Crying in infancy


Crying in infancy is described as a loud, high-pitched sound made by infants in response to certain situations.

Infants have a cry reflex that is a normal response to some stimuli, such as pain or hunger. Older children and adults cry for emotional reasons such as pain, fear, sadness, or frustration. Premature infants may not have a cry reflex, so they must be monitored closely for signs of hunger and pain.


A cry is the infant’s first verbal communication and can be interpreted as a message of urgency or distress. The sound is highly unpleasant to adults, particularly women. This is nature’s way of insuring that adults attend to the baby as quickly as possible, because few people can simply listen to a crying baby.

One common cause of crying is hunger. Another is pain - caused by gas and or intestinal spasms after feedings - that develops if the baby has been fed too much or not burped correctly. Many infants between the ages of 3 weeks to 3 months develop an crying pattern known as colic. Colic is a normal part of development that may be triggered by many factors. Colic usually occurs in the late afternoon or evening hours.

Discomfort, such as from a wet diaper, can also lead to crying. At times, infants may cry for no apparent reason, but in general crying is a response to something. It may just be that parents are unable to figure out what is bothering the infant at that time.

Crying is probably part of the normal development of the central nervous system. Many parents report the ability to hear a difference in tone between a cry for feeding and a cry caused by pain.

While almost everyone recognizes that infants cry for many reasons and that crying is a normal part of infancy, the stress and anxiety that parents experience in response to frequent or constant crying can be considerable.

After all, the sound is perceived as an alarm, and it is very frustrating not to be able to figure out what’s wrong and soothe the baby. Parents, especially first-time parents, begin to question their ability to cope if the child frequently cannot be comforted.

When unsure of why your baby is crying, try eliminating the sources that you can address:

  • Check for physical safety first. Check to for easy breathing and pink and warm fingers, toes, and lips. Check to see the baby is not in pain and not hungry.  
  • Make sure you are feeding the child the proper amount and burping the baby correctly.  
  • Check for swelling, redness, wetness, rashes, cold fingers and toes, twisted arms or legs, folded earlobes or pinched fingers or toes.  
  • Check to see that your baby is not too cold or too hot. Check to see whether the diaper needs to be changed.  
  • Check the surroundings for too much noise, too much light, too much wind, or inadequate stimulation and interaction.  
  • Talk to your baby. The sound of your voice may be reassuring.  
  • Change the infant’s position.  
  • Try using soft, gentle music for comfort.

Hold your baby close to your chest. Sometimes, infants need to experience familiar sensations like the sound of your voice in your chest, your heartbeat, the feel of your skin, the smell of your breath, the movement of your body, and the comfort of your hug. In the past, babies were held constantly and the absence of a parent meant danger from predators or abandonment. You cannot spoil a baby by holding him or her during infancy.

If the crying continues for longer than usual and your baby is not consoled by any of the means listed above, call a health care provider for advice.

Try to get adequate rest. Exhausted parents are less able to care for a baby. Use the resources of family, friends, or outside care givers to allow yourself time to recover your energy. This will also be helpful for your baby - it does not mean that you are a bad parent or are abandoning your child.

For most of human history, people raised their children with the aid of extended families, so there was less pressure on the parents than there is now. A baby’s grandparents may be very helpful. Don’t worry that they won’t do everything the way you would. As long as they are taking safety precautions and comforting the baby when necessary, you may rest assured your child is well-cared-for during your break.

If your baby’s crying is associated with any significant findings such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, breathing difficulty, or other signs of illness - call your physician immediately.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by Potos A. Aagen, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.