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Deciphering your baby's cries: Tips from an expert

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

Learn to read your baby's cues early

When you are preparing to bring a new baby into your family, the last thing on your mind is how to “read” her cries. Most parents just assume they will know what to do, but in reality babies cry — a lot.

Being able to decipher between a “hungry” cry and a “tired” cry may save you a lot of stress.

Can you imagine only having one method of communicating with the people in your life? For newborn babies, crying is the only way they have to tell someone what’s wrong. Many new mothers are stumped for the first few weeks as they try and guess what Baby is trying to say. Simply cycling through the basic needs — eating, changing diaper, napping — will eventually bring an end to the crying but there is a better way. We checked in with world-renowned baby expert Amy Spangler, president of Babygooroo.com, for some tips on how to tell why your baby is crying.

Babies cry — a lot

Think of all the possible reasons your baby could be crying — she could be hungry, hot, cold, tired, sick, overwhelmed or simply want to be held. “When other behaviors accompany the crying such as sucking on fingers or pulling on an ear, it’s easier to identify the cause of the crying,” says Spangler. “But when crying occurs in the absence of other behaviors, parents usually embark on a process of elimination (massaging their baby’s tummy, picking him up, removing a layer of clothing, changing her diaper, checking his temperature or breastfeeding) in an effort to identify the cause of the crying.”

Should you be letting your baby cry it out? >>

Learning the cues quickly

The best way to be tuned into your baby’s needs is to stay close in the beginning. “Parents of newborns are urged to keep their babies nearby (within arm’s reach) during the day and at night for at least the first month after birth,” says Spangler. “This will ensure that sucking sounds, mouth movements, a finger caught in loose thread, a dirty diaper or skin that is warm to the touch doesn’t go unnoticed.”

The more time you spend with your baby, the more tuned in to her cries you will become. A soft, intermittent cry that starts slowly and builds in intensity may signal hunger, while a loud cry that comes on suddenly is more likely to signal pain. The quicker you are able to determine the cause of the cry, the sooner you can help your baby feel better. When there doesn’t seem to be a directly obvious cause for the crying, you can start checking for the common culprits — wet diaper, adding or removing a layer of clothing, feeding or burping.

What about colicky babies?

There are always those babies who just seem to cry all of the time. Babies who cry for extended periods of time for apparently no reason are often referred to as colicky. There is not one specific treatment for colic, which can be an added frustration for new mothers. How can you recognize a colicky cry? “What makes the colicky cry different is not necessarily the sound, but the parent’s inability to console their baby,” says Spangler. “Attempts to deal with colic can be exhausting, so parents are urged to take care of themselves as well as their babies.” If your baby continues to have periods of colicky crying, consult with your pediatrician for recommendations.

Check out these natural ways to help reduce colic >>

Babies will always communicate by crying — but with a little bit of effort, you can become fluent in their language.

More about your new baby

How to properly hold a newborn
Cloth diapering a newborn
4 Ways to sneak in exercise with your newborn

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