Your baby knows how to cry from the moment they are born. Crying helps a newborn take in their first breaths and expand their lungs. The transition from the womb, where oxygen is received through the placenta, to breathing air is a significant change. Crying helps clear the airways and facilitates the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It is worth noting that not all babies cry immediately after birth. Some babies may be quiet and alert, taking in their surroundings quietly. The intensity and duration of crying can vary among newborns. In most cases, the crying is temporary and subsides once the baby begins to adjust to their new environment and their basic needs are met. Skin to skin contact and feeding your baby are two initial needs that can help your baby settle during those first few golden hours post birth.
Newborns cry for various reasons, as it is their primary means of communication. But when you have been listening to them cry for a few hours, the one thing you long for is a break in communication. In order for you to cope with the crying yourself, it is important to know why your baby is upset. Here are some common reasons why newborns cry:
Hunger: One of the most common reasons for a newborn’s cry is hunger. They have small stomachs and need to eat frequently.
Sleepiness: Newborns can become fussy when they are tired. It might be challenging for them to settle down and fall asleep.
Dirty Diaper: Wet or soiled diapers can be uncomfortable for babies, leading to crying.
Discomfort or Pain: If a baby is uncomfortable due to tight clothing, a hair wrapped around a finger or toe, or any other source of discomfort, they may cry to signal the issue.
Need for Comfort: Newborns often cry when they need comfort or reassurance.
Overstimulation: Newborns are sensitive to their environment. Too much noise, bright lights, or excessive activity can overwhelm them and lead to crying.
Colic: Some babies experience colic, which is characterized by episodes of intense, inconsolable crying. The cause of colic is not well understood, and it often resolves on its own.
Gas or Tummy Troubles: Babies’ digestive systems are still developing, and gas or other digestive issues can cause discomfort and crying.
Loneliness or Need for Attention: Newborns crave human interaction. If they feel lonely or are in need of attention, they may cry to attract caregivers.
Temperature: Being too hot or too cold can make a baby uncomfortable, leading to crying.
The term “witching hour” refers to a period of increased fussiness or crying in infants, typically occurring in the evening or very early in the morning. This phase is commonly observed in newborns and may start around 2 to 3 weeks of age, peaking around 6 weeks, and gradually improving by the time the baby is 3 to 4 months old. This term can be a bit misleading, as the fussiness can last longer than just an hour and may not be confined to a specific time.
Characteristics of the witching hour include:
Increased Crying: Babies during the witching hour may cry more frequently and intensely than at other times of the day.
Difficulty Soothing: It may be challenging for caregivers to comfort the baby during this time. Techniques that worked earlier in the day might be less effective.
Cluster Feeding: Some babies may want to nurse more frequently during the witching hour, engaging in cluster feeding.
Seemingly Unexplained Fussiness: The fussiness during the witching hour often appears to have no apparent cause. It’s not necessarily related to hunger, diaper changes, or discomfort.
The reasons for this peak in crying are not fully understood, but it is believed to be associated with a combination of factors, including the baby’s developmental stage, adjusting to the outside world, and the establishment of sleep-wake cycles. Some experts suggest that the peak in crying may be related to the development of the baby’s nervous system and their ability to self-regulate.
If you are feeling extreme stress when your baby is crying, it is perfectly OK to put your child safely in their crib and step away to take some deep breaths. You might also ask your partner or a friend to take over caregiving duties for a while.
It is important for caregivers to remain patient and try different soothing techniques during the witching hour. Techniques such as swaddling, gentle rocking, dimming lights, and providing a calm environment may help. If the fussiness persists or if caregivers are concerned, consulting with a healthcare professional is advisable to rule out any underlying issues. Keep in mind that the witching hour is a phase that typically improves with time as the baby grows and develops.
Your newborn is too young to have a fixed routine, and probably will not be ready for one until they are around 3 months old. Until then, it is fine to feed and soothe your baby as soon as they cry. Contrary to what you may have heard from older relatives, this will not spoil your baby. In fact, it will help your baby to feel more secure, so they may even cry less.
When your baby is brand new, placing them on your heart and tapping their back or bum with a heartbeat-like tempo can be very soothing and womb-like. If you are having difficulty settling your baby, you could try the magic hold:
An important thing to remember is that babies are sponges for our energy. If you are getting frustrated with your baby crying or not falling asleep, they take that energy in and do not know how to handle it. This further exacerbates the issue so it is better to put your baby down for a few minutes (or have someone else take over) and shift your energy. Doing so can make such a difference.
Being a parent is probably one of the most fulfilling jobs you will ever have. It is also one of the most demanding. Add to that a good few hours of crying and you will agree that you are entitled to a break sometimes.
Try to have someone else (your partner, a family member, a friend) take over occasionally. Use the time to go for a walk or take a shower. You can even curl up in bed, scroll through the baby pictures you have taken and remind yourself that you are the best parent for your child and know that you are doing a great job!
Dealing with a crying newborn can be challenging, but with these strategies, you can try to soothe and comfort your baby. Keep in mind that it might take some time to figure out what works best for your individual baby, as preferences can vary. Every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It is a process of trial and error to figure out the best ways to comfort your baby. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, do not hesitate to reach out for support from friends, family, or healthcare professionals. Our postpartum doula services are always available to help too.