Crying and Colic

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Crying and Colic

Guiding Your Child Through The Infant Year
Crying and Colic
Crying and Colic
Learn how to handle crying and colic in your baby.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Crying and Colic

"I'm hungry."
"I'm tired."
"I'm cold."
"I'm wet."
"I'm bored."
"I'm lonely."

Newborns spend anywhere from one to four hours crying in a single day because that is the only one way they have to express all of the feelings listed above. As a parent, your task is to figure out which of these things your baby is vocalizing with her cry. This is not always easy. Sometimes your baby is expressing more than one sensation or emotion, other times, the crying seems to have no cause at all. You will probably be able to distinguish the meaning of some of your baby's cries by how they sound. But remember that every baby has crying episodes that defy explanation.

Dealing with tears

When your infant is crying, always start with the obvious: could he be hungry, have a wet diaper, be overdressed or underdressed for the temperature? If these needs have been met and your baby is still crying, consider some of the other possibilities. Some babies get tired or overwhelmed, need comforting, or simply are bored. Try some of these techniques for soothing a crying baby. You'll quickly learn which ones your baby prefers.

      • Try rocking your baby in your arms or carrying him in a sling or carrier. Place him in a carriage and push it back and forth.

      • Help your baby find his fingers or thumb for sucking.

      • Some babies like to be swaddled-wrapped snugly in a blanket.

      • A change of scenery might be a welcome distraction. Move to a different room, or go for a ride outside in the carriage or the car.

      • Pat your baby's back. The repetition is soothing.

      • Sometimes rhythmic sound helps. Try softly singing or talking with your baby or turning on some music.

      • A warm bath will relax some babies; others don't like baths. You'll discover quickly how your baby feels about them.

    • Leave him be for a few minutes. He might calm down or fall asleep on his own after a brief cry.

A change in your baby's typical crying style or schedule can indicate pain. If your baby's cries come on suddenly or sound panicky, check that nothing is hurting him (for example, a diaper pin). Another possibility is an infection; check the baby's temperature, and call your pediatrician if it is higher than normal. Older babies may cry from teething pain. Rarely, crying can be brought on by an allergy to formula or something in a nursing mother's diet.

When you've met all of your baby's needs and tried every soothing technique you can think of and your baby is still wailing, remember this: Babies cry the most during their first three months. Then they cry less-all by themselves. There is an end in sight.


There is crying, and then there is crying. Forty percent of healthy babies are said to have colic, a term used for fierce crying or screaming for hours at a time with no apparent cause. These babies tend to pull up their legs, bunch up their fists, and grimace during episodes of colic, which often start in late afternoon and may continue into the evening. Colic typically starts between 3 and 6 weeks of age and lets up when the baby is around 3 to 4 months old – the same time frame when non-colicky babies do the most crying. Many theories about the cause of colic have been suggested, but none has been definitely identified.

Colic facts

If you have a colicky baby, it's important that you recognize a few facts:

      • It's not your fault. Your baby does not have colic because of something you did or didn't do.

      • Babies who have colic are healthy. They grow and develop as well as babies who don't have colic. They don't have emotional problems, and they're just as likely to be happy as other children.

      • Even if your efforts to soothe your baby don't stop the crying, your baby will be reassured by your comforting.

What to do

Although there is unlikely to be a medical problem, you might feel better if you have your pediatrician evaluate your colicky baby. The doctor can rule out such conditions as infection and hernia and can help you determine if your baby has an allergy.

Try the techniques listed above for soothing and distracting. Some colicky babies get relief from being placed tummy down across an adult's legs and having their backs rubbed. Some appreciate less stimulation overall, such as a quiet environment with few visitors.

Get a break if you need one: A tense parent may not be able to do much to calm a tense baby. There are times when the best thing you can do is let a fresh, non-frazzled adult help with the baby, so you can get a few minutes of peace. You can always put your baby down and let him cry for a while. A short break might actually help both of you, and it certainly won't hurt.

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colic,colicky,allergy,family health,pediatrician,pediatrics
Last updated August 19, 2014

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