On any given day, a newborn might cry for up to two hours — or even longer. Find out why babies cry, and what you can do about it.
Decoding the tears
A crying baby is trying to tell you something. Your job is to figure out why and what — if anything — you can do about it.
Over time you might be able to identify your baby's needs by the way he or she is crying. For example, a hungry cry might be short and low-pitched, while a cry of pain might be a sudden, long, high-pitched shriek. Picking up on any patterns can help you better respond to your baby's cries.
Consider what your crying baby could be thinking:
- I'm hungry. Most newborns eat every few hours round-the-clock. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Look for early signs of hunger, such as hand to mouth movements and lip smacking.
- I want to suck on something. For many babies, sucking is a comforting activity. If your baby isn't hungry, offer a pacifier or help your baby find a finger or thumb.
- I'm lonely. Calmly hold your baby to your chest. Gentle pats on the back might soothe a crying baby, too.
- I'm tired. Tired babies are often fussy — and your baby might need more sleep than you think. Newborns often sleep up to 16 hours a day or sometimes more.
- I'm wet. A wet or soiled diaper can trigger tears. Check your baby's diaper often to make sure it's clean and dry.
- I want to move. Sometimes a rocking session or walk can soothe a crying baby. Or try placing your baby in an infant swing or going for a car ride.
- I'd rather be bundled. Some babies feel most secure when swaddled.
- I'm hot or cold. Add or remove a layer of clothing as needed.
Too much noise, movement or visual stimulation also might drive your baby to cry. Move to a calmer environment or place your baby in the crib. White noise — such as a recording of ocean waves or the monotonous sound of an electric fan — might help your crying baby relax.
Crying it out
If your baby doesn't appear sick, you've tried everything, and he or she is still upset, it's OK to let your baby cry. If you need to distract yourself for a few minutes, place your baby safely in the crib and make a cup of tea or call a friend.
Is it just fussiness, or is it colic?
Some babies have frustrating periods of frequent, prolonged and intense crying known as colic — typically starting a few weeks after birth and improving by age 3 months.
Colic is often defined as crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks in an otherwise healthy infant. The crying might seem like an expression of pain and begin for no apparent reason. The timing might be predictable, with episodes often happening at night.
If you're concerned about colic, talk to your baby's health care provider. He or she can check if your baby is healthy and suggest additional soothing techniques.
Taking care of yourself
Remaining relaxed will make it easier to console your baby. Take a break and rest when you can. Ask friends and loved ones for help. Remember that this is temporary. Crying spells often peak at about six to eight weeks and then gradually decrease.
If your baby's crying is causing you to lose control, put the baby in the crib and go to another room to collect yourself. If necessary, contact a family member or friend, your health care provider, a local crisis intervention service, or a mental health help line for support.