Baby Crying

Crying is normal, and all babies cry for different reasons. Your baby may be cold, tired, in need of a diaper change or simply want to be held, among other things. Crying babies are usually soothed by feeding, holding, rocking, hushing or swaddling. If your newborn is crying for more than 1 hour and cannot be soothed, it may be a sign of illness. Contact your provider immediately. 

Some babies cry and fuss intensely for no known reason and are unable to be soothed in the usual ways. Extreme crying and fussiness in an otherwise healthy, well-fed infant is called “colic.” There is much that is not known about colic. Infants with colic cry for 3-4 hours per day most days of the week and in the evenings. It usually starts when they are about 3-4 weeks old and does not improve or stop until they are 4-5 months old. Caring for an infant with colic can be difficult and tiring. Please understand that babies with colic are usually healthy, and the condition will stop on its own.

Signs of colic

  • Intense, loud, high-pitched crying to the point your baby may appear to be in pain.
  • Crying for no reason (not hungry or wet), often in the evening.
  • Fussy, even when crying stops.
  • Skin looks flushed.
  • Body tenses up (stiff legs/arms, clenched fists, arched back or tense belly).

Reasons for crying that are not colic

  • Hunger
    Feed your baby on demand. Newborns usually feed every 2-4 hours, but babies will have times when they want to feed more often. (See Feeding, eating and burping.)
  • Pain
    Your baby’s crying could be caused by pain or discomfort. Touch your baby’s skin to see if is too hot or too cold. Check to make sure clothing and diaper are not too tight. Check to make sure hair or clothing threads are not wrapped around the baby’s fingers, toes or penis.
  • Fatigue (tiredness) and overstimulation (too much going on)
    Some babies cry when they are tired or have been played with or handled a lot. Try putting your baby in a quiet area with a pacifier. Sometimes a stroller or car ride will calm babies and help them fall asleep.
  • Food sensitivities
    Infants can sometimes have reactions and digestive problems from breast milk. If you are breastfeeding, everything you eat or drink can affect your baby. Bottle-fed babies can also have an allergy or sensitivity to certain formulas.

Things that might help

  • Hold, cuddle and caress your baby early and throughout infancy.
  • Feed your baby more often.
  • Remove things that trigger your baby’s crying, such as loud noises and bright lights.
  • Your baby will feel your stress and anxiety. Do your best to maintain a calm environment for yourself and your baby.

Feeling stressed and helpless

Though colic does not harm your baby, it can cause a lot of stress for you and your family. You may begin to feel there is nothing you can do to help your baby, or you may feel frustrated and angry by the constant crying. You are not alone. It is important to pay attention to these feelings and get help. Research shows a link between colic and parent well-being, including:

  • Higher risk of postpartum depression in mothers
  • Stopping breastfeeding earlier
  • Feelings of guilt, exhaustion, helplessness and anger

Sometimes, these feelings become so intense that parents lose control and want to shake or harm their baby. This can cause serious brain damage or death. Never handle your baby when you are angry or at your breaking point. Instead, place your baby in a safe place like a crib or cot. It is okay to let them cry for a while.

If you believe your infant has colic, discuss this with your provider. He or she can tell you if your baby has colic and offer ways to help. If the crying is caused by a medical issue or some other problem, your provider will work to diagnose the problem and offer treatment.