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Why is my baby crying?

Babies cry as a way of communicating and getting us to meet their needs.

crying baby

Picking up and cuddling or breastfeeding your crying baby will not start bad habits or spoil them. If they cry, they need you and the more upset they are, the more they need a loving parent to comfort them.  

Learning about the things that upset a baby can help you cope. It's easier to be patient with a constantly crying baby when you understand they have a reason for their distress. A crying baby is upsetting for both them and you. 

Getting to know your baby and responding to baby’s cues before they get too upset can be helpful. 

Common reasons that babies cry

  • hunger or thirst 

  • need for closeness 

  • need for sucking 

  • feeling tired/over or under stimulated 

  • feeling uncomfortable (e.g. too hot, needing a position change) 

  • in pain or being unwell 

  • cluster feeding 

  • fussy periods

Is my baby hungry? Is it my milk?

You may worry that your milk is affecting your baby. You may wonder if your baby is hungry. It is common for babies to want to breastfeed at least 8 times in 24 hours. Breastmilk is food, drink and comfort for your baby and newborns have small stomachs that need refilling very often. As adults we help ourselves to a drink or snack many times a day and can quite happily manage a cup of coffee or tea straight after we've eaten. 

Family and friends sometimes recommend giving formula but this can have a negative effect on your breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can take practice. Knowing how breastfeeding works, how to help your let-down reflex and the signs your baby is getting enough milk can be helpful.  

If you are worried about your supply, there are things you can do to help make more milk.  

Could it be wind? What about colic?

Many crying babies end up being called 'windy' or 'colicky' because we can't find a reason for their distress although they are nearly always growing well. 'Colic' is a widely used term even though it is neither accurate nor scientific. It is often used when doctors can find nothing wrong with a baby who cries a lot. It is not even certain there is pain in the tummy. 

Many babies who cry a lot thrive and gain weight well. They usually grow out of this phase by 3 to 6 months. If a lot of crying is called 'colic', then parents may feel there is a real medical problem and look for medical solutions, adding to their stress and exhaustion.

Some things to calm your baby

  • Sucking at the breast will relax and distract your baby. It also causes waves of movement through the digestive system which can relieve any tummy pains. 

  • Skin-to-skin contact with your baby is very calming. 

  • Wrapping with warm, soft material, such as cotton or light wool, is soothing for many babies.  

  • Walking with your baby rocks them naturally. You might like to use a sling or baby carrier to make this less tiring. 

  • A warm bath, or shower with a parent, will often help a baby to relax at any time of the day 

It’s normal to feel some distress when your baby cries. This helps us to react quickly. When nothing you do seems to calm them, you may find your feelings turning to despair and even anger.

At these times, it’s important to share the care and take a break. If no-one else is around, then place your baby in a safe space and take a few minutes to calm yourself. 

What about sleep training?

Baby sleep-training programs are sometimes suggested when a baby cries a lot. Many experts have concerns about these approaches. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMH) Position paper on infant sleep (2022) states:

'AAIMH is concerned that extinction based behavioural sleep interventions are not consistent with the infant’s needs for optimal emotional and psychological health and may have unintended negative consequences … These type of sleep interventions are at odds with the overwhelming body of evidence that shows that the foundations for lifelong physical and psychological health are laid down in infancy when distress is responded to in a prompt and reliable way.'


© Australian Breastfeeding Association September 2023

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