What Does Your Baby's Cry Mean?

As a new parent or child care provider, you need to know what a baby's cries mean. Here are some tips that can help.

Newborn babies can be easy to care for. Most of their day is spent sleeping, eating, or looking around. But as they grow, they may begin to cry more often as a means of expressing a particular emotion.

Not all babies' tears are bad, nor do all require specific action. Here are some indicators that may help you learn to decipher an infant's crying.

1. If the baby cries in a low, on-again off-again style, it may mean the child is tired, bored, or settling down to sleep. Keep an eye on the baby while providing an opportunity for the child to comfort himself or put herself to sleep. Babies have a certain amount of energy to expend, and crying is one of the ways they do this. If the crying continues more than a few minutes, a gentle pat on the back while the baby remains in its bed may relax him or her to the point that the crying will stop.

2. A louder, rhythmic cry may mean the child is uncomfortable. She may be hungry, thirsty, have an upset stomach or a soiled diaper. Sometimes the baby can become startled by a loud noise or sudden movement, or he feel insecure at being in a new place or held by a different person other than the parents. Give the child a moment or two to settle down as you take stock of possible needs. Some questions to ask yourself or a caregiver are these:

-When was the last feeding?

-Could the baby be hungry again or still?

-Is there a possibility of an upset stomach or constipation?

-Might the diaper be wet or soiled?

-Is something pinching?

-Could the infant be temporarily frightened?

-How likely is it that the baby can comfort itself?

If the crying has not slowed down by now, it is probably time to check the baby and look for obvious signs of distress. Study its face and skin, clothing, diaper, and mannerisms. If nothing becomes evident, try burping the child gently and replacing him or her in the crib to see if that helps.

3. Screaming or a high pitched cry is a call for help. The child may be in acute pain or fear, or emotions may have gotten out of control. Comfort the baby as you make a quick check for items listed above as well as anything more acute, such as fever, ear ache, or upset stomach. After calming the child, look over the environment for possible causes such as a barking dog, extreme temperature, or over-eager sibling that may have pinched or dropped a toy on the unsuspecting little one.

4. A low wail can be a sign of distress. Sometimes associated with illness, loneliness, or hunger, the cry should be followed up on to ensure that your baby is experiencing no adverse symptoms.

5. Your child's sporadic crying while in a crib or play pen may suggest that he is bored or would like your company. Some parents supervise from the other room, allowing the child to find ways to occupy herself. Others return to change the baby's environment or provide a new object for observation or distraction.

Each of these cries may be different in an individual child, so get to know your baby's varied cries to make wise decisions on when and how to intervene. A cry is your infant's only means of communication, so don't take it lightly, and never punish a child for crying.

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