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Playing Detective: Getting to the Bottom of Your Baby’s Cries

March 19, 2012

As adults, we don’t normally have meltdowns every time we feel hungry, tired, or cold, though we may feel the urge from time to time! But babies have a limited range of ways to express discomfort, and they cannot meet their own needs at such a young age. Crying is an effective means of communication. It gets your attention, prompting you to troubleshoot the source of your infant’s tears. Sometimes, though, getting to the root of your baby’s cries feels like a riddle you’ll never solve! Our tips will help you narrow down the reason for your baby’s discomfort so that you can let the soothing begin.

The big three causes of baby’s tears are hunger, a dirty diaper, and a need for sleep. Especially in infants, you may find that offering milk or formula at the first sign of upset will nip the problem in the bud. If your child doesn’t want to feed or continues to cry afterwards, check his diaper. And if those fail, your baby may be worn out but unable to soothe himself to sleep. Rocking, talking softly, and making the room dark and quiet may help him to nod off. To prevent your baby from crying from over-exhaustion, you might want to put him down for a nap as soon as you see him yawn or act drowsy.

If none of these are the cause, then your baby may be feeling a little bit of actual pain. If she has just finished eating, she may need to be burped. She may even have lower intestinal gas pain, which you can help relieve by laying her on her back and gently moving her legs in a bicycling motion. If she tends to cry for several hours without relief, talk to your doctor about possible causes of colic. Babies may suffer from a number of digestive issues including reflux, allergies, and lactose intolerance. Your pediatrician may be able to recommend gas drops, gripe water, or dietary restrictions for breast-feeding moms.

In addition to bellyaches, if your baby is between 4 and 7 months old, he may be teething. If you notice an increase in crying, drooling, and some sleep disruption, feel his gums with your finger for hard nubs that can be emerging baby teeth. If he is crying from teething pain, you may be able to relieve him with a teething ring, an unsweetened teething cracker, or a cool, wet washcloth for him to chew. If he is eating solids, try feeding cold yogurt or applesauce. Teething is a tough time for many babies and their parents, and a bit of crying may just be inevitable, though it won’t last forever!

If you still can’t put an end to the tears, try to see things from your baby’s perspective. Is she tightly swaddled or under too many layers, causing her to get too hot? Are her feet or head uncovered in a chilly room? Is there too much stimulation around her, in the forms of noise, light, and movement? Scan her for tiny things, too. Something simple like a hair wrapped around her finger or a too-tight diaper can make her upset!

And when the crying continues without a noticeable cause, talk to your pediatrician. Your baby may not be feeling well, or there may be a minor issue you haven’t uncovered. Use your partner, childcare provider, and doctor as part of your detective team, and you’ll soon find the source of your baby’s discomfort.

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