All babies cry. It’s their way of communicating their needs. Sometimes it’s easy to work out what they want, and sometimes it isn’t. If your baby cries a lot and is difficult to soothe, it can be stressful, and this can affect your own mental and emotional health.
Crying in newborns and young babies
Generally, babies cry from the moment they are born. It is normal and a part of their development. Newborns and young babies tend to cry more in the late afternoon or evening. The crying usually peaks at 6–8 weeks and lessens by 3–4 months of age. By 4–5 months, most babies become more settled although some may continue to cry for longer.
Why babies cry
Learning about the things that upset babies can help you with settling your baby. Most of the time, the crying is not due to a medical problem. Common reasons why babies cry include:
- hunger or thirst – check if they need a breastfeed or formula feed
- being too hot or too cold
- feeling scared
- tiredness and needing to go to sleep
- discomfort – because of a wet nappy or just getting used to normal physical sensations such as their digestion.
You can try cuddling and comforting your baby, feeding them, changing their nappy, or swaddling them to help them feel secure enough to go to sleep. Remember you cannot ‘spoil’ a baby by too much cuddling. Read more about settling a crying baby here.
Causes of excessive crying
All babies are different. At 6-8 weeks, babies may cry for a total of 2 to 3 hours in a 24-hour period. Some babies seem to cry more than others. Crying is thought to be excessive if it happens for more than 3 hours a day for more than 3 days a week. Excessive crying is sometimes called colic.
Babies with colic don’t have any obvious physical or medical reason for crying. They are usually feeding and gaining weightnormally. Colic has been called the ‘period of purple crying’. This is a phase in a baby’s life and usually improves by the time the baby is aged 3–4 months.
If your baby cries excessively, it can be very tiring and confusing trying to work out why – and what to do. You may also get a lot of advice from many different people, but consider only what is safe and feels right for you.
Crying and illness
There are times when your baby will cry because they are sick. See your doctor or child health nurse if:
- your baby seems sick or unwell
- your baby is not feeding well or not weeing enough
- the sound of your baby’s crying changes
- your baby has other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, fever or rash. If your baby is 3 months or younger and has a fever, see a doctor straight away.
Never shake your baby
Your baby’s crying can be very stressful. You may feel frustrated that you can’t seem to stop the crying.
However, you should never shake your baby. Shaking your baby can cause bleeding in their brain, leading to brain damage and even death. If you feel you are losing control, leave your baby in a safe place for 5 minutes while you calm down.