Crying: Your newborn baby's early communication

When they are born and during the first few weeks crying is an important way for your baby to communicate their needs. They will, in the next few weeks, start to smile, look and move as a means of communicating but crying will remain an important part of their communicationIn this blog, we will look at what is known about crying and young babies and some of the things that might soothe your newborn baby.

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How much do babies cry? 

At My First Five Years, we know that every baby is different and that is why we support you to follow your baby’s individual journey. Despite a wide variation between individual babies and the amount that they cry there is a pattern to young babies’ crying. The amount a baby cries increases after a couple of weeks and reaches a peak after a few months then gradually reduces, the ‘crying curve’ [1] shows this pattern.

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Whilst the pattern is similar for most babies there is a wide variation between individual babies, but perhaps knowing that your baby might cry more before they start to cry less is helpful. It might be that if you have friends who are eager to meet your newborn baby you ask some to wait for a couple of weeks, so when your baby is starting to cry more you have some visitors who can take a turn holding and rocking your baby.  

 

Soothing  

You can find various lists of reasons why your baby might be crying, including that they are uncomfortable, hungry, or overstimulated. It is interesting to discover that researchers suggest that much of a baby’s crying is unexplained, so when there are times when you can’t work out why your baby is crying it might be that there is no specific reason! When your baby cries you will probably start by checking if they are hungry, or need a nappy change, you might know that they have been playing for a while so are likely to be tired or overstimulated, but when you have checked all these reasons you might want to think about other things that might comfort your baby. Remember your newborn is getting used to lots of new things and different sensory experiences, they have spent 9 months being gently rocked and having their nutritional needs met, now they are having new experiences every day, feeling different sensations and are completely dependent on other people to meet their needs. You are adjusting to life as a parent, you are getting to know each other and working out what helps your baby, so don’t worry if there is a bit of trial and error involved at first!

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The things that help your baby to settle are often linked to sensory input, once you have made sure that your baby is not hungry or uncomfortable you could think about the type of input that soothes them. Something that soothes one baby might be overstimulating for another so there is an element of finding what works for your family and your baby. Your baby might be comforted by sucking, so if you are breastfeeding a feed might help them to settle. Some babies are comforted by some gentle background noise, you can get ‘whitenoise’ playlists, or you might find that simply putting on the washing machine provides some comfort. Babies know that they need adults to look after them and sometimes they might be comforted by being held, or rocked, slow movements from side to side tend to be soothing. Your baby might enjoy a change of position, so might settle when held upright over your shoulder or held carefully on your forearm. Skin-to-skin contact can be comforting for some babies, and taking off your baby's clothes and your own top and lying them on your chest might be soothing. Taking them out for a walk or a drive could also help them to settle as they feel the gentle motion in their sling, pram, or carseat.

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We know all babies are different, and you will work out what helps your baby to settle as you try different things. Even as you learn this there might be times when your baby struggles to settle, that is often a normal part of babies’ behaviour but if you are worried speak to a professional.

 

Finding other ways to communicate 

Your baby’s crying is a way to communicate with you and responding to your baby’s cries is the beginning of them understanding that their communication will be listened to, one positive effect of crying is that it can help to build your relationship with your baby. As your baby develops they will begin to be able to communicate in different ways with smiles, movement and then by babbling. Although the amount that they cry is likely to increase during the first couple of months, it will then decrease as they are able to communicate in different ways.  

 

Looking after yourself 

If your baby cries for a long time, or for no reason that you can find it can be difficult, so think about what helps you to be calm as well as what helps your baby. It might be that you have some friends or family who can come and take a turn holding and soothing your baby. You might need to put your baby somewhere safe and have a moment in another room to calm yourself before you go back to soothe them. Remember that all babies cry, some cry more than others and crying does reduce as your baby develops.  

 

References 

[1] Barr, R.G. (1990) The normal crying curve: what do we really know? Developmental medicine and child neurology. 32(4) 356-362.  

Find out more: 

Soothing a crying baby - NHS (www.nhs.uk) 

ICON - Babies cry you can cope - Advice and Support | ICON (iconcope.org) 

Crying behaviour: Synthesis. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. https://www.child-encyclopedia.com/crying-behaviour/synthesis. Updated March 2017. Accessed October 6, 2021. 

Guide - Younger | cry-sis 

The Period of PURPLE Crying | PURPLECrying.info