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The first time a baby cries is a joyous moment for parents and a sign of precious new life. However, during the early months, those cries can become confusing and difficult as parents struggle with soothing their fussy baby.

Crying does not actually produce tears until after the first month. Instead, crying is the way babies communicate. They may cry because of discomfort, hunger, frustration, fatigue, and even loneliness.

Sometimes, you may be able to answer your baby's cries with food or a diaper change. Other times, your baby may stop crying spontaneously, for mysterious reasons. While babies can scream and cry very intensely, try not to be alarmed and to remember that your baby is learning how to express himself.

If your baby is younger than 6 months old, do not worry that you are "spoiling" your baby by responding to his or her cries. As your baby grows older, the crying will decrease and gradually be replaced with "temper tantrums." Most toddlers have temper tantrums in response to frustration at not being able to control a situation or communicate their feelings.

Checklist for Calling your Doctor

Most crying is not a sign of a serious issue. However, if your child is crying and displays some or all of the below characteristics, call your pediatrician.

  • Your child seems ill.
  • Your child has difficulty breathing, fever, decreased responsiveness, or other symptoms.
  • A crying spell continues nonstop for an hour or two.
  • Your child has frequent, severe tantrums every day for several weeks.
  • The crying is uncharacteristic for your child.

Reasons Your Baby May be Crying

  • Hunger. Lip-smacking, turning their head to the side, and moving fists to mouth are early signs of hunger called rooting. Also, keep track of feeding times to remind yourself of when next to feed your baby. This can also prevent overfeeding.
  • Hot or Cold. To help your baby stay comfortable, dress him or her in about the same amount of clothing as you wear. Temperatures in the house should be what you normally keep, typically between 68-75 degrees.
  • Soiled or Wet Diaper.
  • Vomiting or Spitting up a lot. Some babies have gastroesophageal reflux, episodes where stomach contacts move back into the throat causing heartburn-like pain. Contact your pediatrician if your baby has excessive spitting up or vomiting, blood in the spit-up or vomit, is losing or not gaining weight, and is fussy after feeding.
  • Illness or Fever. Check your baby's temperature. Call your doctor if you baby is younger than two months and has a fever. A fever is any temperature at or above 100.4F.
  • Overstimulated. Babies can easily become overstimulated. Moving your baby to a quiet, darkened room may help your baby to settle.
  • Boredom. Quietly interact with your baby.

How to Calm a Fussy Baby or Upset Toddler

If you have taken care of the issues listed above and that does not calm your baby's crying, below are some tips that may comfort and quiet your child.

  • Take a walk with your baby in a stroller or swing.
  • Rock your baby or place him or her in a baby swing or rocking cradle.
  • Go for a ride in the car.
  • Swaddle your baby.
  • Offer a pacifier.
  • Gently massage your baby's chest or back.
  • Turn on white noise (such as a loud fan, vacuum cleaner, or washing machine).
  • If your toddler is having a tantrum, try to remain calm. Your energy and stress will feed onto them. Redirect your child with a neutral comment or other activity. Try to ignore the tantrum. If your child begins throwing objects, gently restrain your child.
  • Try to follow a regular feeding, sleeping, and playing routine for your child. Children do best and cry less with routines to follow.
  • Never shake your baby. This can cause severe injury. If you become angry or frustrated, ask someone else to watch your child for a while. If you are alone, place your baby in his or her crib and go to another room for a moment until you can calm down.

Different Ways Parents Can Take a Break

Caring for a fussy baby for hours on end can wear a parent down both physically and emotionally. If you've tried to calm your baby and nothing seems to work, it may be a good time to give yourself a break and chance to calm down.

  • Place your baby in a safe place, such as a playpen or crib. Leave the room and let your baby cry alone for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Take a deep breath and count to 10.
  • Listen to music.
  • Call a family member or friend for emotional support.
  • Do simple household chores, such as washing dishes.
  • If you have not calmed down after 10 to 15 minutes, check on your baby. Do not pick up your baby until you have calmed down.
  • If you have calmed down, go back to your baby and retry soothing techniques.
  • If the crying continues, consult your pediatrician for advice and support.
  • Try to be patient and not blame yourself or your child for the constant crying. Keeping your baby safe is more important than stopping your child's cries.

Matthew Gibson, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency Pediatrics

Dr. Gibson is a pediatrician in the Omaha area who answers your question about child development and parenting. He chose to specialize in pediatrics, because, "Kids are fun. You get to see them grow, and 'oh my gosh' here's their personality." In working with kids, he gets to be a lifelong learner as he's watching the children grow throughout their lives. He enjoys hearing his patient's stories and learning how he can be the strongest advocate possible for them and to make ...

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