Crying in babies - How much is too much?

Crying in Babies - How much is too much?

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Corrine Langill, RN, BScN

Manager, Health Promotion and Injury Prevention

Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario  

Parents understand that their baby will cry sometimes.  We know that babies cry to tell us they are hungry, tired, have gas pains, need to burp or need a cuddle.  So it's a bit of a shock when our baby keeps on crying, even when we've tried everything possible to comfort her.  And sometimes it goes on and on for hours.  Some have called this 'inconsolable crying'.

This kind of crying isn't easy to understand.  It can come and go for no reason, last for 30-40 minutes or longer (sometimes adding up to hours each day!) and look like the baby is in pain.

This happens often, though, and is quite normal. Crying in young babies follows a pretty standard pattern.  In all healthy babies, crying begins to increase at about 2 weeks of age.  Each week, babies cry more and more, reaching a peak at about 6-8 weeks.  After this, crying gradually improves. By the time a baby is 4-5 months old, this 'difficult to comfort' crying is much better.    

So things will get better.  But in the meantime, there are a number of things parents can do to get through this trying period.  If you've been having trouble soothing your baby's crying, the first thing to do is check with your doctor to make sure your baby is healthy.

When your baby is crying, check for the usual things: is she hungry? wet? gassy? bored? tired?   New babies need to be fed often, sometimes every 2 to 3 hours.  Some babies need to be fed even more often. If your baby is crying, check to see if he's hungry.  If he's still crying, he'll need you to comfort him.  Even if you can't calm the crying, it's important that you try.  Carry, rock, walk and talk with your baby.  Sing or hum, give a gentle massage or bath.  Or try a pacifier, once your baby is breastfeeding well.  Some babies like going for a walk in a baby carrier, stroller or a ride in the car.

While these things may help, nothing works all of the time.  A crying baby can be very frustrating, especially for sleep-deprived parents.  There is nothing wrong with you.  If you feel really frustrated when your baby has been crying, put her down in a safe place (a crib is a good choice) for a few minutes.  Never shake or hurt a baby.  Take a break, and come back when you're a little calmer.  It's a good idea to make a plan for what to do when things are difficult.  A plan could look something like this: 

  1. Put baby in his crib and walk away for a few minutes.
  2. Check on baby every few minutes.
  3. Do something to make myself feel better (listen to music, have a snack, stretch).
  4. Call for back-up (partner, friend, neighbour, family).
  5. Pick baby up only when I'm calmer.

Caring for a young baby is hard.  Parents need support and comfort too!  Reach out to family, friends and neighbours for help.  But make sure that anyone caring for your baby has some experience, is comfortable caring for babies and understands that crying is normal.  They need to know how to comfort a crying baby, and what to do if they feel frustrated.

While you're in the thick of it, it may seem like this period will never end.  But it will.  Cuddle your baby.  Be kind to yourself.  And fasten your seat belt for the bumpy road ahead, with all its unexpected twists and turns.  One thing is certain, it will be an adventure.   

Did you know?

  • Babies don't cry 'on purpose'.  They don't realize you're trying to watch 'A Game of Thrones'.
  • Babies who spend a lot of time being carried close to a parent's body cry less.
  • Most of the time, crying is not caused by feeding issues.  Don't stop breastfeeding because you think it will help the crying.  Speak with your doctor or nurse first.
  • 'Colic' isn't a disease.  It just describes babies who cry a lot.  Healthy babies can cry a lot, and there isn't anything wrong with them.  Or with you.
  • You won't spoil your baby by picking her up and comforting her when she's crying.  You can't spoil a baby with love and comfort!
  • Just because your baby cries a lot now, doesn't mean he'll cry a lot or be difficult when he's older.                




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