Why Do Babies Cry At Night And How To Soothe Them
Granted, crying is something that babies do. A lot. In the first years of their lives, babies and toddlers are very dependent on their parents and other adults around them. Without being able to verbally articulate their needs, their primary instinct when they need attention - when they’re hungry, afraid, cold or hot, when they seek comfort, love, and care - is to cry. This is the most ubiquitous reaction you can find in babies everywhere.
Of course, it’s not always clear what need you’ll have to satisfy when your baby is crying, but with time you’ll become more versed in the nuances of their reactions, while, in turn, they’ll also become better in communicating the particularities of their needs and acquiring other ways of communicating besides crying (making noises, doing eye contact, smiling, and later, of course, talking).
Nighttime is especially tricky - both babies and parents tend to become more cranky in this time of day usually reserved for sleeping, so it’s no wonder everybody’s on edge. And until your baby learns to communicate better, you both need to learn to react quickly - so, in order to make your job a little easier, we’ve compiled the most common reasons why do babies cry at night and combined them with possible solutions and ways of soothing them.
You probably already know that hunger is one of the most common reasons why your baby is upset and cries at night. This is especially true for newborns - they tend to it more frequently throughout the day, in smaller intervals of time. This is because newborns’ stomachs are very tiny and don’t really have the capacity to store much food yet, i.e. breastmilk or baby formula. This also means that it won’t take a long time before they need another feeding, which means not that much sleep for you in the beginning!
Some usual signs, besides the crying, of babies who are hungry (sometimes even before they start crying), are:
- Rooting - this is a reflex in newborns which makes them turn their head towards their mother’s hand when she strokes their cheek
- Lip smacking
- Putting their hands to their mouth
This one’s easy (at least for your little one) - the only way to soothe the nighttime hungry cry, is, of course, to feed your baby. If you’re breastfeeding, offer your baby a new session of feeding, even if you’ve noticed that your last session wasn’t that long ago. This is sometimes also called ‘responsive feeding’. Babies know by themselves when they have enough, and your little one will surely let you know once they’re satiated - they’ll come off your breast when they feel ready, and will also let you know by how they behave - they should be calmer and settled.
It’s similar if you’re formula-feeding as well - sometimes babies can keep up with being satiated for a couple of hours - every baby is different. Some babies don’t finish their formulas, which means they prefer to drink it in shorter intervals and more often. If this is the case with your little one, you can try to offer them another feeding earlier than you planned, in order to prevent the potential hunger cry and fussiness.
And don’t forget, even if the baby doesn’t stop to cry immediately after the feeding, if it indeed is a hunger cry, they will stop eventually, even faster than you think.
Tummy Issues Caused by Colic or Gas
This is another very common reason behind babies that often cry at night. Babies, especially in their earliest months, have very sensitive stomachs and esophagus, and some of the ways of processing the breastmilk or formula can often cause them discomfort. If your baby is generally healthy, but still cries a lot at night the chances are high they have issues with colic or gas (the general agreement is that it cries over three hours a day, more than three days in the week, over the course of three weeks). You may want to look for signs like these:
- Refusing soothing efforts
- Fist clenching
- Drawing up their knees
- Arching their backs
Babies often have allergies and other types of intolerances to some substances present in the breastmilk or the baby formula. This might cause various tummy problems: constipation, reflux wind, intestinal cramping.
If you notice that your baby is crying excessively, it’s always a good idea to take them to the doctor, just to make sure there isn’t anything more serious going on. Babies are colicky usually around up to the age of 5 months when their bodies are still very delicate and vulnerable.
If, after checking with your doctor, it’s determined that your baby does have colic, you can try these methods and techniques to help them become more at ease:
- Massage - a little gentle massage never hurt anybody, and babies aren’t the exception either. Just be careful not to overstimulate your little one and reach the opposite effect you weren’t aiming for!
- Soothing sounds - babies are comforted by sounds that remind them of the rhythmic heartbeat they used to hear while inside their mother’s body, as well as some other wooshing sounds coming from being positioned in the womb. You can find a lot of soothing sounds online, like natural noises, rainfall, and waves. You can also check out some of our products meant for infants and toddlers, like the baby night lights, some of them with sound effects as well that will surely help them ease up into falling asleep faster and without any fuss.
- Silence - if you notice your baby doesn’t respond well to sounds, you can try the opposite, and provide as little noise as possible. Some babies just prefer more noiseless and less-stimulating environments (also darker) to calm their upset tummies.
