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Infant Crying

Babies cry to communicate that they are hungry, wet, tired, too warm, too cold, lonely, or otherwise uncomfortable. When you respond promptly to these cries, you help your baby feel confident and safe. After your baby's need is met, the crying usually stops. The more consistently you respond to your baby when he or she is upset, the greater chance that your baby will cry less at age 1 and show less aggression at age 2.1

Letting a newborn baby "cry it out" usually makes the situation worse and the crying more intense. It is often harder and takes longer to calm an extremely upset baby than one who has just started to cry.

Crying patterns

Most babies cry the most during the first four months of life.

Starting at about 2 weeks of age, your baby may cry for no apparent reason and can be hard to console. Many babies have a fussy time of day, often during the late afternoon to early evening when they are tired and unable to relax. This crying is a way for your baby to release the tension that naturally develops from a full day of stimulation. These episodes can last up to 2 to 3 hours. During this time, the baby needs extra attention. Realize that your baby may continue crying no matter how much comfort is given. Although this behavior is normal, it can be very stressful for you, especially when you are already feeling overwhelmed. If you can identify a pattern, it may help to carry and hold your baby before the anticipated crying period and after it begins. You can also plan for extra help. For example, a few times a week, have a friend or relative come over and take over for you during the expected fussy time.

The average amount of time a baby cries peaks at around 6 weeks of age. Crying spells shorten as your baby's nervous system matures and as you become better able to recognize and meet your newborn's needs.2

Babies may cry more when they sense family tension or caregiver stress and anxiety. Talk to your doctor if you feel anxious about things in your life.

Colic

An extreme type of crying in a baby between 3 weeks and 3 months of age is called colic. Although it is upsetting for parents and caregivers, colic is normal for some babies. Caregivers are not to blame. It's hard for a baby with colic to stop a crying episode after it has begun, despite your attempts to soothe and console your baby. It is common to feel scared or frustrated when you cannot get your baby to stop crying. But remember that colic is normal—and temporary. Your baby will grow out of it.

Colic is not caused by pain or illness. If you think your baby is crying because he or she is hurt or sick, call your doctor.

Citations

  1. Feigelman S (2011). The first year. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 26–31. Philadelphia.

  2. Barr RG, Fujiwara T (2011). Crying in infants. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 318–321. New York: McGraw-Hill.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Last Revised January 10, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 10, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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