Marie, I became a dad a month ago, and I must say that we are rapidly learning about life with a newborn. Could you help us though? Could you give me a list of things we should check if a baby is crying a lot?
I know that would help us and many others who are learning about their new role as a parent.
Thank you for everything you do to help us.
What a great idea! Thank you for your question. As you said, a checklist can certainly guide many new parents, especially for a first baby.
A baby expressing themselves by crying is normal, but it should not happen all day long. Crying intensely two or three times a day during their first months is normal when their development and growth is fine.
I also suggest that you keep a daily journal of when they cry if you think they are crying a lot. This will help you identify when they cry and for how long. Is it when they feed? In the hour following their feeding? More at night? When doing activities? After going for a car ride? If in the end, you need to consult a health professional, this journal will help them understand the overall situation.
I have prepared a list that I would like to share with you. In it, you will find the things most associated with a baby’s crying. You will also find summary explanations and links to additional articles found at mariefortier.com.
1- Is the baby hungry?
When a baby wakes up and seems to show signs that they are hungry, they should be fed. The baby may feed in periods grouped closely together, and feed more during growth spurts, but be careful you don’t overfeed them.
If the baby is feeding well, calms down and remains calm, you have met their need.
2- Does the baby want to suck? Some babies need to suck more to feel secure, help them eliminate accumulated gases and pass stool. Sucking does not always mean feeding each time, because if you feed them each time they want to suck and they aren’t hungry, you’re overfeeding them. You’ll increase the quantity of milk in their stomach, increase the chances of reflux, more digestion, more freeing of gases, more intestinal discomfort and as such more crying. Here you are not meeting their needs.
For a little baby, sucking their finger or using a pacifier later will not harm their breastfeeding and can help satisfy their sucking needs without providing them with too much milk.
To learn more, watch the video Newborn Ailments.
3- Is the baby too warm or too cold?
Sometimes the baby can be too warm or too cold. Babies can often be too warm or too cold. Always check the baby’s back; if it is warm and dry, your baby is adequately clothed. If they are sweaty, you have overdressed them. However, if they are cold, they might be more irritable.
Never check the baby’s temperature on their hands, feet or tip of their nose as their extremities are always colder. For a newborn, you can put on little mittens and a bonnet the first days to keep them warm, especially in winter. However, after a few days, they become used to the ambient temperature in the home. You can cover them with blankets if needed, but don’t use a bonnet and mittens in the home, even at night.
4- The baby has a wet diaper?
Some babies hate having a wet diaper, especially if they have skin irritations. If this is the case, see the article Diaper Rash: The Right Product at the Right Time, to know what to do in this situation.
They might make it very clear to you that they want their diaper changed. If so, make sure you are ready to change their diaper!
A little baby will pee about six to eight times a day, and their stool schedule depends on the milk they drink and the baby’s intestinal pace.
5- Does the baby need your presence?
Some babies are naturally more insecure a require more contact, presence and the warm arms of their parents. It is quite a change for a baby, going from the warm tight uterus to the vast outside. They might feel lost, and you are their security. Your smell, your warmth, your hugs, your voice all calm them, especially in the first weeks of life.
As the weeks and months pass, you can talk to them, reposition them, hug them without necessarily picking them up, creating a dependence over time. This doesn’t mean never picking them up, but delay going to see them when they start complaining, especially after three or four months. Doing so, you will meet the baby’s needs without creating a vicious circle where they always need you to pick them up to calm them down.
Go slowly, getting them used to it. However, over time they will understand that you are always there for them. They will gradually increase their trust in their environment and understand they are not alone.
6- Does the baby have discomforts?
A baby under three or four months can have discomforts that make them more irritable in their daily lives. Their gastrointestinal immaturity is often the cause of many ailments a baby can feel — Bloating, colic, difficult intestinal elimination, etc.
A baby accumulates gas when digesting their milk and learn to push it out by themselves after six to eight weeks. So before this, their stomach will often be tense, bloated, hard. If this happens, please watch the video about massaging the baby’s stomach to help them push out their gas the right way.
Maybe they have reflux? Are they swallowing all the time, or cry when they feed or arch backwards? Do they cry more during the hour following a feeding? Do they drink frequently but in small quantities? See the article about the difference between reflux, vomiting and regurgitation for more details.
Is your baby reacting to their milk? Is your baby breastfed exclusively and cries more and more each time they feed? Is your baby drinking a formula and cries every time they consume their milk? You should consult to check if they might have an intolerance to bovine proteins. See the article about intolerances and allergies for additional explanations.
Should the mother use an elimination diet for bovine proteins? Do you need to change the formula for therapeutic milk which is easier to digest for a small baby? This requires an evaluation by a health professional to guide you. You can find additional explanations in the article about Formulas for Newborns.
7- Does the baby have hard stool? A constipated baby will have hard and dry stool. This can discomfort them a lot and lead to anal fissures over time, which can lead to more pain and crying when they eliminate their stool. Read the article about baby constipation.
If their stool is pasty, soft or even liquid when the mother breastfeeds exclusively, the baby isn’t constipated. See the article about the changes in stool during a baby’s development for more details about smells, colours, consistency, and frequency of stools for a baby as they age.
8- Does the baby have a strong temperament?
Babies can be naturally more intense than others. They react quickly, cry loudly, they’re hypersensitive and require more attention from their parents, both when they’re tiny but also as they grow.
However, you shouldn’t confuse this with a baby that is feeling discomfort!
If your baby has an intense temperament, over time, you will know this as they will stay the same as they age. See the article about High Needs Babies to recognise them better.
9- How is the baby in general? Always check to see if the baby has a fever.
Check if they urinate and pass their stool regularly to prevent dehydration. Also, check if their urine doesn’t smell fetid.
Check to see if they wake up on their own easily, aren’t listless, sleepy or sluggish.
Check to see they’re gaining weight normally.
I hope this table will help guide when identifying possible causes of your baby crying and reassure you at the same time. So if something concerns you after using this checklist, you should consult! You’re the best judge of what your baby needs.
The Baby Expert