- Gentle motion - repetitive, gentle motion can be very soothing for a colicky baby. Try rocking them in baby swings or rocking cribs with slower movements - this will also help them fall asleep more easily. You can also try to walk with them around the house - you can carry them gently in your arms or in a carrier or sling. Babies love it when they’re close to their mother’s body and being gently bounced up and down.
- Fresh air - okay, this might not be entirely suitable for the nighttime, but if you haven’t taken out your little one in a while, this might be the perfect time to do it. The newness of the outside environment - the sights, the smells, and the sounds, as well as the fresh air, will help them get distracted from their upset tummy.
- Different positions - when you’re holding your baby try several different positions to see which one they find most suitable - maybe they like being cradled in your arms, or to stand more upright, or maybe to lie tummy-down across your lap - try several of them and see which one they prefer the most.
- Swaddling - wrapping your little one in a blanket or cloth will make them feel more comfortable and more in control, as well as taken care of. You can try this method before bedtime and just before they start to become colicky. Babies who are swaddled also sleep more soundly - this is because the swaddling makes the twitchings of the baby’s body during sleep less noticeable, and, this, in turn, makes it harder for them to wake up from them. Of course, you should also be careful with the swaddles - they can become dangerous if your baby accidentally rolls onto their stomach, face-down on the mattress. That’s why swaddling is usually recommended in the months when the baby still can’t roll over that easily, which are usually the first 2 months.
- Warm bath - this also might not be a too practical or fast solution during the nighttime, but if nothing else helps, it’s definitely worth a shot. A calming bath sometimes might be just what your little one needs to relax and get right back to sleep.
- Offer a pacifier - for some babies using a pacifier can be very soothing and at the same time distracting enough from annoying tummy issues.
- Burp your baby during feedings - babies sometimes swallow air when they’re being fed, especially from a bottle. That’s why it’s important to keep them upright during the feedings and try to burp them often in order to ease the gas pain. If you’re bottle feeding, It’s also a good idea to search for anti-colic bottles - you can check some of the best ones here.
- Warm water bottle - some babies find it soothing to feel warmth on their bellies. You can try filling a water bottle with warm water or lukewarm water (be careful with the temperature of the water because what’s warm for you might just be too hot for your little one). You can also place it on your belly and have your baby lie on top of you.
- Try probiotics - colic also might have to do with different gut bacteria in babies’ tummies. Some probiotics help to reduce the symptoms of colic in babies, especially ones that are being breastfed. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to consult on which (or whether at all) is the best option of probiotics for your little one. There are also some over-the-counter anti-gas drops that you can try, but with these, as with the probiotics, you should also consult with your doctor first.
Baby is in Need of General Attention
Because babies are creatures that depend a lot on adults, they also need a lot of physical contact and all the comforts and reassurance that comes with it. That’s why it’s very important to keep in mind that sometimes when your little darling cries it might not be connected with hunger or tummy issues - they just might be in need of some physical attention. When you locate this need, make sure to answer it as soon as possible, so the baby doesn’t get more anxious and doesn’t develop certain traumatic experiences in the long run.
Give your baby lots of cuddling sessions, hold them close, sway them in your arms and sing to them - hearing your voice and sensing your touch and attention is sometimes all the comfort and soothing care they need.
Certain types of babywear such as a sling or a carrier can be a great help when it comes to the moments of additional bonding with your little one. They’ll certainly provide the security your baby needs while being attached to your body, at the same time delighting in hearing your heartbeat, sensing your familiar smell and also feeling comfy and secure with the warmth coming off your own body.
Baby is Feeling Tired
It may sound a bit of a paradox, but yes, babies sometimes can’t fall asleep and can start crying because they’re just too tired. This can happen especially in situations where your baby is being overstimulated, without consideration of their own sleep rhythm, such as too much rocking and singing, for example. Also, situations where you happen to have lots of friends and visitors in your home in the evening, and your baby is already done with having their share of fun throughout the day and can’t handle any more attention, might also be the culprit behind your baby’s overtiredness. And because, in their earliest months, they find it hard to show more nuanced reactions, they show the usual signs of fussiness, crying at little, seemingly insignificant things - sometimes they even start staring, blank-eyed, into space. There are times when they also become overly quiet; these are all signs that might indicate your little one needs their well-deserved rest and peace and quietness.
Once you notice this, take them to a quiet room, after they’ve been properly fed, and put them gently into bed without too many rituals around it - at this point they just need a good, restful sleep.
