Demystifying the Reasons Behind Your Infant’s Tears: A Comprehensive Guide for UK Parents

Demystifying the Reasons Behind Your Infant’s Tears: A Comprehensive Guide for UK Parents

Becoming a parent is a joyous journey filled with countless precious moments. However, it also presents challenges, one of which is deciphering the reasons behind your newborn’s cries. This guide aims to shed light on common causes of infant distress and provide actionable tips for soothing your little one, tailored specifically for a UK audience.

Understanding the Purpose of Infant Crying

Infant crying is a universal behaviour designed to communicate needs and discomforts. As Darcia Narvaez, PhD, a professor of psychology, explains, crying is an evolutionary signal used by mammalian offspring to demand immediate parental attention. Therefore, identifying the reasons behind your baby’s tears is the first step towards effective soothing.

  • Hunger Pangs

Hunger is a frequent cause of infant distress. Your infant’s hunger cries may be rhythmic, repetitive, and accompanied by lip-smacking or hand-sucking. To prevent these hunger-induced bouts of crying, watch for these early signs and feed your baby accordingly.

  • Sleep Deprivation

Contrary to what exhausted parents may believe, sleep is a skill that infants need to learn. Newborns don’t establish a circadian rhythm until around four months of age, and they lack the ability to self-soothe. Hence, parents need to assist their infants in establishing a regular sleep schedule.

  • Uncomfortable Nappies

Discomfort from soiled nappies can trigger tears. Some infants are tolerant of wet or dirty nappies, while others become distressed instantly. Regular nappy checks can help keep your baby comfortable and prevent crying episodes caused by this discomfort.

  • The Need to Burp

If your baby cries soon after feeding, they may need to burp. Burping your baby can help release any air swallowed during feeding, pacifier use, or crying, reducing discomfort and potential crying.

  • Digestive Discomfort

If your baby’s crying is accompanied by wriggling, back arching, or leg pumping, they may be experiencing gas-related discomfort. To alleviate this, hold your baby on their side or stomach, or try “bicycling” their legs to help release gas.

  • Teething Discomfort

Teething can start as early as four months, causing discomfort and increased crying. To soothe teething pain, allow your baby to chew on safe, chilled objects or gently massage their gums.

  • Sensory Overload

Newborns are still adjusting to their environment, and high levels of stimulation can overwhelm them, leading to tears. If your baby appears overstimulated, take them to a quiet, familiar setting or go for a calming walk.

  • A Cry for Attention

Babies often cry to express their need for attention, physical contact, or reassurance. Responding empathetically and promptly to their cries can help them learn to remain calm and secure.

Illness-related Discomfort

When unwell, your baby may cry more frequently and intensely than usual. Keep an eye out for other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, unusual lethargy, or inconsolability, and consult your paediatrician if necessary.

  • General Discomfort

Minor discomforts, like an itchy tag on their clothes or a tight shoe, can also lead to crying. If your baby continues to cry despite your soothing attempts, check for any sources of discomfort and eliminate them.

  • The Colic Conundrum

Colic is a condition where healthy infants cry excessively and inconsolably. While living with a colicky baby can be stressful, remember that this phase is typically short-lived and does not necessarily indicate pain or discomfort.

Strategies to Soothe a Crying Infant

Once you’ve identified the cause of your baby’s distress, you can employ various soothing techniques. The “Five S’s” strategy outlined by paediatrician Harvey Karp can be particularly effective: swaddling, holding your baby on its side or stomach, shushing, swinging, and allowing them to suck on something.

  • The “Cry It Out” Debate

The question of whether to let your baby “cry it out” is a controversial one. While some critics argue that it can be emotionally scarring, research has found no long-term effects on the baby’s emotional state or the parent-child bond. Ultimately, each family must decide on a sleep-training strategy that suits them best.


Parenting is a challenging yet rewarding journey. Understanding the reasons behind your baby’s tears and knowing how to soothe them effectively can make this journey smoother. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it, and above all, remember that this phase will pass.

  • Additional Resources

Here are some UK-based resources for further reading and support:

Remember: Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional about your specific circumstances.

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