Infants do not cry ‘for no reason.’
Infants do not cry to upset you. They don’t have a concept of hurting others and they don’t have any reason to want to do so.
Infants do not have any other way of communicating distress or an unmet need. They do not have a choice about crying.
Do not ever yell at, shake, or punish an infant. They will not learn from this – but they will be upset and afraid and possibly harmed, either in the moment or via problems in brain development.
It’s okay to take a minute to set an infant down and go into a
quiet room if you are having a hard time staying calm and comforting,
and come back when you have more self-control.
The only way to get an infant to cry less is to meet their needs. If
you spend a lot of time with infants you can actually learn to notice
when they need something, before they cry about it at all. Most infants
show signs of discomfort, hunger, or having a full/wet diaper, before
they get upset enough to cry.
Infants whose needs aren’t
usually met right away may learn to cry immediately. Regularly not
responding to an infant’s crying teaches the infant to panic every time
they need something, and the trauma of being so afraid so often as an
infant can cause issues with healthy brain develoment.
If a baby is crying, they need something.
- Is their nappy/diaper clean and dry? Even if it’s just wet, it should be changed right away.
- Are they hungry? A quick way to check is to run your finger over their mouth and see if they try to grab it with their lips.
- Do they have air bubbles? You may be able to tell if this is the problem by feeling the infant’s tummy for unusual firmness.
Infants need to be burped right after they eat to help them get rid of air bubbles that may get trapped and cause discomfort. If it’s been little while since they last ate, it may be more effective to lay the infant on their back and move their legs in a bicycle motion.
- Are they too warm/cold? Touch the infant’s hands and feet to see if they need more or fewer coverings.
- Are they overstimulated?
If it’s too noisy/bright or they’re being touched by too any people,
etc., they may need to be held by one calm person with a blanket over
their head. Like most people, infants tend to get more easily
overstimulated when tired.
- Are they able to breathe freely? Infants cannot blow their own nose. A nasal aspirator is an inexpensive tool you can use to help them clear nasal congestion.
- Are they in pain? When
an infant is sick or otherwise in pain, it may be beneficial to give
them pain medication formulated for infants, such as baby tylenol.
Always follow the instructions on the bottle and consult a doctor or
pharmacist with any questions.
If a cold doesn’t start to improve within a few days or the infant seems to be in pain but you don’t know why, consult a doctor. The infant may have colic, silent reflux or other issues which can sometimes be treated.
If the infant is more than a couple months old, they may be teething. Baby tylenol will still help but a numbing paste, like orajel, on their gums may be more effective. They may also need teething toys to chew on or a cold wet (clean) washcloth.
- Do they just need reassurance? Infants like being sung to, murmured to, and soothed with rhythmic “shhh”-ing. Calm and steady sounds help reassure them that they aren’t alone and help them relax.
Another way to comfort an infant is to bounce them gently and rhythmically in your arms, and/or pat their back rhythmically.
Some infants, including most newborns, may need to be swaddled. A tight swaddle helps the infant feel secure and warm. Ask a doctor, nurse, parent, or YouTube to show you how to do a proper swaddle.
- Do they need to be held? The
need for touch is the need most often ignored. Infants are significantly
more likely to thrive with lots and lots of skin-to-skin contact. They
also just need to be held, in general, a lot of the time.
Being held (especially with skin to skin contact but even without it) helps the infant release hormones necessary for healthy brain development. Being close enough to feel an adult’s steady heartbeat is calming and beneficial for an infant.
For these reasons and many others, infants need to be held - a lot. Our closest primate relatives maintain constant physical contact with their babies for the first year of life. Historically most humans have lived communally, which allows several people to take turns providing the necessary physical contact.
Infants don’t need to be held every single moment, but the more they are held, the safer and more secure they’ll feel and the more likely they are to be healthy. A sling, baby wrap, or wearable infant carrier can help an infant get necessary contact time.
If an infant needs contact to sleep, consider getting a cosleeper cushion to safely allow you or someone else to sleep next to the infant. If that isn’t possible, sleep training where you pick up and comfort the baby each time they cry, and then put them down slightly sooner each time that night, may help.