All babies cry. Crying is normal behavior in infants. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to handle when it happens. The good news is that most times, your baby is crying for a reason. If you can figure out why, you can take steps to solve the problem. This will help your baby (and you) feel better.
Path to improved health
As an infant, your baby has one primary way to communicate — crying. Babies cry because they have a dirty diaper, are tired, or are in pain. They cry to let you know. Sometimes you can figure this out pretty easily. If it’s been two hours since your baby ate and he or she is crying, the baby might be hungry. If it’s been two hours since your baby has slept and he or she is crying, the baby is probably tired. There will be times that it will be hard to figure out why your baby is crying. Try to keep in mind these reasons that your baby may be crying to help you figure it out.
Your baby is hungry. This is often the reason your baby is crying. Pay attention to when you feed your baby so you can tell if it’s time for him to eat again. Learn his hunger cues before he starts crying. Fussing, lip smacking, and chewing on hands could all be signs that he needs to eat.
Your baby is tired. This is another very common reason for infant crying. Even though babies can go to sleep anywhere, it can still be hard for them to fall asleep. Look for clues your baby is tired, such as red or puffy eyes, rubbing the eyes, or yawning. Try to get him to sleep before he starts crying and gets worked up.
Your baby needs to burp. Most babies swallow air when they are eating. This can lead to pressure that can cause discomfort for them. If your baby cries after eating, he might just need a good burp. Try patting his back, laying him on his tummy, or walking and lightly bouncing him up and down to try to get a burp out.
Your baby needs a diaper change. Some babies can tolerate a wet or dirty diaper for a long time. Others will let you know they need to be changed. Either way, you don’t want your baby sitting in a soiled diaper for a long time. So check his diaper and change it regularly to prevent discomfort.
Your baby is overstimulated. There is so much going on in the world around your baby. It can be hard for them to process all of the lights and noise and people. Sometimes your baby will cry just to tell you that he’s done with it all and needs a break. When this happens, try swaddling your baby to make him feel more secure. You can also retreat to a quiet spot and let your baby calm down.
Your baby is bored. Some babies need more stimulation than others. Yours might get bored after sitting in his swing for too long. He would rather be part of the action. In that case, try wearing your baby in a front carrier so he can be part of what’s going on around you. Plan activities and outings to keep him busy, and he may not cry as much.
Your baby is hot or cold. Nobody likes to be at an uncomfortable temperature, including your baby. If you have him too bundled up, he may get too warm. When you remove his clothes to change a diaper, he may get too cold. Either way, he’s probably going to cry. Dress your baby in layers so you can make changes as needed. As a general rule, babies like to be warm, so dress them in one layer more than you’ve dressed yourself to keep them comfortable.
Your baby is uncomfortable. There could be something bothering your baby that you can’t see. A clothing tag could be poking him, or he could have a hair wrapped around a finger or toe. Sometimes your baby may cry just because he doesn’t like the kind of bottle you’re using or the position you’re holding him in. Try to imagine what in the situation could be bothering your baby and make changes accordingly.
Your baby’s tummy hurts. Some babies have problems with gas. It can make them very uncomfortable and cranky. If you think your baby has gas, put him on his back, hold his feet and move his legs in a bicycling motion for a while. This can help move the gas and help him release it. Some parents use over-the-counter anti-gas drops. Always check with your doctor before using anything over-the-counter for your baby.
Your baby’s teeth hurt. The teething process can be quite painful for babies, as new teeth press upward on tender gums. It often starts several months before any teeth appear. If your baby is crying and you can’t figure out why, it could be his teeth. Try offering him a firm rubber teething ring or a cold washcloth to gnaw on. Ask your baby’s doctor before giving your baby pain medicine or any other over-the-counter product for teething.
Things to consider
There will be times that your baby is warm, dry, well-fed, and rested but he will still cry. When there doesn’t seem to be a problem to solve to stop the crying, all you can do is try to console him. There are many techniques you can try, including:
- Rocking, either in a rocking chair or in your arms.
- Swaddling him in a receiving blanket.
- Singing or talking to him.
- Playing soft music.
- Walking him in your arms or in a stroller.
- Driving in the car (be sure to secure your baby in his car safety seat).
- Rhythmic noise, such as a fan, dishwasher or white noise machine.
Do your best to stay calm when your baby is crying. If you get upset or angry, he can sense it, and it will likely make his crying worse. Remember to ask trusted friends or family to give you a break if you need one. This may soothe the baby and you.
If none of these techniques work and your baby won’t stop crying, you may just need to leave him alone. Lay him down in his crib and let him cry for a while. You can also get help from another family member or a friend. No matter how frustrated you may feel, do not ever shake your baby. This can cause blindness, brain damage, and even death.
Could my baby have colic?
Colic is a condition that occurs when a healthy baby cries for no reason. Your baby could have colic if he cries for more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks. Colic usually starts a few weeks after birth. Most babies outgrow it by age 3 to 6 months.
Colic can be difficult for parents. Babies who don’t stop crying can be hard to care for. Try not to worry if you feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Remember that crying doesn’t hurt your baby, and colic doesn’t have any lasting effects. It will go away eventually. Talk to your baby’s doctor if you think your baby may have colic.
When should I call my doctor?
Most infant crying is completely normal. But sometimes crying can be a sign of something more serious. Call your baby’s doctor if:
- Your baby’s crying is mixed with a fever, vomiting, loose or bloody stools, or decreased movement.
- Your baby’s crying or behavior changes all of a sudden.
Questions to ask your doctor
- It feels like my baby cries all the time. What can I do?
- Do all babies need to burp when they’re eating?
- How can I tell if my baby has gas?
- Should I be able to tell what’s wrong with my baby based on how he cries?
- Could my baby have colic?
- What causes colic?
- What should I do if my baby won’t stop crying?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.