All babies cry and fuss. Many infants spend a considerable amount of time
being fussy. Young infants cry between one and five hours out of 24.
Crying is important for babies; it is the baby's first way of
communicating and an important way to release tension. Constant crying,
though, can be a symptom of
or a sign that something else is wrong.
The baby's cry is a perfect signal of life. It has three features:
Crying in infants is a normal, healthy means of expression and
communication. The average six-week-old baby cries for two-and-a-half
hours every day. Infants cry because they are hungry, uncomfortable, in
, overstimulated, tired, or just bored. A new mother can distinguish her
infant's crying from that of other babies within three days, and
some fathers can make this distinction as well. A hungry cry begins softly
and then becomes loud and rhythmic; an angry cry is similar to a hungry
cry but louder. A cry of pain has a distinctive pattern, beginning with a
single shriek followed by a short silence and then continuous loud
wailing. Neglected or abused infants have a high-pitched cry that is
difficult for adults to tolerate. This cry is characteristic of babies
born to crack-addicted mothers and has been linked to abnormalities in the
central nervous system. An infant's crying patterns and ability to
be comforted are important indicators of
, both in infancy and even in later years.
The most common way to comfort a crying infant is to hold him or her close
to the chest. Some infants are soothed by the motion of a cradle, rocking
chair, stroller, swing, or automobile. Sucking on a pacifier is another
comfort. Other methods include a warm bath, a massage, music, or some
background noise, such as the sound of a
hair dryer, a washing machine, or fan. There are also special recordings
that reproduce sounds similar to those the infant heard while in the
mother's womb. Some infants are hypersensitive to stimuli, and
their crying will get worse if they receive any more than a minimum of
comforting, such as parental holding or cuddling. A sign of healthy
emotional development is the degree to which an infant learns to comfort
him- or herself, either with the aid of an object such as a stuffed toy or
blanket, or by certain patterns of behavior, such as sucking on a thumb.
Another cause of excessive crying is hypersensitivity. Hypersensitive
infants cry in response to new experiences that do not normally upset
other babies; ordinary comforting measures, such as holding, rocking,
feeding, or swaddling do not work and may even make the crying worse.
Hypersensitivity can be a matter of temperament, and it may be influenced
by the behavior and attitude of the parents. Some children get into the
habit of excessive crying as a way of demanding parental attention. The
parents of such children may be overprotective, not giving them the chance
to develop independence and resourcefulness by solving problems on their
Many new parents are not prepared for the amount of time a newborn spends
crying. Infants typically cry an average of two hours of every 24 for the
first seven weeks of life. The duration peaks at about six or seven weeks.
Almost all infants have a period during the day when they are fussy. New
parents need to recognize this as normal and not worry. Parents might use
this fussy time for bathing or playing with the infant. The most typical
time for fussy times is between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., often when parents are
tired and less able to tolerate crying.
A common cause of persistent crying in infants is colic, which is caused
by gastrointestinal distress. Colicky infants may have a hard abdomen, get
red in the face, and curl their legs up. Often times the colic begins in
the evening after the baby's last meal before bedtime. Rocking or
walking around with the baby held up against the shoulder can sometimes
soothe the infant. Holding the infant face-down across the lap puts
pressure on the belly that can sometimes ease the distress.
Among the most common physical reasons for excessive crying are earaches,
viral illnesses, and other causes of low-grade
. Teething also causes increased crying. Medical attention may be
necessary if an infant is crying more than usual or if the cries
themselves sound different, for example, the cries are weaker or more
high-pitched than usual.
As parents get to know their baby, they become experts in understanding
the baby's cries. Cries are the baby's form of
communication. Following are several common reasons babies cry:
—The art or act of identifying a disease from its signs and
—A chemical messenger secreted by a gland or organ and released
into the bloodstream. It travels via the bloodstream to distant cells
where it exerts an effect.
—A condition characterized by an excessive response by the body
to a foreign substance. In hypersensitive individuals even a tiny amount
of allergen can cause a severe allergic reaction.
—To wrap the infant securely in clothing or blankets; to provide
comfort and control.
Parents should call the healthcare provider if there are concerns about
why the baby continues to cry. It is important not to misdiagnose a
serious condition and call it colic. If the baby's behavior or
crying pattern changes suddenly or if the crying is associated with fever,
, bloody stools, or other abnormal spasms or symptoms, call the doctor
immediately. Parents should not hesitate to seek help immediately if they
feel overwhelmed and are afraid that they will hurt or neglect their baby.
Comforting Your Crying Baby: Why Your Baby Is Crying and What You Can Do
New York: Innova Publishing, 2005.
Lester, Barry M.
Why My Baby Is Crying: The Parent's Survival Guide to Copying
with Crying Problems and Colic.
London: Harper Information, 2005.
Nelson, Judith Kay.
Crying, Caregiving, and Connection: An Attachment Perspective.
Florence, KY: Brunner-Routledge, 2005.
Nissi, Jan. "Crying: Age 3 and Younger."
, March 3, 2003. Available online at
(accessed December 14, 2004).