Crying baby: What to do when your newborn cries
Date Updated: 12/17/2022
All babies cry. In fact, it's typical for a newborn to cry 1 to 4 hours a day.
Your job as a caregiver is to figure out why the baby is crying. Then you can decide what, if anything, you can do to calm the baby. And don't worry about spoiling your baby with too much attention. You can't.
So react quickly when your baby is crying. There are times when you can help, and there will be times when the only thing you can do is be there for your baby. While it's hard to hear your baby's cries, don't take them as a failure of caregiving.
Understanding the tears
In time you might be able to figure out your baby's needs by the sound of the cry. For example, newborns often let out a hungry cry right after they wake up. It could quickly turn into an angry wail if they have to wait long to be fed. Also, a cry of pain might sound panicked or shrieking. Noticing patterns like these can help you respond to the cries with whatever your baby needs.
When babies cry, they might be saying:
- I'm hungry. Most newborns eat every few hours around-the-clock. Crying can be a late sign of hunger. Look for early signs of hunger. For example, babies might move their hands to their mouths and smack their lips.
- I want to suck on something. Sucking comforts babies. If your baby isn't hungry, offer a pacifier. Or help your baby find a finger or thumb.
- I want to be held. Hold your baby to your shoulder or chest. Crying babies may be soothed by gentle rubbing or pats on the back.
- I'm tired. Tired babies are often fussy. And your baby might need more sleep than you think. Newborns can sleep about 16 hours a day and sometimes more.
- I'm wet. A wet or soiled diaper can cause tears. Check your baby's diaper often to make sure it's clean and dry.
- I want to move. Sometimes gentle rocking or a walk in a baby carrier can soothe a crying infant. You also could place your baby in an infant swing. Or take your baby for a car ride. The noise that the car engine makes might soothe your baby.
- I'd rather be bundled. Some babies feel most secure when they're snugly wrapped in a thin blanket. This is called swaddling. Swaddling can be dangerous if you're not sure how to do it correctly. Ask your baby's health care provider to show you the correct way.
- I'm hot or cold. In general, dress your baby in about as many layers of clothes as you're wearing. Add or remove a layer as needed.
- I'm overwhelmed. Too much excitement from sights, sounds or other things might drive your baby to cry. Move the baby to a calmer space, or put the baby in the crib. White noise, such as a recording of ocean waves or the sound of an electric fan, might help your baby relax.
Crying it out
It's OK to let your baby cry if the baby doesn't seem sick and you've tried everything to soothe your baby. You can try to leave your baby alone in a safe place, such as a crib, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Many babies need to cry before they can fall asleep. And they'll nod off faster if you leave them to cry.
Is the baby just being fussy? Or is it colic?
Some babies have frequent, long-lasting and intense crying known as colic. It often starts a few weeks after birth. But colic often gets better by the time a baby is 3 to 4 months old.
Colic can involve crying that lasts for three or more hours a day on three or more days of the week. Some experts say colic lasts at least three weeks. Colic affects healthy babies. But the crying might seem like a cry of pain, and it may begin for no clear reason. The crying often happens around the same time each day or night.
Talk to your baby's health care provider if you're concerned about colic. The provider can give the baby a checkup and suggest more soothing tips.
Taking care of yourself
If your newborn cries a lot, try to keep in mind that it gets better. Babies often cry the most during the first couple of months of life. Once they're 2 to 4 months old, most babies cry less.
It's natural for the crying to make you feel tired and stressed though. Some new caregivers find that their emotions change often during the first month. Call your health care provider if you feel severely sad or if you feel sad for more than a few weeks.
While you care for your newborn, take breaks and rest when you can. Try to get enough sleep. And don't forget to do things you enjoy when you have time.
Ask your partner, other loved ones and friends for help. Let them know what support you need. You can ask the people in your life for help with things such as errands, chores, cooking and taking care of any older children you have.
Try to make a little time each day to do things that relax you. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to calm your baby. Infants can sense tension in adults, and they may react by crying. If you get angry or panicked, it might make your baby cry harder.
If your baby's crying causes you to feel like you are losing control, put the baby in the crib and go to another room. Take a 10- to 15-minute break to try to calm yourself down. Some things you can do to ease stress are:
- Take deep breaths.
- Listen to music.
No matter how angry or upset you get, never hit, shake or jerk a baby. The baby could get badly hurt or even die. Make sure other caregivers are aware of this too.
If you have trouble taking charge of your stress, reach out for help. You could call:
- A family member or friend.
- Your health care provider.
- A crisis support service.
- A mental health help line. For instance, if you live in the United States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has a free help line. You can call Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time at 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264, toll-free).
As a caregiver, you'll need time to get to know your baby. Don't hesitate to ask for advice and help. But trust that you can meet your baby's needs.