Understanding Infant Crying

Father and Mother holding a newborn baby

A new baby in the house is an exciting, happy time. It’s also a loud time. Infants cry a lot, which can be nerve-racking if you’re a new parent. Try not to worry. Healthy babies cry, and those bouts of crying are a normal part of infant development. Knowing what to expect — and some ways to cope — can keep your baby happy and safe and help you enjoy your baby even more.

Crying is normal

Even the most patient parent can have a hard time with a crying baby. Understanding how much babies typically cry won’t make yours stop crying, but it could make you feel better about yourself as a parent:

  • Long stretches of inconsolable crying are normal for infants, especially in the evening.
  • Every baby is different, but some will cry up to three hours a day — don't worry; that's not three hours straight.
  • Long bouts of crying tend to lessen after a baby is 2 to 3 months old.
  • Shaking your baby is never a solution. Shaking only will make your baby cry harder and could cause him or her permanent damage.

The color PURPLE


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Researchers have come up with a new way to help parents understand infants’ patterns of crying. They developed the acronym PURPLE to describe the period of inconsolable crying some babies go through between the ages of 2 weeks and 4 months.

  • P — Peak of crying is usually at about 2 months of age.
  • U — Unexpected crying comes and goes with no apparent cause.
  • R — Infants resist soothing.
  • P — Infants look like they are in pain.
  • L — Crying can last a long time, up to 30 or 40 minutes.
  • E — Evening crying is common.

What to do


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It’s natural to want to make your baby feel better when he or she cries. There are lots of things you can do to soothe your baby, but they may not always work and that’s normal. Sometimes babies just need to cry. Like many other things with babies, intense crying is often a phase that will pass. Until then, try some of these suggestions:

  • Make sure your baby is comfortable. Check whether your baby's diaper needs changing. Check the baby's clothing for pinching or being too warm or not warm enough. Ask yourself whether your baby could be hungry.
  • Make sure your baby isn't sick. Take the baby's temperature and look for rashes or any other sign your baby could be sick. If your baby does have a fever or other symptoms, call your pediatrician or primary care doctor.
  • Try a pacifier. Some babies find sucking on a pacifier to be very soothing; others won't take to it. If you're worried about a pacifier being a hard habit to break down the road or posing a health risk, know that experts agree the benefits outweigh any potential risk.
  • Head outside. Put your baby in the stroller and go for a walk, or buckle him or her into the car seat and go for a drive. Use that baby swing. Movement can often soothe babies and stop the crying.
  • Put on some tunes. Music is another good way to soothe your baby. It may take a little experimenting to figure out whether your baby likes country music or jazz, but keep trying different styles. Some babies also like background noise like the hum of a vacuum cleaner.

Taking a break

Sometimes you can do everything possible to make your baby stop crying, but your baby has other plans. If the crying is getting to you, take a break, ask for help and remember: You’re doing a great job. It’s perfectly fine to put your baby in a safe place — like the crib — and leave the room for a few minutes. Then try these ideas:

  • Phone a friend It can be especially helpful to talk to a friend who has already been through this stage with his or her own kids.
  • Exercise A mini-workout will get your heart pumping and boost your energy.
  • Read Now is not the time to tackle that 500-page novel you've been planning to read, but some light reading like a magazine or a favorite website can be a good distraction.
  • Breathe Remember that crying is normal, not a sign that you're failing as a parent. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself this is just a brief phase in your son's or daughter's life.

Infants can be tricky to figure out, but take heart that this intense crying period will come to an end. For more suggestions, contact the New Parent Support Program for in-home support for you and your baby.


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