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Understanding Your Crying Infant: A Guide to Infant Colic and More

Crying is your baby’s first form of communication and is designed to provoke adults into action. In this guide, we will explore why infants cry, ways to soothe them, when to seek professional help, and more. Let's embark on this journey of understanding your baby's crying together!

9 mins to read May 29, 2024

Did you know that crying is the primary way babies communicate? Whether They’re  expressing hunger, discomfort, tiredness or a need for attention, your crying infant is trying to tell you something. But remember, crying doesn't always signify distress.


Deciphering the mystery of infant crying and infant colic

Infant crying patterns can differ with age. It is normal for your baby to cry a lot during the early months. While some babies cry a little and softly, others cry excessively and loudly. The prime reason your baby cries is because they have an inability to convey their needs in words. In the early days you may not be able to understand the reason why your baby is crying, but gradually as you get to know them intimately, you can start to understand what their cries are communicating.

You may experience your newborn crying for about two hours a day, decreasing as they mature. Around 6 weeks your baby might experience a ‘crying peak’ and then by three months, most babies cry for about an hour a day .

However, if your infant keeps crying more than normal, it might be a case of infant colic. The term baby colic is used when your baby is extremely unsettled, irritable and crying for long unexplainable periods. This is a difficult time for parents. You can feel helpless and hope that you are not missing something serious. Talk to your health care professional to help rule out any medical conditions that may be causing the crying. If diagnosed with colic, talk to them about colic treatments as there is emerging evidence about a role for certain probiotics in helping to reduce the crying associated with colic.

Common causes for a crying infant or colicky baby

Understanding the common reasons infants cry can help you meet your baby's needs more effectively.

  • Hunger or thirst: Your crying infant may be signalling hunger or thirst. If it's been a few hours since the last feeding, consider offering them a feed. Have your baby weighed by a health care professional regularly during their first couple of months to ensure they are putting on a desired amount of weight.
  • Need for a nappy change: Wet or soiled nappies can cause discomfort. Regularly check and change your baby's nappy to prevent irritation.
  • Physical discomfort or illness: A crying infant can indicate physical discomfort or illness, such as teething pain, gas, or other health issues. If you think your baby is unwell, consult a healthcare professional.
  • Over stimulated: Give your baby space to move and be free from being held after each feed. Different temperaments handle touch differently. Your baby may find the lights, smells, and noise of different places overwhelming, leading to unsettledness and crying. Limit the time your baby is passed around for cuddles, as too many from different people can be tiring.
  • Tiredness or overtired: Be mindful of how much sleep your baby requires and ensure they are given the opportunity to sleep at regular intervals. Establish sleep cues and become aware of, and watch out for tired signs such as jerky limb movements, facial grimacing, yawning, breaking eye contact and clenched fists. These are signs that your baby is ready to be settled to sleep.
  • Passing a bowel movement: Your baby may cry before a bowel movement. It should not be associated with any other bowel changes such as blood, mucous, froth or anal fissures which are signs that need to be seen by a healthcare professional.
  • In need of a cuddle: Prior to being born your baby has been close to the sound of your heartbeat and aware of other rhythmical muffled sounds from the womb and outside noises. They have been floating in the warmth of fluid and felt secure while encapsulated in the womb. Exposure to the outside world full of loud and sudden sharp noises, smells, brightness, wearing of clothes, taste of milk and bodily functioning can be a massive adaptation for your baby to make. A secure, reassuring and comforting cuddle may be just the thing that helps them feel everything is ok.
  • Baby colic: Your doctor may diagnose infant colic if your baby continues to cry for many hours a day, over multiple days and weeks without any other known cause. Your baby may stiffen their back and not want to be held. All the usual comforting measures are not working, and your baby is getting more upset and so are you. Checking for basic needs (nappy change, food, sleep) and offering comfort can all help calm your colicky baby.

It may take time to fully understand your baby's unique needs. Be patient and provide a soothing environment while responding with love and care. If you have any concerns always reach out for advice from your healthcare professional.


Effective methods to soothe your crying infant or colicky baby

Knowing how to soothe your crying baby or newborn with colic is incredibly beneficial. Here are some tips:

  1. Comforting techniques: Swaddling, gentle rocking, or using white noise can comfort a crying baby. Sometimes, simply holding your crying infant close can be the most effective solution.
  2. The role of feeding: Hunger is a common reason for crying. If it's been a while since the last feeding, consider offering a feed to your crying infant.
  3. Using a dummy or soothing items: Dummies can offer comfort and satisfy your baby's sucking reflex. However, they should only be introduced once breastfeeding is well established. Other comforting items like a soft blanket or a favourite toy can provide a sense of security to a colic baby.

