As sure as the sun will rise, your baby will bawl. From day one of becoming a mom, it's your job to translate your peanut's waaahs to English. As you decipher which wail signals which want, it helps to know that crying, like most behavior, changes over time. Once you learn what causes the tears, you'll become adept at calming her down.
0 to 3 Months - Listen Up!
Why they cry It's your newborn's sole method of telling you something's wrong in Baby Town. The usual suspects are hunger, sleepiness, a wet or dirty diaper, or being too hot or too cold, says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician in Los Angeles and author of Mommy Calls. Or he may be upset because he craves the stimulation of being in utero. "Newborns miss the rhythmic energy of the womb, the movement, the muffled noises, and the limited space," says Harvey Karp, M.D., American Baby advisory board member and creator of The Happiest Baby on the Block book and DVD.
The adjustment to the real world can be rocky: During the first few months, 43 percent of infants will cry for up to two hours a day, 29 percent will holler for up to three hours, and another 14 percent can wail for up to four hours, British research reveals. Evening—the so-called "witching hour"—is pitch-a-fit time for babies younger than 9 months, and even the pros aren't sure why. Some believe the day's activities and frustrations wear on newborns, while others say babies tend to cry at this hour to tucker themselves out so they can snooze. How to know if your infant is colicky? Although Dr. Karp maintains there's no such thing, other experts call it colic if an otherwise healthy baby meets the Rule of Threes: more than three hours of crying per day, three days a week, for more than three weeks.
What to do Run through the list of possibilities (hungry, tired, hot, cold, in need of a diaper change) to try to hit on the problem and resolve it. With time, you'll get better at recognizing your cutie's cues and patterns—you may even predict when she's due to eat, doze, or get a fresh diaper before her first whimper. When the cause isn't clear, turn to Dr. Karp's "5 S's": swaddling, holding Baby on his side or stomach, swinging (or swaying) him in your arms, making shushing sounds in his ear, and offering something to suck, such as the breast, pacifier, or your pinky.
Try each "S" until Mr. Grumpypants calms down or you're doing all five at once. Don't worry about spoiling him. "When you respond to your baby, he learns to trust you," says Dr. Karp. "This helps him later develop independence." If you're at wit's end and need a breather, it's okay to put your little howler in a safe place (the crib works) and take a moment to compose yourself, says Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician in Seattle. Trust your new-mama instincts too: If your newborn's bawling seems unusual or simply out of character, check for a fever and then call your doc either way, says Dr. Swanson.
3 to 6 Months - A Friend in Need
Why they cry In those first weeks, weeping is more instinctual; now babies begin to realize crying can make things happen for them (and they're not shy about putting that newfound power to use). Another tearjerker is frustration. As a child becomes more aware of her surroundings, she may let out a squall if she can't reach her beloved binky or get out of tummy time by flipping over. What's more, the airplane mobile that once mesmerized her is now booorring. At this stage, the bond with you (and other caregivers) becomes even more key; you're far more stimulating than any toy, says Dr. Karp. Baby usually prefers your face to an unfamiliar one and responds more readily to your smile than to a stranger's. This can also mean he's likelier to request your presence (loudly!) at night too. News that will bring you tears of joy: Crying usually drops off drastically during this phase, especially for infants who were colicky, says Dr. Altmann.
What to do To guard against boredom, get out together at least once a day, either bundled up for a walk or on an errand, and chat your baby up. Point out the roaring sound of trucks and the yellow bananas at the grocery store. Spend ample time face to face; your infant craves your voice and your gaze, says Dr. Karp. During this stage, you're also probably moving toward sleep training, ideal because your munchkin is able to snooze for longer stretches. Plus, if you're headed back to work soon, you'll need your shut-eye more than ever. If your cutie cries in the night, try not to pick her up. Instead, go to her with a quick caress and a calming phrase, such as "Sleep, sleep, mommy loves you." That way, she knows you're there but will learn to soothe herself.