As expectant parents we often imagine what life will be like when baby arrives — peaceful moments snuggling, blissful coos or quietly tiptoeing when baby is sleeping. It can come as a shock that a normal part of infancy is crying — and there can be lots of it.
Sometimes the source of a baby’s crying can be figured out: baby is hungry, wet or tired. But sometimes we don’t know why babies cry. There might be a certain time of day they cry the most, and it might be difficult — or impossible — to soothe them. The good news is this is a normal phenomenon that research has discovered in babies across cultures and the world.
What to do
First, it’s important to rule out common reasons a baby is crying:
- Is your baby hungry, wet/dirty or tired?
- Does your baby want to be held or are they overstimulated?
- If your baby has a fever, that is a different story. In that case, call your pediatrician.
Then, try these soothing techniques:
- Carry, hold or “wear” your baby in a carrier.
- Use soothing music or sing a lullaby to your baby. Some babies like white noise from a recording or a vacuum cleaner.
- Try giving baby a pacifier. Sucking can be soothing.
- Take your baby for a walk in a stroller or a ride in the car.
Crying is normal
It can be heart-wrenching for parents when their babies cry and don’t stop. But knowing that all babies go through this stage can ease parents’ minds.
- Babies often will start to cry more at about 2 weeks old, peak around 2 months, then get better by 3, 4 or 5 months.
- Some babies cry more, some less — but almost all babies go through this stage.
- Many babies cry more in the late afternoon or evening, and some may cry for up to five hours a day.
- Babies who are happy and smiley during the day may enter their crying phase later in the day or at night.
Managing your stress
A baby’s crying can make parents feel helpless, frustrated or even angry. When you are feeling this way and feel you can’t listen to the crying anymore:
- See if someone else can care for your baby for a half-hour or so. If you don’t have another caregiver, put your baby in a safe place, like a crib. Close the door and take a break.
- Do not pick up or hold your baby if you feel angry. Take a few deep breaths, have a glass of water or tea, or call a friend for support.
- Never shake your baby. Shaking can cause severe problems, including brain damage, seizures or even death. Letting your baby cry is much safer for them.
Period of PURPLE Crying
As part of our mission to have Wisconsin’s kids be the healthiest in the nation, we share the program Period of PURPLE Crying with parents and through our community work with the goal of preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome.
We often refer parents to this great resource that explains the characteristics of developmental crying and gives additional tips and ideas. It has helped many parents understand that although their baby may cry a lot during a certain time, there is nothing wrong with their baby or with them as parents.
If you are concerned about your baby’s crying, or if crying is accompanied by other symptoms, call your pediatrician.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices conveniently located throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Franklin Pediatrics. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Heather Underkofler, MD