The Why Behind The Cry

By Whitney C. Harris

The Why Behind The Cry

It’s common knowledge that newborns are big criers and that general fussiness and tears are a substantial part of the first few weeks and months of a baby’s life. In an effort to save everyone’s sanity, new parents are often told to go through a laundry list of potential offenders: Is the baby’s diaper dirty? Is she too hungry? Too hot? Too cold? Is she perhaps overtired or overstimulated? Bored or frustrated? But once all these options are exhausted and your mini me is still wailing, what’s a mom or dad to do?

As a first-time mom to a 3-month-old, I can’t help but feel completely helpless when there’s no apparent reason (or obvious solution) to my baby’s bawling. After she’s been bathed and freshly diapered, fed, burped, and doted upon in every imaginable way, she still might find a reason to be upset and unsettled. Basic logic tells me there has to be a reason for her distress. Why would anyone cry for no good reason? But my husband takes a different approach.

Unlike me, he’s never really bothered by the fact that we can’t always pinpoint our daughter’s “problem” when she erupts into howls. “It could be something as small as a hair tickling her toe or that her left hand is just a little bit colder than her right,” he’ll say. “So there’s nothing we can do about it but to try to soothe her and make her feel better.”

Of course, this kind of levelheaded thinking does nothing for me at 3 am after two hours of cycling through the feeding-burping-rocking routine in an effort to get our daughter back to dreamland. So I ignore him and take to Google instead, reading articles on all the potentials for tears, listening to audio recordings of infant cries and how to distinguish the hungry cry from the annoyed cry, watching instructional videos of baby sign language to help tots communicate before they’re verbal. This kind of late-night research usually makes me feel better, sort of like adult self-soothing I guess, but it rarely gives me an answer or solution to my daughter’s tearful state.

Thankfully, there have only been a few nights of inconsolable crying, and by the time I desperately grab my credit card to purchase the latest pricey technology promising instant infant soothing the storm has already passed and my baby is softly moaning in a half-asleep stupor. She relaxes in my arms and gently sighs with sweet milky breath. As my friend with a 12-month-old has told me at all hours of the day and night, “Sometimes it just takes time for them to settle.”

She’s right. My husband’s right. And most of the stuff I read on the internet is wrong. I’ve quickly come to learn, there isn’t always a why behind the cry.

Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY. She has a newborn daughter named Rowan. Find her at