Newborn crying jags are inevitable. Here's help soothing a crying baby — and renewing your ability to handle the tears.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The dream: Your baby sleeps through the night after just a few weeks, gurgles happily while you run errands and fusses only when hunger strikes.

The reality: Your baby's favorite playtime is after the 2 a.m. feeding. Crankiness peaks when you're out and about. You had no idea a baby could cry for so long.

Sound familiar? On any given day, a newborn might cry for up to two hours — or even longer. Find out why babies cry, and what to do about it.

A crying baby is trying to tell you something. Your job is to figure out why your baby is crying and what — if anything — you can do about it. Consider what your crying baby could be thinking.

I'm hungry

Most newborns eat every few hours round-the-clock. Some babies become frantic when hunger strikes. To avoid such frenzy, respond to early signs of hunger. Frequent burping might help reduce discomfort that could be causing tears.

If you're breast-feeding your baby, the flavor of the milk might change in response to what you eat and drink. If you suspect that a certain food or drink is making your baby fussier than usual, avoid it for several days to see if it makes a difference. If you're feeding your baby formula, your baby's doctor might recommend changing formula.

I want to suck on something

Sucking is a natural reflex. For many babies, it's a comforting, soothing activity. If your baby isn't hungry, you might offer a pacifier or help your baby find his or her finger or thumb.

I'm lonely

Sometimes simply seeing you, hearing your voice or being cuddled can stop the tears. Calmly hold your baby to your chest. You might place your baby on his or her left side to aid digestion or on his or her stomach for support. Gentle pats on the back might soothe a crying baby, too.

I'm tired

Tired babies are often fussy — and your baby might need more sleep than you think. Newborns often sleep up to 16 hours a day. Some newborns sleep even more. 

I'm wet

For some babies, a wet or soiled diaper is a surefire way to trigger tears. Check your baby's diaper often to make sure it's clean and dry.

I want to move

Sometimes a rocking session or walk through the house can soothe a crying baby. In other cases, a change of position is all that's needed. Keeping safety precautions in mind, try a baby swing or vibrating infant seat. Head outdoors with the stroller. You might even want to buckle up for a car ride.

I'd rather be bundled

Some babies feel most secure in a swaddle wrap. Snugly wrap your baby in a receiving blanket or other small, lightweight blanket.

I'm hot or cold

A baby who's too hot or cold is likely to be uncomfortable. Add or remove a layer of clothing as needed.

I've had enough

Too much noise, movement or visual stimulation might drive your baby to cry. Move to a calmer environment or place your baby in the crib. White noise — such as a recording of ocean waves or the monotonous sound of an electric fan or vacuum cleaner — might help your crying baby relax.

Over time you might be able to identify your baby's needs by the way he or she is crying. For example, a hungry cry might be short and low-pitched, while a cry of pain might be a sudden, long, high-pitched shriek. Picking up on any patterns can help you better respond to your baby's cries.

If your baby doesn't appear sick, you've tried everything, and he or she is still upset, consider letting him or her cry it out. Crying won't hurt your baby — and sometimes the only way to stop a crying spell is to let it run its course.

Of course, listening to your baby wail can be agonizing. If you need to distract yourself for a few minutes, place your baby safely in his or her crib and take a quick shower, call a friend or make something to eat.

Some babies have frustrating periods of intense, inconsolable crying known as colic — typically starting a few weeks after birth and improving by age 3 months.

Colic is often defined as crying more than three hours a day, three days a week for three weeks or longer in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. The crying might begin suddenly and for no apparent reason. During an episode, your baby might be difficult — or even impossible — to comfort.

What causes colic remains a mystery, and treatment effectiveness varies. If you're concerned about colic, consult your baby's health care provider. He or she can make sure your baby is otherwise healthy and help you learn how to care for a colicky baby.

It's tough to listen to your baby cry. But remaining relaxed will make it easier to console your baby. To take the best care of your baby, it's important to take care of yourself, too.

  • Take a break. Ask your spouse, partner or another loved one to take over for a while. Even an hour on your own can help renew your coping strength.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet. Include physical activity in your daily routine. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps — even during the day. The better rested you are, the better you'll be able to handle a crying baby.
  • Remember that it's temporary. Crying spells often peak at about six to eight weeks and then gradually decrease.
  • Know when to contact your baby's health care provider. If you're concerned about the crying or your baby isn't eating, sleeping or behaving like usual, contact your baby's health care provider. He or she can help you tell the difference between normal tears and something more serious.

It's also important to recognize your limits. If your baby's crying is causing you to lose control, put the baby in a safe place — such as a crib — and go to another room to collect yourself. If necessary, contact a family member or friend, your health care provider, a local crisis intervention service, or a mental health help line for support.

Sept. 16, 2015