For a while everything is peaceful — then you hear it. A glass-shattering screeching coming from the crib that would startle even the deepest sleepers awake. How can someone so tiny make such big noises? If your baby wakes up from a nap or in the middle of the night crying hysterically, you are not alone. Both of my kids did this (and my 2-year-old sometimes still wakes up crying), but the reasons vary depending on the baby and the night. POPSUGAR spoke with doctors to understand more about the different reasons babies might wake up crying and what parents can do to help.
Why Do Babies Wake Up Crying Hysterically?
There are many reasons why babies might wake up crying hysterically — so many. "Babies will cry when they feel hunger, discomfort, or pain," Linda Widmer, MD, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Illinois, told POPSUGAR. "They can also cry when they are overtired or frightened."
Babies can also cry when they need a diaper, if the room temperature isn't right, or if they are teething, have gas pains, are experiencing reflux or colic, have night terrors, or are sick, said Maryanne Tranter, PhD, APN, a pediatric nurse practitioner and founder of The Healthy Child Concierge with 25 years of experience in primary and urgent pediatric care.
Another reason babies might wake up crying hysterically is if they have skin irritation. "The most uncomfortable rashes that wake children up at night are often those in the diaper area," Karan Lal, DO, member of The Society for Pediatric Dermatology and pediatric dermatologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center told POPSUGAR. "Diaper rashes can be caused by allergic compounds in baby wipes, blue dye in diapers, irritation from frequent stooling, or even psoriasis! These can cause immense discomfort and cause babies to wake up and cry." Basically, if it can go wrong, it could lead your baby to wake up crying about it.
How Can I Keep My Baby From Waking Up Crying?
Depending on what made your baby wake up crying, there are several things parents can do to help soothe and comfort baby back to sleep. Dr. Widmer recommends doing a quick physical exam of your baby first. "Any fever, ear tenderness, belly tenderness, hair wrapped around a toe or finger?" she asked. "Did baby's leg get caught between crib slats? Does baby need to burp or pass gas? Does your baby calm down when being soothed? If your baby calms down quickly, then they may be looking for comfort."
For diaper rashes and skin irritation, Dr. Lal says to avoid wipes, but if you need them, try to use water wipes or wet toilet paper to clean bowel movements only. "Another tip to soothe and avoid nighttime discomfort is to use petroleum jelly after wiping and throughout the day," he said.
Other common problems can also be pretty easily addressed, according to Dr. Tranter. She suggests using an appropriate dose of baby Tylenol for teething and a Windi tool, gas drops, or belly massage for gas relief. For reflux, you'll need to check your own diet if you're breastfeeding (eliminating dairy can help), or try a hydrolyzed formula if you're not. You can also try repositioning your infant as they feed to see if that provides relief. If you're worried a more serious illness (like an ear or stomach infection, a hernia, or a scratched eye) is waking your baby, it's best to talk to your pediatrician.
At What Age Do Babies Stop Waking Up Crying?
Every baby is different, but eventually, they will all grow out of waking up crying. Depending on why they are crying, there are different timelines. For example, Dr. Tranter said that teething usually starts around 6 months old and can last until they get their last molars around 3. Colic is typically outgrown between 4 to 6 months old, and reflux usually doesn't last longer than a year. Night terrors start around 18 months and often go away by the time your child is 3 or 4 (although they could last longer).
Could My Baby's Crying Be a Sign of Something More Serious?
Most of the time, parents can quickly discover what made their baby wake up crying and fix it. However, in some cases, this could be a sign of something more serious. "It is vital to have your baby seen if waking up and crying hysterically at night is occurring (especially less than one month old) to confirm that there is not an illness," said Dr. Tranter. Be sure to reach out to your pediatrician or another healthcare provider if you need support for colic or any other cause of nighttime hysterics. No parent likes to see their baby crying. But with patients and a few tools, you can all go back to sleep happily!