A-Z of soothing your crying baby

Calm your baby's cries by understanding his tears


A is for… Average amount a baby cries
According to studies, most newborns cry between one and 11 minutes per hour, with the average total duration of crying between two hours a day.


B is for… Breath-holding
Scary to witness but rarely harmful, breath-holding is most common in babies over one year old. It happens when a baby gets so annoyed and frustrated that she cries and then holds her breath and her skin turns blue.

C is for… Colic
A ‘colicky’ cry is often more high pitched than usual and may cause your baby to draw her legs up towards her chest. It also tends to occur at the same time, usually late afternoon or evening. Between 10 to 15 per cent of babies get colic, and it often disappears at around three months. Doctors don’t know precisely what triggers it.

D is for… Decibels
A baby’s cry, measured approximately 10 inches from her mouth, is 84 decibels. That’s 20 decibels higher than ordinary speech and about the same level as a busy street or factory.

E is for… Excessive crying
Crying is deemed excessive if it lasts for more than three hours, for at least three days and at least three weeks. It can be difficult to deal with.

F is for… Frustration
Feeling frustrated that your baby continues to cry despite your best efforts to soothe her is common. Ask someone to watch your baby while you take some time out to calm down. If that’s not possible, try going into another room. Leaving her to cry for short periods won’t hurt her, and it’s important you take time to regain your composure.

G is for… Good soothing strategies
Whether it’s rocking, playing music, going for a stroll in the pushchair, a drive in the car or putting her in a sling, your baby has her own preferred way of being calmed. As you slowly get to know her better, you’ll discover what works best.

H is for… Hunger
The most common reason why babies cry is hunger. But researchers were surprised to discover that more than a third of a baby’s crying has no apparent cause. In other words, if you can’t figure out why your baby is crying, you’re in good company.

I is for… Irritated skin
Your baby’s skin is thinner than yours and much more sensitive. Things like nappy rash may make your little one cry, so check to see if her skin around the nappy area is irritated. If it is, give her some nappy-free time, ensure the area is clean and dry, and use a barrier cream.

J is for… Journal
Sometimes, it helps to keep a journal of your baby’s crying to give you a better understanding of her crying pattern and how best to soothe her.

K is for… Kangaroo care
Pioneered in special care units for premature babies, kangaroo care involves skin-to-skin contact, with the mum holding her baby to her bare chest. Researchers have found that young babies who experience kangaroo care tend to cry less than other babies.

L is for… Learnt crying
This theory suggests that by responding to a baby’s cry, her crying becomes ‘learnt’, and develops into a habit. But this theory has been discredited by various studies because, in the first few weeks of life, a baby is not neurologically mature enough to learn to smile, let alone deliberately cry.

M is for… Milk production
Did you know that your baby’s crying actually helps stimulate milk production? When you hear her cry your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which triggers the let-down reflex.

N is for… Night crying
Research has shown that from around six weeks, babies cry more in the evening. Click here to see how to get a good night’s sleep.

O is for… Oxygen levels
It was once believed that crying was ‘good for a baby’s lungs’. But research shows babies who are left to cry for long periods have higher heart rates and lowered oxygen levels in their blood. But when these babies were soothed, their cardiovascular systems rapidly returned to normal.

P is for… Peace at last
It might help to know that much of your baby’s crying will eventually taper off. Indeed, for most babies, crying is substantially reduced once she is three months old.

Q is for… Quick response
Research shows that if parents respond quickly to their baby’s crying during the first few months of life, the baby cries less and for shorter periods in later months.

R is for… Recognising your baby’s different cries
It can be hard to distinguish between your baby’s cries, but most mums can soon recognise a cry of hunger, for example, from a cry for attention. Other reasons your baby cries include boredom, tiredness, a dirty nappy, being too hot or cold and illness.

S is for… Sucking
Sucking is comforting for babies. There may be times when your baby doesn’t want the breast or a bottle, but does want to suck. You might want to offer her a dummy or let her suck on your clean finger.

T is for… Tears
Newborns don’t shed tears because their tear ducts haven’t fully formed. But after about a month, once the ducts have developed, she’ll cry real tears.

U is for… Unique cry
Every baby’s cry is unique. Scientists found that recorded ‘cryprints’ are all different and that a new mum can distinguish her baby’s cries from listening to as little as 16 seconds of crying.

V is for… Voice
Your baby could recognise your voice even in the womb and it’s what she loves hearing the most – research has shown that even at a day old, your baby prefers your voice over all others. Simply talking and singing to her may be your most effective calming device when she’s upset.

W is for… When to get help
If you’re worried or finding it hard to cope with your baby’s crying, see your health visitor or GP. You could also contact Cry-sis, a charity that offers help for families with babies who cry excessively. Call 0845 122 8669 or visit cry-sis.org.uk.

X is for… X marks the spot
Touch and massage are very soothing. As you get to know your baby, you’ll probably find a special spot that, if stroked, calms her.

Y is for… Yelling
You should never yell at your crying baby. She isn’t crying deliberately to upset you – crying is her only way of communicating. In just a few short months, she’ll be vocalising through babble – the beginnings of proper speech.


Z is for… Zzzzz
An overtired baby is far more likely to cry. To help her drift off to sleep, keep the lights dim and the room quiet, and talk to her softly.

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