Mayo Clinic Health Library

Crying baby: What to do when your newborn cries

Updated: 10-16-2012

The dream: Your baby sleeps through the night after just a few weeks, gurgles happily while you run errands and fusses only when hunger strikes.

The reality: Your baby's favorite playtime is after the 2 a.m. feeding. Crankiness peaks when you're out and about. You had no idea a crying baby could keep the tears flowing for so long.

Sound familiar? On any given day, a newborn might cry for up to two hours — or even longer. Find out why babies cry, and what to do about it.

Decoding the tears

A crying baby is trying to tell you something. Your job is to figure out why your baby is crying and what — if anything — you can do about it.

Consider what your crying baby could be thinking.

I'm hungry
Most newborns eat every few hours round-the-clock. Some babies become frantic when hunger strikes. They might get so worked up by the time the feeding begins that they gulp air with the milk, which can cause spitting up, trapped gas and more crying.

To avoid such frenzy, respond to early signs of hunger. If your baby begins to gulp during the feeding, take a break. Also take time to burp your baby during and after each feeding.

If you're breast-feeding your baby, the flavor of the milk might change in response to what you eat and drink. If you suspect that a certain food or drink is making your baby fussier than usual, avoid it for several days to see if it makes a difference.

I want to suck on something
Sucking is a natural reflex. For many babies, it's a comforting, soothing activity. If your baby isn't hungry, try a clean finger or pacifier.

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. Some newborns sleep even more.

I'm wet
For some babies, a wet or soiled diaper is a surefire way to 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 through the house is enough to soothe a crying baby. In other cases, a change of position is all that's needed. Keeping safety precautions in mind, try a baby swing or vibrating infant seat.

Weather permitting, head outdoors with the stroller. You might even want to buckle up for a ride in the car.

I'd rather be bundled
Some babies feel most secure in a swaddle wrap. Snugly wrap your baby in a receiving blanket or other small, lightweight blanket.

I'm hot
A baby who's too hot is likely to be uncomfortable. The same goes for a baby who's too cold. Add or remove a layer of clothing as needed.

I'm lonely
Sometimes simply seeing you, hearing your voice or being cuddled can stop the tears. Gentle massage or light pats on the back might soothe a crying baby, too.

I've had enough
Too much noise, movement or visual stimulation might drive your baby to tears. 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 or vacuum cleaner — might help your crying baby relax.

Remember that many babies have predictable periods of fussiness during the day. This kind of crying can help your baby get rid of excess energy. There might be little you can do but comfort your baby as the crying runs its course.

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.

Crying it out

If you've tried everything and your baby is still upset, consider letting your baby cry it out. Crying won't hurt your baby — and sometimes the only way to stop a crying spell is to let it run its course.

Of course, listening to your baby wail can be agonizing. If you need to distract yourself for a few minutes, you might take a shower, call a friend or make something to eat.

Is it just fussiness, or is it colic?

Some babies have frustrating periods of intense, inconsolable crying known as colic — typically starting a few weeks after birth and improving by age 3 months.

Colic is often defined as crying more than three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. The crying might begin suddenly and for no apparent reason. During an episode, your baby might be difficult — or even impossible — to comfort.

What causes colic remains a mystery, and treatment effectiveness varies.

If you're concerned about colic, consult your baby's health care provider. He or she can make sure your baby is otherwise healthy and help you learn how to care for a colicky baby.

Taking care of yourself

It's tough to listen to your baby cry. To take the best care of your baby, it's important to take care of yourself, too.

  • Take a break. Ask your spouse, partner or another loved one to take over for a while. Even an hour on your own can help renew your coping strength.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet. Include physical activity in your daily routine. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps — even during the day. The better rested you are, the better you'll be able to handle a crying baby.
  • Remember that it's temporary. Crying spells often peak at about six to eight weeks and then gradually decrease.
  • Know when to contact your baby's health care provider. If you're concerned about the crying or your baby isn't eating, sleeping or behaving like usual, contact your baby's health care provider. He or she can help you tell the difference between normal tears and something more serious.

It's also important to recognize your limits.

If your baby's crying is causing you to lose control, put the baby in a safe place — such as a crib — and go to another room to collect yourself. If necessary, contact your health care provider, a local crisis intervention service or a mental health help line for additional support.

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