Why do Babies Cry?

Babies cry for a variety of reasons. They may be tired, hungry, wet, overstimulated, overtired, too warm or too cold. The American Academy of Pediatrics tells us that “all babies cry, often without any apparent cause”. The AAP recognizes crying as a normal part of baby’s day. Did you know that it is normal for newborns to cry for 1-4 hours per day? Yikes!  That’s a lot of crying! 

The problem with a crying baby (especially if it’s your first) is that it creates such a strong emotional response in us when our babies cry that our natural instinct is to make all crying STOP! IMMEDIATELY!

And while instinct and intuition certainly have their place in caring for your baby, it can’t be the ONLY tool in your toolbox. Why you ask? Because it’s simply not reliable. Using your emotion, intuition, and feelings as the ONLY way to discern what your baby needs will leave you frustrated, exhausted, and confused. 

The problem is this…. If we don’t pause to assess the why behind the cry, we just react rather than determining what our baby actually NEEDS, or IF in fact, they need anything at all. Because yes, sometimes babies just NEED to get their cries out! And a parent that is constantly stopping that from happening is stifling a baby’s need to get that energy out so they can get to a place of calm. 

Letting Baby Get Their Cries Out

This is a phrase that I use all the time when I’m working with families. If you understand the why behind the cry you can then determine if all your baby really needs is to get their cries out! Because if this is all your baby needs it will work like magic. 

Two times when this works really well is when a baby is just fussy and all their needs are met or before sleep times. Letting your baby take 2-5 minutes to get their cries out can work like magic if your baby’s fussiness has no other root cause other than simply needing to release some energy. Once your baby has been given the opportunity to get their energy out you will be left with a calm baby awake or a baby that has peacefully gone to sleep. Either way, we now have a baby that feels calm and relaxed instead of fussy and agitated. 

If you’ve never tried this before, give it a try and see what happens…

The other problem that moms have to contend with right now, as you may have noticed on social media, there is a TON of fear-mongering around crying. There are platforms that would have you believe that if your baby cries at all you are being an unresponsive parent and your child will end up in counseling when they’re 30! 

The truth is, If our children were this fragile we would all be in BIG trouble! Don’t buy into it. It will keep you stuck in a place of fear and many times extreme sleep deprivation for months or years. 

If you want to use good decision-making principles as you’re caring for your baby or raising your kids in general then educating yourself about why babies cry and learning to PAUSE so you can understand the why behind the cry is important. And remember there is absolutely no science behind this “unresponsive parent” narrative. Keep in mind fear is never a good place to make decisions from. 

My best advice is to educate yourself. I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power. If you’re listening to someone that is causing you to be fearful, anxious or stuck in survival mode,  that is a sign that you need to stop following them and bring people into your circle that empower you through education and experience and a proven track record. 

Using our natural instinct to parent in a conscious, clear headed way. 

The truth is, most moms will naturally gravitate to feeding their baby if they’re crying, especially a breastfeeding mama. Because a first time mom who is breastfeeding is ALWAYS second guessing if her baby got enough to eat. It’s definitely one of the things about breastfeeding that can make it hard. (especially in the early days of feeding). So her natural inclination is to “feed again”. This quickly becomes an issue as feeding becomes the only way that baby can be comforted and the breast or bottle becomes the sole means to offer comfort. Mom never really learns other soothing tools and therefore stays stuck in a reactive state every time her baby cries. 

I get many of these families who come to me months down the road with a baby who has never been allowed to cry for more than 10 seconds. In the longterm, this creates a baby who doesn’t sleep well (because they haven’t been allowed to settle themselves or get their cries out)  and who typically goes from 0-60 in 5 seconds flat because they have never been allowed to fuss or cry for even a few minutes. It feels completely foreign to them. This generally creates a high-maintenance baby and becomes unsustainable for mom over time. 

