Babies crying is their way of communicating with us and ensuring a response. But how do you as a parent understand what your baby is trying to tell you?
By Dr Janice TUNG,
Associate Consultant and Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, Visiting Consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, KK Women's and Children's Hospital
It can be tricky and sometimes frustrating interpreting your baby's cries, especially at first. During these times, just remember that your baby is fully dependent on you for food, warmth, love, security and comfort. Crying is your baby's way of communicating any of these needs and getting a response from you. Here are some reasons why your baby cries, and what you can do in response:
Babies tend to get hungry fast because their stomachs are small.
The signs: Sucking the fists, turning towards your breasts in response to a stroke on the cheek or lips (known as "rooting") when you pick your baby up.
What to do: Feed your baby the moment you notice the signs of hunger. Responding early will help you avoid having to deal with long bouts of crying.
Related: Baby's First Food Journey
Colic is uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy baby. It most often occurs when a baby is two or three weeks old, or if the baby is premature. It also tends to happen more often in the evenings and nights. Babies are considered colicky if they're younger than five months and if they cry for more than three hours in a row on three or more days a week for at least three weeks. That's a long stretch!
The signs: Cries during this time tend to be louder and higher pitched than normal. Cries tend to be louder and higher pitched than normal. Other signs include clenched fists, arched backs, tight tummies, knees pulled up to their chests and the passing of gas. Gas does not cause colic, but your little one might be extra gassy due to swallowing more air when crying.
What to do: Burp your baby after feeding. Rubbing your baby's back and massaging the stomach gently also helps. Check with your doctor about prescribed colic remedies.
Related: Helping Baby Sleep
Babies normally protest when they have wet or soiled diapers, especially if their skin feels irritated.
The signs: Crying may be due to a heavy and/or smelly diaper
What to do: Change the diaper immediately.
Related: Common Childhood Conditions — Diarrhoea
If your baby's crying tone is different from normal, it could be a sign of being unwell or teething.
The signs: Runny nose, cough, fever, lethargy, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.
What to do: If your baby is crying persistently, shows any signs of illness and is running a temperature above 38°Celsius, do see a doctor immediately.
Check if your baby is too hot or cold by feeling the tummy or neck. Don't be guided by the temperature of your baby's hands or feet as these sometimes tend to feel cold even if it's not the case.
The signs: The baby looks uncomfortable and may be crying.
What to do: If your baby is cold, increase the room temperature and add clothing. If your baby is too hot, remove some clothing and/or change to lighter clothing and/or decrease the room's temperature.
Related: Care of the newborn
Babies often find it hard to get to sleep especially if they're over-tired. Lots of attention, especially from doting visitors, may over-stimulate your baby, making it harder to sleep.
The signs: Whining and crying at the slightest thing, staring blankly into space and being quieter than normal.
What to do: Be aware of your baby's sleep cues. A warm bath can help or try taking your little sweetheart to a quiet room before bed to calm down and unwind.
Related: Top 10 Common Childhood Conditions
Babies need lots of cuddling, physical contact and reassurance so crying might be a way to get some attention and extra cuddles!
The signs: Baby cries when not with you.
What to do: Carry your newborn close to you and stay within sight as often as possible. Carrying your baby in a sling may also help.
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This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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