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8 Critical Reasons Why Baby Whines & 15 Ways To Deal With It

By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated: 27 October 2021

Put simply, when your baby whines, it is their way of saying... 

I'M NOT HAPPY.

And in the first year of life, whining is a baby's means of communication, so it's actually quite important! And as grating as it can be, it's vital that, as parents, we learn to decipher what the whining means so we know what our little ones need.

8 Critical Reasons Why Baby Whines & 15 Ways To Deal With It

The difference also comes as they start to grow up... when does baby whining stop being crying and start to become a demanding reaction?

Well, let's dive in before our eardrums pop and we can have a happy, calm baby once again!

What is baby whining?

Baby whining is what most would call crying. And just like crying, when a baby whines, it is their way of expressing discontent for what they feel to be an undesirable or unpleasant circumstance. Whether that be a wet nappy, a hungry tummy or being a bit too cool!

And as I briefly mentioned earlier, whining is a baby’s only means of communication so it's important for parents to learn what their baby’s whines mean, no matter how grating on the ears it can be!

baby whines Featured Image

What are the 5 types of baby cries?

As a new parent one of the first things you have to learn is how to interpret your baby’s crying.

It is not always easy to know what your baby wants and what each cry means but as you get to know each other you will begin to identify certain behaviours and cries that will give you some indication as to what your baby needs or wants.

There are 5 main types of crying in young babies and they are:

1. I’m hungry

This is a short, low pitched cry that is usually accompanied by lip sucking, the rooting reflex and sucking of their fists.

2. I’m uncomfortable or tired 

If your baby has wet or dirty nappy, is feeling too hot or too cold, is in an uncomfortable position or feeling tired they will give a whiny, nasal cry that will gradually strengthen in intensity if the source of their problem is not solved.

Your baby will usually pull at their ears or yawn as well.

3. I’m sick

If your baby is feeling unwell they will not have a strong cry but rather a nasal whimper. Look for other signs of illness such as fever, diarrhoea or a rash. If your baby appears to be lethargic and slow to respond you should seek medical advice.

4. I’m in pain

You will certainly know if your baby is in pain. They will issue a high pitched intense wail that will usually be accompanied by a lot of fidgeting. If colic is the cause they will also pull their legs up towards their tummy. To learn more about colic (or reflux), be sure to read my post Colic And Reflux.

5. I’ve had enough or I’m bored

Sometimes babies get bored or tired of playing. Both situations result in a similar fussy, whiny cry and they will probably turn away from you or any stimulation.

Is baby whining normal?

Baby whining is completely normal as it is often the only way your little one can communicate with you before they are able to use proper words.

A baby will cry or whine in order to let you know that they need something or are unhappy about something.

When will they grow out of it?

At around 1 year of age, your baby should start to whine less as they become more adept at using other ways to communicate their needs. 

They may have simple words that they can use by this stage but will also be able to use gestures such as pointing, reaching and nodding or shaking their head. Being more mobile also allows them to show you what they need or get it themselves which leads to less frustration and consequently, less whining.

Once they are able to communicate in a more effective manner you should try to encourage your little one not to whine, but rather show them how to use other means of communication to get their point across.

Top Tip

A whining baby is something that you need to decipher in order to meet their need.

But a whining toddler is not something you want to perpetuate so any whining beyond 16 months should be discouraged.

8 Critical reasons Why your baby whines

Your baby whines for a number of reasons and as the parent, it is up to you to be the detective and work out what is the primary cause.

The most common reasons for baby whining are:

  1. Tiredness.
  2. Hunger.
  3. Discomfort.
  4. Overstimulation.
  5. Frustration.
  6. Boredom.
  7. Pain.
  8. Illness.

Can the witching hour be to blame?

If your baby is only fussy and whiny in the late afternoon and early evening then it could just be linked to the phenomenon known as the ‘witching hour’. 

Persistent crying at this time of day needs to be dealt with a little differently from normal crying and may be attributed more to your baby’s routine than one specific cause.

To learn more about the witching hour, be sure to read my post Baby's Witching Hour.

witching hour Featured Image

15 ways to handle moments when baby whines

Some babies are more prone to whining than others. This could just be down to their personality. A more placid baby is less likely to whine while others will have very short tolerance levels to not being fed quickly enough or being overtired. 

As a parent, a whining baby can be hugely trying.

You can easily feel that no matter what you do you can not decipher what is wrong or what your baby wants. 