If your baby's crying persists, especially if they are showing signs of infant colic, consult your healthcare professional.


When to seek professional help for your newborn's crying

If your newborn will not stop crying and the cause is unclear, professional help may be needed. Look out for signs such as high-pitched or continuous crying, fever, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or changes in appetite. If you notice any of these, consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible. If your doctor rules out any other cause of the crying, they may diagnose your baby with colic, which will give you reassurance and support that your baby is otherwise growing healthily.


Caring for yourself while caring for your crying infant

As parents, it's important to also care for yourselves. Here are some coping strategies:

  • Self-care tips: Ensure you're getting enough rest, eating balanced nutritious meals, and staying hydrated. Take breaks and engage in activities you enjoy. Say yes to anyone that sincerely offers to help you.
  • Seeking support: Reach out to loved ones for emotional support, practical help, or babysitting assistance. Build social networks with other like-minded parents who have young babies and children.
  • Have realistic expectations of your newborn during the first several weeks of life – your baby will cry and they will need you to be calm. Be realistic with what you expect to get accomplished each day.
  • Managing stress: Practise relaxation techniques or engage in activities that make you happy. Do some form of outdoor exercise every day. If you're struggling, talk to a healthcare professional for guidance and support.

If you are alone and your baby’s crying is causing you to be extremely anxious or frustrated, put your baby safely in their cot or basinet and call for help. Call a trusted family member, friend, your health professional, or a support service.

Additional resources and support for parents of crying infants

Understanding why your baby is crying or what colic in infants means can be overwhelming, but there are resources available to help.

  • Reputable websites like Raising Childrens Network, and Pregnancy, Birth & Baby have articles which address common concerns related to a crying infant.
  • Parenting groups and forums provide a supportive community where you can share experiences and advice.
  • In some cases, professional help may be needed. Paediatricians, lactation consultants, or child health nurses can provide expert guidance and support.

Remember, every baby is unique. Be patient and kind to yourself and your little one as you navigate the challenges of a crying infant or a colic baby.


Frequently asked questions about crying infants

How to settle a newborn?

Start by ensuring their basic needs are met - check for hunger, a clean nappy, tiredness, or temperature related comfort. When settling them for sleep, create a soothing environment with dim lights, soft sounds, and a cozy swaddle. Gentle rocking, rhythmic shushing, or using a white noise machine can help mimic the womb's comforting sensations. Skin-to-skin contact, such as holding them against your chest, can provide warmth and security. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for your baby and remember that each newborn is unique - patience and responsiveness are key.

What causes excessive crying in infants?

Excessive crying in infants, when there is no known cause, is often referred to as colic. The cause may be multifactored, or unknown. Colic can be diagnosed by a healthcare professional when all other potential causes of the crying cannot be identified, including underlying medical conditions. Apart from medical conditions, a healthcare professional can help you rule out the many reasons infants cry, such as discomfort from digestive issues, overstimulation, hunger, tiredness, teething, growth spurts, or sensitivity to certain foods or environmental factors. It's important to ensure your baby's basic needs are met, provide a calm and soothing environment, and try different soothing techniques like gentle rocking, swaddling, or white noise.

How to cope with a crying infant?

Coping with a crying infant can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help parents navigate this phase. Stay calm: Take deep breaths and remind yourself that crying is a normal part of infant development. Your calmness can help soothe your baby. Check basic needs: Ensure your baby is fed, changed, and comfortable. Comforting techniques: Try gentle rocking, swaddling, singing, or using white noise to provide a soothing environment. Take breaks: If you feel overwhelmed, it's okay to take short breaks to regroup. Seek support: Connect with family, friends and other parents, join support groups, or consult with healthcare professionals for guidance and reassurance. Remember, each baby is unique, and finding what works for your little one may take time. Trust your instincts and be patient with yourself and your baby as you navigate this phase together.

How long can I let my newborn cry?

It is generally recommended to respond to a newborn's cries promptly and provide comfort and care. Newborns use crying as a way to communicate, and they rely on their caregivers for soothing and meeting their needs. Leaving a newborn to cry for extended periods without intervention can be distressing for both baby and parent. However, it's important to note that brief periods of crying may occur even with attentive care. If you have concerns that your newborn will not stop crying or are unsure about their needs, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised guidance and support.

At what age do babies cry the most?

Babies tend to cry the most during the first few months of life, on average it’s about 2 hours a day. This usually peaks around 6 to 8 weeks of age. Crying gradually decreases as babies grow older and develop better communication and self-regulation skills. By around 3 to 4 months of age, crying episodes typically start to decrease in frequency and intensity. It's important to note that every baby is different, and individual variations in crying patterns can occur. If you have concerns about your baby's crying, consult with a healthcare professional for guidance and reassurance.