What are Normal & Abnormal Baby Cries

So many times when we’re pregnant people ask if we’d like a boy or a girl, and so many times we politely reply in our politically-correct manor synonymous with this 21st century “Oh, we just want a healthy baby”.

Many of us are lucky enough (for luck seems the biggest influence) to actually receive healthy babies. But the bugger is that they sure as heck don’t stay healthy! Sooner or later we find ourselves face to face with our first dreaded experience of being the parent of an unwell baby. And then, without doubt, we can begin to truly realise the enormity of the fear-provoking responsibilities our motherhood role has thrust upon us.

We are continuously encouraged to take all our unwell children to our GP doctor, most of which are wonderfully caring professionals. In the same breath, we are also continuously encouraged to heed our maternal intuition, which many of us prior to motherhood paid little credence to as a reliable life-guiding authority. Yet there are so many tales of doctors finding ‘nothing wrong’ with an infant, while simultaneously the mother’s heart-strings are tugging with un-ignorable nagging doubts convinced something is very, very wrong indeed with her babe’s ambiguous outward symptoms. So we internally wrestle with the options of ignoring or instincts that could be right, or potentially being perceived as a nutty over-anxious mother.

Certainly contributing to the problem, is our common genuine lack of knowledge regarding infant unwellness, as often we don’t clearly know the A-B-C basics of why infants cry and scream – all we know is that clearly, our darling sweetie is inconsolably unhappy, and physiologically we are programmed to do everything in our power to return our baby’s mindset to one of contentment.

To assist you with this very grey and murky topic of motherhood, below are some of the basics:

Hungry Cries

If a breastfed baby last started a good feed 2-3 hours ago (or 3-4 hours with formula-fed babies), then it’s likely Bubs could be hungry. Early hungry signs include increased alertness, sticking tongue out and lip-smacking. Later hungry signs include clearing-the-throat cough-cough sounds, and demanding rhythmic aaah-aaah-aaah cries.

Tired Cries

When a baby is crying due to tiredness, then it’s probably not tiredness, it’s usually over-tiredness. Signs of a tired baby include jerky arm/leg movements, fist-clenching, face grimacing, and grumpy grizzly sounds (including perhaps a nasal-sounding wail). Signs of an over-tired baby include yawns, space-out stare (often mistaken for alertness), and short wailing cries with short breaths in-between, that can escalate to long hard red-in-the-face crying.

Aside: Try to always put Bubs to bed awake when tired – not put them to bed asleep when over-tired – or else they will learn to rely on extreme exhaustion (rather than straight tiredness) to be their cue to fall asleep, which is a habit not conducive to falling back to sleep at 4am!

Teething cries

If Bubs is a few months old and is crying in a grizzly, cranky, fretful, sooky way, then chances are Bubs might be teething. Other teething signs can include a mild fever, trouble sleeping, very ‘mouthy’ (chewing and gnawing things), increased dribbling, one-two bright red cheeks, runny poos, or nappy rash.

Infection Cries

Fever is part of the body’s normal immune-system infection-response to destroy pathogenic microbes (germs). To increase its core temperature the body uses ‘the chills’ (such as shivering). To lower its core temperature the body uses flushing and sweating – though newborns don’t have the ability to sweat, which adds to the concerns of fevers in young babies.

Infants with fevers can have prolonged whiny low-pitched screams, or a weak sounding cry, or they can become very quiet – fever cries are inconsistent. The best diagnosis of fever is always checking using a thermometer.

A normal temperature is 36.5°-37.5°C; a mild fever is 37.5-38.0°C; a moderate fever is 38.0-38.5°C; and a high fever is 38.5°C or over. At 39.5°C urgent intervention is essential to avoid irreversible cellular damage – as at 40°C the brain is being ‘cooked’.

When infants reach 38°C it is wise to undress some of the clothing layers (not all, which can cause cold-shock), then administer an antipyretic (temperature lowering drug) such as paracetamol (eg Pamol) or ibuprofen (eg Brufen/Nurofen). Both additionally are analgesics (pain-relievers), and ibuprofen is also an anti-inflammatory.

With an under 4-6 week old, seek emergency medical attention (newborns should never have fevers). With a 1-3 month old seek prompt medical advice. With a 4-12 month old, seek medical advice if Bub’s fever is still 38+°C half-hour after the antipyretic medication, or Bubs has a continually high fever for more than a day.

Also, always seek medical attention if fever is accompanied by vomiting, diarrhoea, limpness, rash, blue-tinged skin, coughing, wheezy breathing, attempting then refusing feeds, or hitting or pulling at their ears.

OTHER SCREAMS NEEDING INVESTIGATION

Lactose-Intolerance or Lactose-Overdose cries

Irritable ‘in-pain’ type crying, along with watery acidic (even frothy) diarrhoea poo, swollen bloated tummy, lots of farting or a rumbling stomach.

Cow’s Milk-Protein Allergy cries

Irritable ‘in-pain’ crying, along with skin rash, vomiting, wheezy congested sniffles or clear runny nose, loose diarrhoea poo or constipation.

Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux cries

Irritable ‘in-pain’ crying, along with vomiting, erratic feeding, more comfortable upright than lying down, throaty noises or poor weight gain.

Colic cries

Irritable ‘in-pain’ crying of sudden, loud, intense, continuous crying around the same time each day, along with swollen bloated tummy, flailing arms/legs, writhing ‘climbing’ movements or arching back.

At the end of the day (sometimes at the end of a thoroughly wretched day from seeing your baby so miserable), the one true utterly reliable weapon we have in our arsenals is what the rest of the world terms ‘gut instinct’, and what we call Maternal Intuition.

Trust your intuition, it’s your best guide – even though it can sometimes seem implausible, impossible and even plain daft. Intuition isn’t rational or analytical – so don’t drown it with sensible logic.

The easiest sign that your mother’s instincts are yelling at you, is if the intuitive thought is accompanied by an emotional physical manifestation, such as a butterfly-tummy, goose-bumps or an aching heart. Listen, listen, listen to that intuitive thought – for it knows your baby better than anyone else on the planet!

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