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Last Updated: September 20, 2020

It is a joyous experience when newborn babies cry for the first time at birth. The short cry is a confirmation they have successfully dispensed with the fluid in the lungs and breathed their first air. The verbal reflex is also a sign that all is well and that celebrations can begin.

It is, however, another story when a child shrieks in the days and weeks that follow. The new mother is most definitely puzzled and frustrated as to why her 1 to 3 month-old baby is crying all the time!

Even worse her baby may cry so loud in all the wrong places, say a public facility, in the company of strangers. Besides the irritation the crying creates, everyone else somehow seems to have an answer to the crying nightmare, except the mother of course! They will tell her stuff like ‘undress the baby‘, ‘sing for the baby‘, and ‘make the baby burp’!


If your baby is giving you sleepless nights by crying a lot, this is probably why:

The truth is, babies, don’t necessarily want to cry. They would prefer to talk and save themselves the pain of having to scream. But it is all they know. They are incapable of communicating by word, not until they are 12 months and older.

Babies however use a set of gestures, sounds, and facial expressions known as baby language, long before they start crying. It is the inability on the part of parents and caregivers to respond to these reflexes that leave the little fellows with limited choices.

Of course, babies may cry for ‘no reason’ at all, like when they want to sleep, wake up, and even in their sleep!


1. Babies cry when really hungry

Hunger is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when your little baby begins crying. The crying starts slowly but is upped when there is no response coming from you, or the response takes too long to come.

It actually depends on your ability to interpret the signals your baby is sending to express hunger!

Before your baby starts crying, she will try lip-smacking and/or placing fingers in the mouth, as a reflex signal, to let you know it is time to feed.

If you respond fast enough, your baby will probably not cry, but again, babies are constantly demanding for milk, and it’s hard for moms to keep up to speed with their demands.

Otherwise, when she runs out of gestures and patience, the verbal reflex will kick in, forcing her to cry out.

The quest for milk and the crying will happen repeatedly throughout the day, especially in the first three months.

The frequent need for milk may puzzle first-time parents because it happens every so often, even in the night. The baby will want milk every hour in the first 1 month but will cut this down to two or three hours, at 2 to 3 months.

The reason for this is that young babies have small tummies that are only capable of accommodating little milk at one go. Milk is also digested pretty fast and these explain the frequent nursing.

With additional months, the tummy gets bigger and can therefore accommodate more milk at a time. This increases the intake of milk and reduces the frequency of feeding, and therefore crying.


2. Colic will lead to crying

Colic is when a baby cries intensely for longer than is normal, and when another underlying medical complication is not the reason. Your baby may arch the back during a colic fit.

All babies will always cry because of colic pains. The good news is that colic and crying will go away soon enough.

Though all newborns cry and show some fussiness, when an infant who is otherwise healthy cries for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week for at least 3 weeks, it is a condition known as colic. This can be upsetting, but the good news is that it’s short-lived — most babies outgrow it at around 3 or 4 months of age.

There is no defined medical explanation about what causes colic, but the following could be happening to the baby, according to webMD:

  • A growing digestive system with muscles that often spasm
  • Gas
  • Hormones that cause belly pain or crankiness
  • A sensitivity to light, noise, etc., or too much stimulation
  • A developing nervous system
  • An early form of childhood migraine
  • Fear, frustration, or excitement

Holding your baby upright and walking outside will help make the babies feel relax and therefor cut down on the crying.


3. Babies will cry due to discomfort

Just like adults, babies too need to feel comfortable and at peace with themselves. If anything happens to disrupt this peace, they will let you know through crying. A wet bottom is one typical example.

Just like you wouldn’t want to walk around with a wet bottom, why would you expect them to sit still in a wet diaper for longer than is necessary?

Crying is also triggered due to extremes in temperature, sound, light, and darkness, and discomfort resulting from fatigue, clothing, wet-bottoms, teething, and cold feet.

Though uncommon, babies will also cry simply because they want to burp! Yes. This happens after hasty breastfeeding or bottle feeding which will make them inhale air into the stomach. Babies will want to get this out of their system through burping and sometimes cry.

Elsewhere, children will only want a change of sleeping position or getting out of the house and explore the natural world outdoors, a little smile here and there, and of course, cuddling will soothe them. Yes, cuddling. Simply carry your baby and walk around, even deep in the night and you will be amazed how fast the baby will relax and therefore sleep.

I bet we all want them sleeping most of the time.


4. Babies cry because of natural reflexes

Sometimes babies will cry out of nothing at all, but out of reflex. Much as we expect them to respond to situations in a logical manner, the opposite may happen most of the time.

Sudden reflexes, also known as Moro reflex can occur a few weeks after birth. These reflexes happen when a baby experiences sudden movement or extreme light, and besides crying, will shoot out its hands and legs.

When something triggers the Moro reflex, a baby will extend their arms — moving them outward at the shoulder and then straightening them — and throw their head back. They will often also extend their legs as well as their arms, but leg movements differ among babies. The baby will then curl their arms and legs toward their body. A baby may or may not cry during the reflex.

Sleep is a good example when babies may experience the Moro reflex and therefore cry. Instead of calmly falling back to bed when sleep comes knocking, babies will go into a crying frenzy and throw all kinds of tantrums. They will want to be cuddled and have someone sing a lullaby for them to sleep!

It does not stop there. Babies may cry,

  • when they wake up
  • if they want to hear your voice and see your face
  • when waking up from a bad dream
  • if you raise the tone of your voice
  • during moments of mood swings
  • if they are over-stimulated

5. Medical complications that make babies cry

Besides the complications associated with colic, babies will also cry due to other medical conditions. These will manifest in simple pain, such as headache, a rash in the diaper, sore mouth and throat, and complex health issues such as fever and acid reflux.

Gastroesophageal Reflux can cause a lot of pain in babies, just like heartburn haunts adults due to excess and spicy meal, for example.

GER isn’t just a problem for adults — kids can have it, too, even babies. In infants, it can cause vomiting and fussiness after feeding. And in older kids and teens, GER can lead to heartburn, and stomach and chest discomfort.

Sometimes, the problem could stem from allergic reactions. A mother could easily pass on the offending food type through breast milk which instead, upsets the tummy.

Your baby may be allergic to foodstuffs such as cow milk, formula milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, etc. You may want to experiment with a variety of food types and single out the offending one. You can then remove it from your diet.


A tip for parents and caregivers

On average, babies cry for two to three hours every day, and there is no need to panic when these hours stay constant. You can reduce these crying spells by paying attention to their baby language and responding quickly to their demands.

Pay attention to their gestures, facial expressions, and other sounds to interpret what they are going through. Better still, cuddle them, walk them outside the house, talk to them, and play soothing music to calm them down.

Beware though if crying exceeds what is usually normal. Seek professional help when you suspect colic and other symptoms listed above are not the cause of crying. Contact your local pediatrician immediately to have your baby examined and treated.