Knowing how to handle your whining baby and what are the most likely causes of whining will go a long way in helping you cope.

Top Tip

How you handle whining will largely depend on the age of your baby.

Very Young Babies

In very young babies you will need to pay careful attention to the type of cry in order to decipher what they need:

1. Ensure that your baby is fed promptly

If your baby whines because they are hungry then you need to act fast. A baby that progresses from whining to full-blown crying will not be able to feed well and will take in lots of air which is not ideal when breastfeeding or bottle feeding!

2. Swaddle Them

If your baby is tired and whining then they need to be settled to sleep as quickly as possible before they become too upset. 

Always check to see if your baby has a wet or dirty nappy before cuddling them and putting them to sleep. Swaddling your baby will help them feel safe and secure and can help to stop the whining.

3. Always check their nappy

One of the first things to check when your baby whines is to see if they need a nappy change. This simple act can often solve the whining simply and quickly.

4. Make them comfortable

If you suspect your baby is too hot or cold, put on or take off clothes as necessary. You can tell if a baby is too hot or too cold by placing your hand on their tummy.

5. Cut down on social interaction

Young babies do not really like being handled by different people too much. So if your baby starts to whine when friends or relatives are over then you will need to step in and take over looking after baby.

6. Fix the boredom

If your baby is fussy and whiny because they are bored, pick them up and try a change of position or location and you will probably find the whining will stop.

7. Overstimulated

When babies are overstimulated or have had enough playing they may start to whine and fuss. The best way to deal with this is to take your baby to a quiet place, turn on a white noise machine or sing a lullaby.

8. Stay calm

A whining baby can really test your patience, but remember that they have no other way of letting you know that they are unhappy about something. So take a couple of deep breaths and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

9. Don’t forget to cuddle

Very often a cuddle can solve a lot for young babies. Holding them and making them feel safe and secure and talking to them softly can often calm them down and put an end to the whining.

Older Babies

Dealing with an older baby’s whining is slightly different. While you will still need to work out the cause of your baby’s whining, there are a host of other things that you can do to avoid them whining and to help them learn other ways to communicate:

1. ensure they are fed on time and avoid overtiredness

Overtiredness and hunger are some of the biggest causes of whining in older babies. If your baby is hungry or tired and whining you will need to attend to their needs promptly.

2. Make sure your baby does not get overstimulated 

This is another prime cause of whining in babies. If you suspect this to be the case then the best thing to do is change location and calm things down. Go outside in the garden or go for a walk. 

3. Acknowledge their frustration and help them out

As babies become more physically able they will also become more easily frustrated as they try to do things that they are not yet able to. If your baby’s whining is due to frustration, acknowledge that you understand how they feel and give them a helping hand to achieve what they want. 

4. Ensure your baby is getting enough of your attention

Babies will definitely whine if they are feeling ignored.

If your baby is whining because they want your attention, get them involved in what you are doing. Chat away, show them what you are up to or stop and play with them for a while. 

5. Encourage non-verbal communication

Most importantly when your baby whines offer them alternative ways to communicate such as pointing, nodding or shaking their head. Ask them to show you what they want rather than whine.

6. Encourage verbal communication

As your baby reaches 12 months old, they will probably start to use words to communicate. When your baby whines, start to give them simple words to use instead. 

Remember that whining for older babies is the step between crying and talking so giving your baby lots of language learning opportunities will go a long way in reducing the amount of whining you have to contend with.

What if nothing helps your whining baby?

If nothing helps to stop your baby whining, you may have to take a break. Put your baby in their crib and go and make yourself a cup of tea and return when you are feeling calm and collected. 

A persistently whining baby is hard to deal with on your own so ask for help.

Let someone else take your baby for a while to give you a break.

Most babies will grow out of their whining phase once they are more mobile or better able to communicate what they want. Just be consistent and patient.

When to see a paediatrician

If your baby whines for more than 3-4 hours, is lethargic or unresponsive when crying and fussing you should seek medical advice. Always trust your instincts.

If you feel there's more to your baby’s whining then talk to your paediatrician.

Do you have any further questions about why your baby whines or if you have any blog suggestions for me, please drop me an email at [email protected] I love to hear from you!

Again, if you're looking for products for your little one and you're not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox. It is packed full of all my favourite products which I've tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, they’re all baby proof!

Thank you for reading and until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting.

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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