by Heather Owens
A baby only has one way of communicating -- crying. Everything is incredibly new to them, every feeling, every experience. Sometimes, for a new parent, it can be very difficult to work out exactly what your baby is crying about. However, there are some basics that you can check if your baby cries. It may be one or a number of them are making the baby cry.
The best place to start is the diaper. If it's wet or soiled, then the baby might be uncomfortable and start crying. If the diaper needs changing, then change it. More often than not, that will solve the problem. Some babies don't like having their diaper changed, and will often cry even more. Mostly it's because they don't like the sensation of being uncovered. So change the diaper as quickly and smoothly as you can, to minimize distress. Then cover the baby with a blanket or clothing, so that the baby feels comfortable again.
Babies also like being warm. However it's also possible to overdress a baby, so be sensible about it. When checking the baby, look for very red skin, and see if the baby is sweating. Either of these signs suggest the baby is almost certainly too hot. A good rule of thumb with dressing your baby is one layer more than you're wearing. If the baby is too hot or cold, then adjust clothing or covers to suit the temperature.
Next, is your baby hungry? Is it a while since the last feed? Did the baby maybe feed a little less than normal at the last feed, and so perhaps is hungry quicker this time around? Try nursing or offering a bottle. Babies do need to eat frequently, because they are growing so quickly. Often the action of sucking helps to soothe the baby, even if they're not very hungry. Babies are very good at knowing when they've had enough, and will stop. So don't worry too much about overfeeding. The baby will stop crying once he's not hungry any more.
After feeding, many babies develop gas. The baby's digestive system is only just developing, and eating is a very new experience. Sometimes crying means the baby has some gas rumbling around in the tummy, and needs to be burped. Put a cloth on your shoulder, and hold the baby against your shoulder so that his stomach is against the front of your shoulder. Make sure the head is well forward, or support the head if you can. Rub his back firmly, in a circular motion. This helps to put pressure on the digestive system both front and back, and often produces the required burping. Some gentle patting may also help, but be very careful if you decide to do this - babies are very delicate.
You may even find that just going for a walk with the baby on your shoulder helps. Babies seem to like movement, probably because they're used to being bounced around in the womb. But also, being held close to a parent is very soothing for a baby. Babies love to be held and cuddled -- despite some suggestions to the contrary, you can't hold your baby too much.
Some babies also find it very soothing to be swaddled in a small blanket. Swaddling involves wrapping the blanket around the baby's body fairly tightly. The arms are held close to the baby. In some ways this feels a lot like the womb to a baby, because they were tightly enclosed in there too. Sometimes the sudden experience of being able to move around can distress a baby. Your health professional should be able to teach you how to swaddle the baby effectively. It's important to make sure, though, that the head and neck remain uncovered.
Once you've gone through the list above -- check the diaper, check the baby's temperature, try a feed or a burp, and swaddle the baby -- and the baby's still crying, then trying holding the baby close and making a rhythmic "shhhh" sound near the baby's ear. If it sounds a little bit like a wave on the beach, great. That's the sort of sound the baby heard in the womb, and is often very reassuring and soothing. Some babies are very sensitive to noise, and an average home produces a lot of noise! You can even try a radio tuned off station, so all you can hear is "white noise."
Over time, you'll find that you begin to recognize the difference between your baby's cries, and so probably won't need to go right through the checklist every time baby cries. However if at any time you suspect your baby may be sick or in pain, or if he's still crying even after checking all of the above things, it's always best to visit your health care professional, just to make sure everything is okay.
Check out the author's book about babies at Baby's First Year For lot more great baby information.
Copyright © Heather Owens. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.