Skip to main content

For babies, crying is communication

All babies cry, and sometimes your comforting won't calm them. But it usually doesn't mean there's a problem, and it always passes.

Crying is your baby's way of communicating. It's how you get the message that he or she is hungry, tired, overstimulated or uncomfortable.

For newborns, it's typical to cry for two to three hours every day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

What you should do

What should you do when your baby cries? First, respond quickly, says the AAP. Experts agree that you can't spoil a new baby with too much attention. Second, try to determine your baby's most pressing need and take care of it. Your child may need feeding and a diaper change—or simply to be held and comforted.

If the cry sounds panicked, check for an open diaper pin or a hair or thread caught around a finger or toe. If your child is fed, dry and warm and you can't find another reason for physical discomfort, try one of these soothing techniques suggested by the AAP and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP):

  • Rocking in a chair or swaying side to side.
  • Gently stroking the head or patting the back or chest.
  • Singing or talking.
  • Playing soft music.
  • Walking with your baby in your arms, a stroller or a carriage.
  • Riding in the car.
  • Giving your baby a warm bath.
  • Making rhythmic noises and vibrations.
  • Burping the baby.
  • Placing a warm water bottle on the baby's stomach.
  • Giving your baby a pacifier.
  • Wrapping your baby in a soft blanket.

You might also try simply leaving the baby alone, the AAP says. Some babies need to cry a little before they go to sleep. If your baby is tired, he or she won't cry for long before nodding off.

If you've tried everything and your baby still won't calm down, check for a temperature. He or she may be sick.

Does my baby have colic?

A baby who cries more than usual and is inconsolable much of the time may have colic. Babies with colic may draw their arms and legs toward their bodies as if they're in pain.

Colic usually starts between the second and sixth week after birth. Exactly what causes it is unknown.

The tips on soothing, above, may help calm a colicky infant. The AAFP also offers these suggestions for different ways to feed or hold your baby that may help with colic:

Feeding

  • If more than two hours have passed since your baby's last meal, try feeding your infant again.
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, warm the formula to body temperature before feeding.
  • Ask your child's doctor about trying a different formula.
  • Try feeding your baby more often but with less milk at each feeding.
  • If bottle-feeding takes less than 20 minutes, try using a nipple with a smaller hole.

Holding

  • Hold your baby across your lap and massage his or her back.
  • Hold your baby upright (this will help if the baby has gas).
  • Use white noise like a running dishwasher, washing machine or clothes dryer to soothe your baby.

If you're feeling overwhelmed

A baby's constant crying can be very stressful for a parent.

But, no matter how frustrated you become, never shake your baby.

Shaking a baby can cause a serious—even fatal—head injury. It can provoke both swelling and bleeding of the brain, leading to convulsions, unconsciousness and death. Babies who survive shaking may be blinded or have permanent brain damage. Shaken-baby syndrome is a serious form of child abuse, most often occurring in infants under the age of one year.

If your baby's needs seem overwhelming, you can find help by calling family service agencies in your community.

reviewed 9/13/2019

Related stories
eHEALTHLINK Newsletter

Subscribe today to the Roper St. Francis monthly e-newsletter for informative articles and medical insights.

Copyright © 2019 Roper St. Francis All rights reserved. Pencil
Back to Top Chat