Why Do Babies Cry?

Why do babies cry

All babies cry, and some cry a lot.

When it’s your baby who is crying a lot, it can be frustrating and upsetting for you. You try burping her, rocking her - and she’s still wailing. What’s wrong? You might be worried about making enough milk to fill her up. Or think that your milk is not good enough. Or maybe you are worried that something you are eating is upsetting her tummy through your milk.

You’re not alone in these concerns. Many mothers worry about these things. But most of the time, your baby’s crying has nothing to do with the quality or amount of milk in your breasts.

The truth is that there are many reasons babies cry. Crying is the main way your baby communicates with you. At first it can be a challenge to figure out what she’s trying to tell you. Your baby may be hungry, unhappy, hurt, scared or lonely.

In the first few days
Your baby is adjusting to life out in the world. He’s been through some big changes! Putting him on your chest skin to skin after the birth will help him adjust to his new home. When he fusses or cries, offering the breast can easily comfort him. Crying is considered a late sign of hunger. Usually your baby gives other signs of hunger first, such as:

  • sucking on his hands or fingers.
  • searching for the breast if he’s being held.
  • breathing quickly and moving around restlessly.

At first, your breasts produce small amounts of colostrum. Frequent feedings in the early days signal your breasts to make more milk. When at breast, your baby is soothed by sucking, by being held skin-to-skin and by hearing your familiar voice and heartbeat. This is as important as getting your milk.

He’s not likely to follow a firm pattern or schedule for feeding. He might breastfeed very frequently for a few hours and then sleep for a longer period of time. Or he might just have an irregular pattern with his feedings. Some babies will feed 8 or 9 times a day, others will nurse more than 12 times a day. That’s all normal.

Crying and breastfeeding problems
It’s frustrating when you try to breastfeed and your baby just cries. She can’t seem to find the nipple or suck properly. When this happens, cuddle your baby against your bare skin with her head on your chest, under your chin for a few minutes until she calms down.  Then try again. Try a laid-back position so she can feel your skin and start to move to the breast on her own. See Positioning and Latching for more information on how to position your body and your baby so she can latch comfortably.

Remember, she’s learning to do something brand new, so it may take her more than a few minutes to latch on to the breast. Be patient with your baby, and ask for help (from a La Leche League Leader, lactation consultant, midwife or nurse) if you are worried.

After day three or four
At this point, the amount of milk in your breasts will increase significantly. Your baby may have trouble latching on to your fuller breasts. That might cause more crying. Try to express a little milk to make your breasts softer. This can help your baby latch on. If that doesn’t work, ask for some help.

Your baby lost weight in the first few days (as he got rid of the dark-coloured poop called meconium that was previously in his gut). Now he will start gaining. Between 140-250 grams (five and eight ounces) each week is typical. That means he is getting plenty of milk - one worry you can cross off your list! In between weight checks, just watch to be sure he has at least six heavy wet diapers and at least three poopy diapers every 24 hours. See How to Know Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk.

If your baby is not gaining weight as expected after day four, talk to your doctor or midwife. There are things you can do to help your baby get more milk at the breast.

Does your baby cry a lot in the evenings? Many mothers find their babies are extra-fussy in the evening hours. If you can, just relax on the couch or in a rocking chair and let your baby nurse as much as he wants.

Worried that something you are eating or drinking is bothering your baby? Most babies aren’t bothered by anything their mothers eat or drink, but some are. You could talk to a La Leche League Leader or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) about this if you think it is a problem for your baby.

In the first two months
Many babies have “growth spurts” or “frequency days” as they grow. This happens around three weeks and six weeks. You’ll notice that suddenly your usually happy baby will start to cry a lot and want to nurse much more often – sometimes all day long! This is normal. Usually, after two or three days, your baby goes back to his previous pattern of breastfeeding and seems more content. Those days of frequent feedings have boosted your milk supply to meet his needs. See Growth Spurts and Frequent-Feeding Days.

Why Not use Formula?
why not use formula

What else could it be?
Babies cry for many reasons. However, when they are being held, they cry much less. Babies are all different: some are more sensitive and intense than others. One baby might not wake up if a dog barks; while another will wake up crying and keep crying. Crying is the loudest way your baby can communicate. She’s not trying to drive you crazy or manipulate you; she’s trying to let you know “something is wrong!”

How do you know what’s wrong? Sometimes your baby cries because she wants to be close to you, hear your voice, and feel your warmth, just as she did before she was born. Over time, you’ll get to know your baby and understand her unique cries and signals.

Some things to try

  • Offer the breast, even if your baby nursed a short time ago. He may just need a little dessert! Even if he is not very hungry, breastfeeding might calm him.
  • Hold him close to you. Consider undressing him so that you can be skin to skin. That contact often helps the baby stop crying. See Skin-to-Skin Care for more information.
  • Take a walk with him. Babies love to move, and they love the rhythm of an adult walking. Use a wrap or soft baby carrier if you have one, or just carry him as you stroll around your kitchen or around the block. You can also rock in a rocking chair.
  • Talk or sing to her. Your baby has been listening to your voice for months before she was born, and she loves the sound of it.
  • Take a bath together. If your baby is feeling tense, snuggling with you in warm water might just be the relaxation she needs. A helper can place the baby in your arms once you’re in the water.
  • If nothing is working, try offering the breast again. She might be ready to latch on and nurse a bit more now.

A helping hand
Sometimes all you can do for your baby is to be there while he cries. He will be reassured by your touch and closeness, even if he continues to cry. If your baby cries a lot, and you are getting frustrated, ask someone to help you out. Perhaps your partner or a friend or family member can hold or carry the baby while you have a break. See How Partners and Supporters Can Help for more ideas.

Here’s the good news: even babies who cry a lot tend to cry less and less as they reach two or three months of age. Your love and support will help him learn that the world is a caring place and that he can trust you to be there for him.