Up to the age of three years, babies do not have the reasoning abilities. They are purely driven by needs and emotions and need your full support to manage any emotions that overwhelm them. The most common way of expressing their emotions is through whining.
Whining babies are pretty common and can throw your patience off-balance. But why do babies whine? And what can we do as parents? MomJunction addresses these points on baby’s whining and how to deal with it.
What Is Whining In Babies?
Whining in babies can be explained as a form of frustration due to the inability to perform an action or an unexpected outcome of a performed action. A baby may break into whining as a response to something or manifest feelings such as hunger, pain, and tiredness, generally from the fourth month of their life (1). A baby may whine for the first time in the fourth month or a couple of months later.
Whining, thus, is crying for the purpose of communication since a baby can’t tend to himself and needs the help of a parent. What are the various messages that a baby can convey by whining?
[ Read: Baby Language Development ]
Why Do Babies Whine?
The reasons can range from being generic to a probable manifestation of a health ailment. Let’s see them all.
1. He cannot communicate beyond a limited point
Your baby will babble for the first time after he completes 4 months. You will notice that he babbles uniquely for certain specific actions. Despite that, his range of effective communication is limited, and he cannot share complex emotions through basic sounds. As a result, babies may resort to whining. In other words, because he cannot talk, whining is the best way to get his feelings across quickly.
2. Telling you that he is hungry
Babies have a limited vocabulary and minimal speech capabilities. The best way they can share their thoughts is through whining and crying. If your baby whines, then it is quite likely he is just hungry and is asking you to feed him.
3. He is tired in that long journey
Your little one requires a lot of rest and sleep, and any exerting activity such as a long car journey can tire him out quickly. If your baby whines after staying awake for long hours, then he is simply tired and wants to slip into a slumber. Usually, his whining will be accompanied by general irritability and disinterest towards interacting with others.
4. Needs a diaper change
The next time your baby whines, check his diaper immediately. He may have just answered a nature call and is most probably telling you that. Whining is the baby’s way of communicating his discomfort after soiling his diapers.
5. Feeling hot or cold
You put your baby in a warm bath on a cold morning, and he suddenly begins to whine. That is, most probably, his way of telling that the water is not quite warm. Babies are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and could whine when they do not find it suitable to their liking. This may even happen when you move your baby to a new place where the temperature does not suit him.
6. Could be a fever, rash or something similar
Your baby could just be feeling uneasy and is communicating it through whining. Check his temperature in case he has a fever. See if he has an insect bite or itchy rash that is irritating him. As babies get older, they become mobile and crawl, which can cause them bruises here and there. Whining is a way of expressing pain. Check for any scratches or bruises on the little one’s body.
7. That naughty air bubble in the wind pipe
This is quite likely to happen just after a feeding session. Your baby may start whining for no apparent reason, but it could be a stuck air bubble that is causing him discomfort. Some pat on the back should be able to release it through a burp.
8. He needs some pampering
Your baby could whine for you to hold and cuddle him. It is one way of asking you “stay close” or “hold me tight”. It is just their desire to have a sense of security and attention that may make them whine but in a positive way. Research suggests that babies may cry or whine to attain the complete attention of their parent, which can result in a healthy upbringing since the parent is always around to protect and feed the little one (2).
9. He is overtired and refuses to sleep
An overtired baby is usually reluctant to sleep. In such cases, avoid eye contact with him as your gestures also might be tiresome for the baby. Take him to a dark and quiet room, and cajole him to sleep.
Whining is not always this sweet. Sometimes, it could be the result of some health condition, which your baby is unable to communicate.
[ Read: Baby Hunger Cues ]
9. Language issues due to autism
Babies born with autism have impaired language development (3). This means he is less likely to pick up new words and more likely to have a deficiency in verbal communication. A baby with autism may whine due to the frustration caused by his inability to communicate his thoughts. This is more likely to happen when you say or do something that he is unable to comprehend, and has a difficulty to react.
Some babies with autism may have trouble digesting amino acids in the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats (4). These foods are quite commonly given to weaning babies. The unbroken amino acids chain called peptides, breach the intestinal wall and reach the brain through the bloodstream. When this happens, the body’s immune system gets alerted and mounts an allergic reaction that may result in stomach ache and neurological symptoms such as hyperactivity, aggression, and chronic whining.
10. Gastrointestinal reflux
Babies have a tendency to develop gastrointestinal or acid reflux due to an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter, which is a bundle of muscles present at the point where the esophagus meets the stomach. Its primary function is to prevent the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus. In babies, a poorly developed sphincter lets some stomach acid to the esophagus, causing pain and irritation. Crying or whining is one of the symptoms of this condition (5). Your baby may whine a few minutes after feeding or during the feeding.
How To Deal With A Whiny Baby?
A whining baby can test your patience, especially when you do not see a reason for it. The following tips should help you deal with your little one the next time he whines.
