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If you're new to caring for a baby, it's likely you've learned how quickly a happy baby can turn into a crying one. However, getting a baby to stop crying is typically easy once you understand what they want.
Since babies can't use words to explain what's wrong, crying is an instinctual way for babies to communicate their needs. Learning to distinguish between different cries and respond to specific needs will come with time, and this guide is intended to help.
Why do babies cry?
Babies cry for many reasons, which tend to become more apparent to parents and caretakers over time. A new study from the Journal of Current Biology has found that understanding when a baby is in pain by their cries comes with experience.
The study shows that adults who have already parented one or more children, or who have spent extensive time with infants, have developed the ability to differentiate between their baby's cries more than individuals with no childcare experience.
Whether you're a seasoned parent, a first-time parent or a babysitter, consider the following common reasons that the baby you're caring for may be crying:
They're hungry: For the first few weeks of their life, newborns who are breastfed will typically need to eat every one to three hours, while those being fed formula will feed closer to every two to four hours. The time between feedings will vary based on the individual baby and the time of day
They're full: Bloating associated with overeating can cause mild, temporary discomfort
They're tired: We all get cranky when we're tired, and babies are no exception
They have a dirty diaper: The bacteria in stool can irritate the skin if left unattended
They're sick or in pain: Babies with persistent crying that does not resolve once their basic needs are met may be experiencing a more severe health concern
A baby crying for more than three hours per day for at least three days out of the week has colic. If the baby you're caring for is crying uncontrollably for extended periods and you cannot soothe them, it's important to contact their physician to rule out any underlying health issues. However, colic typically resolves itself within a few months.
How to get a baby to stop crying
Determining what is causing a baby to cry and remedying it is the easiest way to calm them down. However, it can often take several attempts to get a baby to stop crying, even once all their basic needs are met.
Consider the following methods of getting a baby to stop crying:
1. Feed them
Babies often cry when they're hungry. Newborns need to be fed frequently because their stomachs are so small, but as babies develop, they can eat more significant amounts at a time and can go longer without eating.
2. Hold them close and go for a five-minute walk
A study published in the Journal of Current Biology found that babies sleep better when a caregiver holds them close to their chest and walks at a steady pace for five minutes, then sits upright, holding them for between five and eight minutes before laying them in their crib. Try this method if your baby is crying from exhaustion.
3. Play soothing sounds
Playing white noise reminds babies of being inside their mother's womb and helps them calm down. You can also speak or sing to them in a quiet voice. Soothing sounds can help with overstimulation and encourage babies to fall asleep.
4. Change their diaper
Not only is a baby's stool irritating to their skin, but wet diapers create a moist environment that alters skin pH, which promotes fungal and bacterial growth. Regularly changing diapers keeps babies comfortable and healthy.
5. Offer a soother
Although soothers are controversial tools in the parenting world, they can be highly effective in pacifying distraught babies. Sucking is an instinct for babies and is a critical self-soothing technique.
6. Swaddle them
Babies like to feel safe and secure. Try swaddling them in a blanket to calm them down and soothe them to sleep. This technique mimics the security of being in the womb. However, it's essential to learn how to properly swaddle a baby because improper swaddling has been linked to the development of hip dysplasia and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in rare cases.
Understanding what is causing a baby to cry and how to get them to stop crying takes experience, but like all aspects of child care, it gets easier with time. First and foremost, assessing what could be causing a baby to cry and meeting that need is the easiest way of getting them to stop crying.
However, if the answer isn't as simple as changing a diaper or feeding them, you may want to attempt some of the other methods listed above to stop their crying. If you believe your baby has colic, contact their physician to ensure nothing more serious is going on.