The answer to this is to simply change the mindset around crying and stop looking at all crying as bad or good and start looking at crying as simply something that is neutral. Something that all babies do and to start assessing the why behind the cry rather than just reacting. 

One of the common mistakes many moms make is thinking their baby is hungry when in reality their baby is tired, overstimulated or just fussy.

What if I told you that establishing a routine would help you to determine what your baby actually NEEDS and help you to meet that need in a timely manner? While that might sound crazy if you’ve never tried it, I can promise you it works!

Here’s why:

When you have a framework to work within and you understand the basics of newborn eating and sleeping routines as well as have an understanding of ALL the myriad of reasons that newborns cry, you can begin to logically think through your baby’s day and accurately assess his needs. 

If you’re focusing on making sure your baby gets full feeds, then if your baby starts to get fussy 30-60 min after the feed you’re going to be able to rule out that your baby is hungry. If you understand your baby’s wake window then you’re going to understand that  it’s time for your baby to go to sleep. You won’t be left wondering WHY your baby is fussy. You will assess by watching your baby, using the clock as a guide, and know exactly what you need to do. Which is… swaddle your baby and get them down for their nap. Then when your baby wakes 1 ½-2 hours later crying you will then KNOW that it’s time to feed your baby. Your baby is awake and crying because they are now hungry.

Here’s another example: Let’s say it’s 4:00 with your 4 week old baby. You know that at 5:00 your baby is going to get fussy because most newborns have a “witching hour” that can last 2-3 hours some days. Your baby has had a full feed at 4:00 and by 5:00 your baby is fussy. While you know it’s time for a nap, your baby won’t go down on their own. It’s the end of the day and your baby’s tolerance for light and noise is at an all time low. So as soon as you’re done feeding you’re going to prepare for this time of day by shutting off all lights and screens in your home. You may take your baby into the nursery and swaddle him and turn on the white noise. (here’s another white noise favorite). You know that reducing all stimulation and creating white noise helps immensely with the witching hour. So you prepare beforehand. 

Now does this mean that you wont feed a baby that’s super fussy when nothing else is working? Of course not. Nursing is immensely comforting and releases all kinds of calming/bonding hormones in both mom and baby. So yes, adding in an extra feed during this time may very well be ONE of the tools in your tool box but it’s not the ONLY tool.

And that my friend makes a HUGE difference. 

Having a variety of tools in your toolbox is a game changer. A mom that offers the breast or bottle as the ONLY mechanism to soothe her baby is not being a better mom than one who accesses first and then responds. The mom who accesses FIRST is NOT being unresponsive. 

The problem is, most moms aren’t given the tools they need to access first. They are left to figure things out on their own, and that my friend, is a mistake!  A mistake that can cause you to live for months on end, floundering your way through the fourth trimester and well past that into months 4,5,6 and beyond. 

This is why hiring a sleep expert BEFORE you bring home your newborn is one of the best investments you can make for your family. Not only will you have me to guide you down a path that you’ve never traveled before, you will have me by your side to answer the myriad of questions that come along with bringing home a new baby. 

There is nothing that will give you more confidence as a parent than when you can confidently read your baby’s cry and respond accordingly.  The reality is, it is normal and healthy for babies to cry and once we learn to assess and then act, only then will we be able to begin to discern the “why behind the cry”. 

I hope this has you feeling a little more empowered and comfortable with PAUSING instead of just reacting when your baby cries, to truly be able to assess what your baby needs. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or if none of this makes sense because you just don’t understand your newborn at all, please reach out for help!  I can give you some guidelines as to what is normal and what is not. I can give you a general time frame of what to expect so you can begin to gain some understanding behind all things in the fourth trimester. 


Looking for more great resources from Mamie?

How to Ease Separation Anxiety

What is an Extinction Burst and Ways to Cope

Toddlers and Sleep Boundaries

10 Simple Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better Tonight

These tips are simple, easy to implement, and created to help your baby slowly step into a healthy, secure relationship with sleep!

Congrats! Check your email for your free guide!