1. Stay calm, be patient
If your baby whines then it is definitely for a reason. Do not let that annoy or anger you, no matter how difficult it gets. You are the only one who can understand his whining. Also, you will not become a bad parent just because your baby whines frequently. Therefore, take deep breaths, stay calm and be patient. If the situation is exhausting you, take a break. Give the baby to your partner or any other caretaker, go for a walk and come back. Even a 10-minute break would bring back your sanity.
2. Breastfeed him for succor
Breastfeeding not just provides the much-needed nourishment to your baby but also works as a great bonding time between the mother and baby. The next time your baby whines, just hold him in your arms and feed him. Skin-to-skin contact and your heartbeat will calm your baby’s whining.
3. Teach your baby basic yet useful communication
You can make your baby learn simple sounds or expressions to convey specific emotions. For example, when he whines you can show him the milk bottle and ask him “Are you hungry?”. If he stops crying and reaches out for the bottle, then you just fixed your baby’s whining! He will eventually connect hunger with the bottle and understand that the solution to his hunger is the bottle. You can teach your baby such object-cause-effect relationship through simple sign language that your baby can pick up faster than words.
Either way, asking questions, speaking word cues and using basic signs and sounds are a great way to make your little one communicate.
4. Eliminate the probable sources of whining
Does he always whine when he is playing with a sibling who takes away his favorite toy? Buy your elder child a new toy. Does he whine when being held by a certain family member? Let that member keep away from the baby. There could be various such inconspicuous stimuli for your baby’s whining. Identify and eliminate such stimuli to mitigate whining.
5. Rock your baby
It is a time-tested trick that works so well that it is recommended by experts for crying and whining babies (6). Hold the baby on your shoulder and rock him back and forth. You can also sit with him on a rocking chair or place him in a rocking cradle and use the movement to subdue his whining.
[ Read: Ways To Soothe Your Crying Baby ]
6. Play some sounds
Sounds from the baby’s toys or music can help distract his attention. The next time your little one whines, play some peppy and catchy music that will divert his attention.
7. Swaddle the baby
Swaddle your baby by wrapping him in a soft blanket with just his head out of the wrap. This is a great way of calming his whining when the probable cause is fluctuations in the temperature. A stable, comfortable temperature will help your baby relax.
8. Change his clothes and diaper
Always dress your baby in clothes that are appropriate to the weather. Also, change his diaper at regular time intervals even if he has not soiled it. Diapers have an external plastic lining that restricts air circulation that can cause discomfort to the baby, making him whine.
9. Relax him with a massage
Babies love the feeling of being touched by their parent. A soft touch massage is a wonderful way to deal with their whining. Place your baby on his back and gently massage his tummy in circular motions. You can also place him on his tummy and massage his back, arms, and legs. A massage will surely calm down your baby.
10. Give him a hot water bath
Warm water soothes adults and babies alike. Give your whining little one a warm bath. Dress him up and then swaddle in a warm blanket. You can follow this with a feeding session to calm your baby completely. Be cautious though since some babies dislike water and whine the most when they come in contact with water.
11. Pat the back
Hold your baby on your shoulders and gently pat between his shoulder blades. This should release the trapped air bubble and stop him from whining.
12. Use a pacifier
A pacifier works especially when the baby is bottle-fed. Babies can steady their heart rate and calm themselves down when they are sucking at something. It is a convenient way to deal with your whining baby.
13. Go for a walk
Perhaps your baby is just bored and needs a change in his surroundings. Put your baby in a stroller and take him out for a walk. Show him interesting things and objects that are quite likely to grab and hold his attention.
[ Read: Signs Of Overtired Baby ]
What If Nothing Works?
It could be that you tried every resolution, but nothing seems to work. Here are some tips to deal with such a situation:
1. Do not get frustrated
You must keep yourself cool even if your baby shows no signs of holding back his whining. If a situation is too much for you to handle, then request your partner to look after the baby for a few hours while you go out to get some fresh air. Do not hesitate to ask for help. Give a call to your mom, sister or a reliable friend and ask them to stay with you for a few days. It will give you the much needed emotional and psychological strength to deal with the stress caused by a whining baby.
2. Check with the pediatrician
As mentioned above, there can be some serious connotations for a baby’s whining. If you feel something is abnormal about your baby’s whining, then take him to a pediatrician soon. A medical practitioner will be able to see beyond the usual whining to detect an acute underlying cause to it.
In case your baby has a more serious cause for whining, do not slip into a panic state. Keep your nerves calm. Discuss the matter thoroughly with your pediatrician, and there is nothing wrong in taking a second opinion.
Always attend to your little one during his bouts of whining. Do not ignore his cries, instead, respond promptly. Research suggests that immediate attention to your baby’s whining, it may reduce his chances of crying and whining when he grows older.
Do you have any experiences to share about babies whining all night? Do leave a comment below.
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