Why is my baby crying?

(This article is also available in an audio format)

By Heike Millar- Midwife, BCur Ed & Ad, Good Night certified Sleep Consultant

Setting the scene: It is 2 am and your little one is crying. Again. You fed her at midnight. Could she possibly be hungry again? Let us assume, for the sake of this article that your baby is younger than 6 months (as the most probable reasons for night time waking change as your child gets older).

  1. The most common reason for an infant to wake up at night is because she is hungry. So you feed her. If you are breastfeeding ensure that she gets a full feed, including fore and hind milk so that she stays full for longer. You put her down but she is still fussing.
  2. Maybe she has a wind? Winds can cause cramping and tummy pain so burp your baby carefully after each feed.
  3. Still moaning. If you haven’t already done this, check her nappy and change if necessary.
  1. Nope, nappy is dry and she is still not happy. Maybe she is too hot or too cold. As baby’s hands and feet are always cold check her behind her neck. Small babies can’t control their own temperatures so you need to dress her accordingly. If the back of her neck is hot and clammy you have overdressed her. If it is cool pop her in a baby sleep sac.
  1. That wasn’t the problem and she is still crying. Maybe she is missing the uterus. Try to recreate it for her using Harvey Karp’s “five Ss”.
  • Swaddle her snugly with her hands at the face (like she was in utero).
  • Put her in the Side position with her head slightly down facing.
  • If this doesn’t work try the third “S”- make a fairly loud “Shhhh” sound close to her ear. The sound of Mom’s blood flow in the womb was louder than a vacuum cleaner to your baby.
  • Next is Your baby was constantly rocked in utero by Mom’s movements, so, supporting her head and neck, swing her. This is not a shaking movement, more of a shiver or a jiggle movement”.
  • The fifth “S” is non nutritive Sucking. Let her suck her fingers or thumb (as she did in the uterus) or a dummy.
  1. If none of that worked she may have cramps. The exact cause of infant cramping, or colic, is unknown. It is thought that there may be different reasons for infant colic because not every solution will work with every child.

There are many colic remedies on the market. Check whether they contain alcohol or sucrose before administering to your little baby.

Holding her over your arm, so that there is slight pressure on her tummy, while you rub her back may work.

Many moms have had success by taking their child to a chiropractor that has experience with children.

  1. So why is she still crying? Maybe she has a temperature. A normal body temperature is between 36.5 and 37° Celsius. If your child is younger than 3 months old a fever needs medical attention. Older than 3 months, it is the normal reaction of the body to get warm when it is fighting infection. If your child has a slight temperature you don’t need to do anything, just watch her and the temperature. If the temperature reaches 38° degrees she will probably start to show other symptoms that she is feeling awful. Administer some infant paracetamol as prescribed.
  1. Okay she doesn’t have a temperature but is still crying. Maybe she is uncomfortable. Check her bedding in case something is poking her. Are her socks too tight? Is there a mosquito biting her? Are her clothes or blankets scratching her skin?
  2. Can’t find anything that is making her uncomfortable? Perhaps she is just feeling overwhelmed and over stimulated. Make sure no clothing is irritating her, turn off the lights, make sure there are no strong smells in her environment and turn off any noise. If you can’t turn off the noise then turn on some white noise to drown it out.
  3. If she is still crying at this point you could try a bath or a massage. Put her in the car and take a drive or put her in the pram and roll her backwards and forwards over a ridge. You could also try some very weak camomile tea.

If you think there is something more serious at play take her to your nearest 24 hour casualty.

If you know she is not ill and you have tried everything it is now your partner’s turn. If you have both reached the end of your tether it’s time to put her in the car and drop her off at Grandma’s house. If a third person is not an option and you have tried everything put her safely in her cot and close the door. Drink a cup of tea and calm down. Once you are ready to face her again go back in and start at the top of the list. Hopefully she will be sleeping peacefully when you tip toe back in.

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