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2017 Nov

Why is my Baby Crying?

While dining out recently, I noticed a distraught mother attempting to comfort her crying infant. Other diners angrily glanced at this poor mother, who was doing everything she could to soothe her baby. Finally, in desperation, she took the baby outside. My heart went out to her, as I recalled being in her shoes.            

You see, all babies cry. It’s their only form of communication. It’s not like they can say, “Excuse me, but I’m a tad bit warm. Can you please remove my sweater?”

Babies cry when they are hungry, wet, gassy, too warm, too cold, over-stimulated (have had enough), under-stimulated (bored), or ill.

The experts vary in their descriptions of normal crying. Most sources say that the average baby cries between 1 to 4 hours per day, but others disagree, arguing that even 4 to 6 hours a day is within the range of normal. The peak crying time is between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m., exactly when most parents are most tired as well.

You can’t “spoil” a baby by attending to her cries. In fact, attending to a baby’s cries helps her to understand that the world is a dependable place where needs are met.

But how can you tell why the baby is crying? Babies have different cries for different needs. In time, you will be able to distinguish the differences between your child’s cries. Let’s start with the basics of what to do if your baby is crying.

Step 1. Is he hungry? Chances are that if he hasn’t eaten in the past three hours, then it is time to nurse or offer the baby a bottle of formula.

Step 2. If your baby did eat recently, did she burp? The crying may be a gas bubble. Give burping a try.

Step 3. Is your baby wet? A diaper change is an easy fix. Be sure to check for diaper rash, which can be a cause for crying. If the area is irritated, it may burn when they wet. Be sure to apply a nice barrier-type diaper cream containing zinc oxide.

Step 4. Is your baby too warm or too cool? You should dress your infant like you are dressed. If it’s a warm day and you are in shorts, then your infant doesn’t need two shirts, a fuzzy sleeper, and a blanket. Or if you are in a sweater and jeans, then a dress with no stockings may leave your infant chilly.

Step 5. Is your baby over- or under-stimulated? Sometimes after a long day, your baby may have had enough. Just place her in her crib on her back and pull the side rails up. Give your baby some quiet alone time. On the contrary, perhaps, your baby has been lying alone for a while and she needs some interaction. Try holding her, rocking her, and offering a baby rattle.

Here are a few ways to soothe a fussy baby:
• rocking
• gentle swaying
• swaddling (not too tight)
• a warm bath (never leave a child unattended)
• a baby swing (use restraints)
• white noise (like a fan or a white noise app on your phone)
• a car ride (car seat in the rear, facing backwards)
• a pacifier
• place him in a crib in a darkened room (on his back, side rails up)
• soft, gentle music
• going outside for a walk in a stroller
• baby wearing
• gentle massage

Crying can also be a sign of illness. If you are concerned about your child’s crying, see your pediatric healthcare professional. Any infant with a fever and fussiness should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Whatever you do, never shake a baby. It can cause severe brain damage, blindness, coma, and even death. If you are at the end of your patience, then gently place the baby on his back in the crib with the side rails up, and leave the room. Make a nice cup of tea, and take a little break. Remember that crying doesn’t hurt a baby, but shaking him does.

If you, as a parent, are suffering from post-partum depression, seek care from a mental health professional or confide in your OB/GYN. You must care for yourself so that you can care for your child.

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Pediatric Specialists in Norfolk, as well as a lecturer at ODU. Read more about caring for your infant in Dr. Wilhelm’s first book, Raising Today’s Baby, available on or at Have a question? Email her at Follow her on Facebook at and twitter at

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