Don’t go crazy trying to figure out why your baby is crying.
You’ll hear it from a million parents a million times over: “Babies only cry when they’re tired, hungry, sick, or need a new diaper.” But that’s 100 percent not true.
“Sure, kids will cry when they’re hungry, have a dirty diaper, or a pain,” says Gina Posner, MD, pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “But they’ll also cry because they’re not being held, or are too warm or not warm enough. And sometimes, they’re just crying and you don’t really figure out why. It’s not exactly what parents want to hear—they want a solution—but you might not ever exactly figure it out.”
When this happens, don’t beat yourself up—you’ll be able to determine at least the bulk of your child’s crying cues in time. And the ones you can’t nail down won’t come up all the time, anyway.
If they’re in a safe space, put them down and walk away for 10 minutes.
Even the most placid parents can get frustrated by a baby who won’t stop crying. If you’re feeling like you’re at the end of your rope, or are too exhausted to safely watch them, put your baby alone on their back in a safe sleep space—a crib, co-sleeper, or bassinet with a firm surface and no soft bedding or stuffed animals—and take a few minutes for yourself.
“If a baby’s crying and you’ve checked everything and you know they’re healthy, you can put them in a safe spot and leave them for 10 or 20 minutes,” says Posner. “If they’re in a safe area, they can cry and you can take a little breather for a few minutes. You don’t have to feel like you always have to be right there as long as you know they’re safe and healthy.”
Use your pediatrician’s emergency line.
Many new parents find themselves frantically searching for answers when they encounter a rash, unprecedented fussiness, or any other new and surprising symptom in their child. The good news? Most pediatricians have an after-hours emergency line that parents can call when they’re at a loss for what to do, but want to avoid a trip to the emergency room
If you don’t want to breastfeed, don’t stress.
A 2017 meta-analysis published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that breastfeeding for at least two months can reduce a baby’s SIDS risk by up to 50 percent. But the cognitive benefits of breastfeeding may have been overstated.
According to a 2018 study published in PLOS Medicine, by the time kids hit 16, there’s no discernible difference between the ones who were breastfed versus the ones who were formula-fed in terms of neurocognitive function. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t (or don’t want to) breastfeed. Just be sure you’re prepared for late-night trips to Target for formula!
When in doubt, nap it out.
Your kid is on hour three of an absolute meltdown and you’ve tried to ply them with snacks, books, and as many games of Candy Land as they can handle. So, what’s an exhausted parent to do? Put them in their bed or crib and try to get them to nap. “Kids who get an adequate amount of sleep behave better, have better personalities, and are generally happier,” says Posner.
But there’s one exception: Don’t do this after your child has bumped their head or fallen because if they have a head injury, going to sleep can be dangerous. Use that emergency pediatrician line if you have any questions or concerns.
But don’t freak out if they miss a nap or two, either.
For some parents who have their kids’ sleep schedule down to a science, the thought of missing out on a nap is enough to send them into a downward spiral of anxiety and panic. But don’t worry: a skipped nap or two won’t actually have long-term consequences. “Over a couple of days, you’ll just have a crabby child,” says Posner. “Parents won’t be very happy if they deprive their kids of a couple of nights of sleep, but there are no real other repercussions.”