Baby is Either Too Hot or Too Cold
Babies feel the temperature of the environment in which they’re in a little bit differently than adults do. They’re usually more sensitive to hot and cold, i.e. to more extreme temperatures and will definitely tell you in their own way if it’s somehow bothering them.
Sometimes you may think you’ve reached just the perfect room temperature for a good night’s sleep, but then it turns out your little one thinks and feels somewhat different.
The best way to check how your baby is doing, whether they’re too cold or too hot for their own good, is by putting your hand on their tummy or the back of the neck and check the warmth of their body. Don’t reach after their hands or feet, because they usually are colder than the rest of their body and can give you a false impression.
Ideally, the room temperature where your baby is usually sleeping should be around 20-22 degrees Celsius, or 68-71 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a good idea to purchase a room thermometer so you can always keep check on the temperature fluctuations in the room.
Also, keep in mind not to overdress your little one when you put them to bed because this might cause overheating which can be potentially dangerous. One more layer of clothing compared to you would be just enough for them to feel comfy and warm, without becoming fussy and overheated.
Another thing you should pay attention to is the sheets and blankets that you use to cover the crib and your baby. It’s best to use sheets made from cotton, as well as cellular blankets because they work better in regulating the heat coming off from the body in combination with the room temperature. If you see that your baby’s tummy starts to become too hot, just remove one layer or blanket from them; if you sense the opposite, that it becomes colder, just add another layer. If you’re a parent that likes using sleeping bags, make sure you use one for the appropriate season of the year, as well as one that’s a right size for your baby because if it’s too big it might make them colder and if it’s too tight it might make them overheat.
Baby Needs a Diaper Change
This is one of the easier ones to track. Babies don’t usually want to sit too long in their wet and soiled diapers and will tell you as soon as they can when they’ve done the job. There are, however, some babies which don’t react that fast or that clearly to a wet diaper and actually start showing signs of being annoyed and crying when their skin starts to become irritated.
Some babies don’t want you to change their diapers, mostly because they don’t like the weird feeling of cold air they get on their naked bum. But as you get more and more versed in the diaper changing business, you’ll also become quicker and your baby will also find it less stressful. If they’re constantly being fussy while you change their diapers, you can try distracting them with a toy. You can also play them a song, or sing to them.
Baby is Not Feeling Well
Babies sometimes have a particular way of crying when they’re not feeling well. They can cry in a somewhat different tone than their usual one, the one that you’ve been registering so far. This type of crying may sound more extreme in some ways - either weaker or more high-pitched. It can also seem continuous and more urgent than other times.
Also, have in might that sometimes it might be just the opposite - if your little one often cries a lot, and now has become unusually quiet, it might also be a sign that something’s wrong and that they’re not feeling well.
One of the most frequent problems that occur in newborns is the pain, itching and general discomfort connected with the process of teething. This often makes babies way more upset than usual. In the week before a new tooth is set to emerge, babies will most likely become more irritable and restless. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much that you can do to ease your baby’s way through this process. You can try and give them something soft to chew on a toy or a silicone toothbrush - this usually helps relieve the discomfort and calm them down.
You should call your doctor immediately If your baby is persistently crying with weeks on end, and also has a fever of 38 Celsius or 100.4 Fahrenheit (this is valid for babies younger than three months) and 39 Celsius or 102.2 Fahrenheit (for babies three to six months old), has diarrhea or constipation or is vomiting.
Some Final Words
Remember that, in the end, it’s rather normal for babies, especially newborns to cry a lot and remind yourself that, even after everything you’ve done, if your baby doesn’t stop crying, it’s not your fault.
In their earliest weeks, you’ll have to cope with a lot of crying, from all the reasons above, or maybe as a result of none of them. Crying in newborns usually peaks when they’re two months old and it kind of gradually eases off afterward. Still, in the meantime, it’s important to properly cope with the stress of a crying baby.
If you sometimes feel like it’s all too much, just follow a couple of simple steps and try out a few of the options available:
- Put your baby in their cot and let them cry for a short time, while you gather yourself up and try to relax in another room. Take a couple of moments for yourself.
- You can also always try to call a friend or relative for help, support or reassurance. You can let them take over for a little while.
- Search for a local parent-and-baby support group. Sharing experience with other parents can give you more ideas on how to cope and can be a great source for lifting your spirit.
- Talk to your healthcare professional on possible coping strategies and additional tricks on how to soothe your baby.
Just don’t let the occasional feelings of being rejected and frustrated because you couldn’t soothe them overpower you. Remember, your baby will grow out of it eventually and will find new and better, more nuanced ways of communicating with you.