated arching away, short suckles ending in fatigued falling asleep, unusually sleepy or failing to gain weight. [Tongue-tie is also typically accompanied by the mother enduring unrelenting lactation pain and nipple trauma.] Contact your LMC, GP or lactation consultant.

I WANT TO BE SNUGLY SWADDLED FOR SLEEPING – Nasal-sounding wail or cranky grumpy fussing noises accompanied by waking up 45-60 minutes into sleeps due to Bub’s jerky arm movements waking itself up.

I’M BORED CRY – Whiny whimpering moan or annoyed roar accompanied by turning away from an object or playing with their fingers. [This cry never applies in the first couple of months, as life outside the womb is too stimulating to be boring.]

I’M TEETHING CRY – Irritable, grizzly, cranky, clingy, fretful cry accompanied perhaps by a mild fever, possible nappy rash, ear tugging, increased dribbling, one or two bright red cheeks, or being very ‘mouthy’ gnawing on things.

I’M SICK CRY – Whiny, nasal, low-pitched or weak cry, typically accompanied by fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, coughing, wheezy breathing, ear tugging or limpness. Never ignore unwellness in a baby, particularly with under 3-month-olds, and especially under 1-month-olds! Seek prompt medical attention.

I AM LACTOSE INTOLERANT CRY – In-pain cry accompanied by diarrhoea, rumbling bloated tummy or farting. See your LMC or GP.

I HAVE A MILK-PROTEIN ALLERGY CRY – In-pain cry accompanied by diarrhoea or constipation, vomiting, and congested or runny nose. See your LMC or GP.

I HAVE REFLUX CRY – Over 2-week-old baby with in-pain cry accompanied by erratic fussing feeds, drooling, ‘wet’ hiccups/burps, throaty gagging noises, sour breath, wheezy coughing, constant swallowing or projectile vomiting. See your LMC or GP.

I HAVE COLIC CRY – Prolonged, agonizing, inconsolable, in-pain cry usually around the same time daily, accompanied by a distressed look of misery, and drawing knees (legs) up to the stomach. See your LMC or GP.

Okay, once you’ve eliminated all the above possibilities, then sometimes it simply comes down to a baby’s personality. As a generalization, roughly 40 percent of babies have a good-as-gold easy-to-please personality; another 40 percent have a fragile sensitive or fidgety fussing personality and so are not so easy to please; and around 20 percent of babies are outright grumpy, cranky, and impossible to please babies!

With these latter babies, one needs to get a tad more inventive. Here are some of my favourite tricks of the trade:

WHITE NOISE – When thousands of random, unrelated sound-frequency tones are combined together at equal power, it is called White Noise which can be very soothing to all brains to zone-out to. For a baby you could simply turn on a fan, or the vacuum-cleaner, dishwasher, washing-machine, dryer or tune a radio between the stations outside their bedroom door. Other calming monotonous sounds include an easy-listening radio station, loudly ticking clock, or even a clicking metronome set at about 60 beats a minute.

CDs – There is an enormous range of relaxing CDs available for zoning-out to, including baroque music, classical music, ethereal music, and nature’s environmental sounds that relax anybody’s mind.

VISUAL HYPNOTISERS – Babies can enjoy zoning out to monotonous movement, such as waves on a beach, cars driving down the street, flowing water, a fish aquarium, revolving ceiling fan, a clock’s swinging pendulum, leaves fluttering on a tree, curtains blowing in the wind or looking at a fire.  Babies also enjoy delightful sights, such as pictures of smiling faces, colourful flowers or looking at themselves in a mirror.

WARM FUZZY MOVEMENTS – Babies can love all kinds of gentle moving, like baby-swings, car-drives and pram-rides. Babies also of course love being cradled, talked to, dancing on an adults hip to music, and nuzzling snuggles. And perhaps the epitome of warm fuzzies for a baby: Lying skin-to-skin in a warm bath with Mum or Dad, followed by a massage. Sigh!

If your baby is ‘crying all day long’, then there is a high possibility you may have inadvertently missed his or her cues and Bubs is probably simply overfed, overtired or over-stimulated. But never ever forget that a crying baby never ever means “I hate going to sleep”, “I’m being naughty”, “I hate you” or “You’re a bad parent”! ‘Cause crying is just what babies do.

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