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My baby cries a lot. Is this normal?

All babies cry, and some babies cry a lot.  Almost every parent loses sleep over a child that won’t seem to stop crying, particularly late at night. In these situations, you might experience a range of emotions, from anger and distress to self-doubt and confusion. You might feel overwhelmed and begin to question your parenting abilities, or feel frustrated at not being able to understand why your baby is crying. You might fear losing your cool, or worry if your baby is sick.

A facial expression that you may know too well. // source: flickr

Crying is certainly normal, even essential. It is a newborn’s first and initially only way of communicating its needs to others, ranging from “I’m hungry” and “Please change my diaper” to “I want you to hold me” and “I don’t know what I want.” In fact, you have likely noticed by now that a crying baby is both distressing and difficult to ignore, even if it is someone else’s baby five rows down from you on a crowded airplane. Attending to a baby’s cries is rooted in our biology, and releases the hormone in our bodies that is responsible for social bonding and caregiving: oxytocin. Indeed, crying is every baby’s naturally powerful way of grabbing our attention, using what they have to get what they need!

On average, newborn babies cry one to two hours each day, but the range of normal crying is extremely variable and can be as much as 5 or 6 hours per day — sometimes with no apparent reason! A baby who cries a lot is not always a sign that something is wrong. There is also no telling how much your baby will cry on average; every baby is different. If you find yourself with a baby who cries many hours per day, it does not necessarily mean that your baby is going to develop into a needy or fussy adult.

No matter how tough it gets, remember to never shake your baby. Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when a baby is shaken, causing the blood vessels in a baby’s head to break. It most commonly occurs when caregivers become frustrated at being unable to stop a baby from crying, and is entirely preventable.

Responding to your baby’s cries is one of the most tiring parts of being a parent during the first few weeks, but remember that time is on your side. You should expect that how much a baby cries during the first few months of life will peak at around 2 month of age, before it gets better. It will reach its lowest levels by around 4 months of age. You are almost there!

Also remember to take these opportunities to get to know your baby better in the process. A 2013 study published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature demonstrated that fathers and mothers show a remarkable ability to recognize their child’s cry above the cries of other children, mainly due to the sheer amount of time they spend with their baby! Over time and with trial and error, you will come to better interpret your baby’s cries and respond to their needs. With patience, commitment, and a few inevitable sleepless nights, your efforts will pay off!

Supplementary Material

For additional information and resources, take a look at the following.

1. Baby won’t stop crying? Take a look at this resource, created by the Child Welfare Information Gateway (child welfare.gov), for practical advice on what to check for in a crying baby, how to calm the baby, and how to keep yourself calm in the process.

2. Have you noticed that picking up, gently rocking, and carrying your baby around the room is generally helpful in calming your baby down? Recent research in the journal Current Biology has demonstrated a scientific basis for this! Read more in the Psychology Today article, The Neuroscience of Calming A Baby.

3. Remember how we talked about the power of the infant cry, and how attending to it is rooted in our adult biology? If you’re a little more interested in the science behind it, check out this article written by the New York Times: “A Baby Wails, and the Adult World Comes Running.

4. As you get to know your baby better, you might become more attuned to his or her cries as well. Different types of cries might be trying to tell you different things. Check out this Youtube video by Dr. Eva Benmeleh Roditi on interpreting baby cries and understanding what your baby might be trying to convey.

5. it is important to educate yourself about the dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome so that you can try your best to prevent it. Learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome through Mayo Clinic.

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Barr, R. G., Barr, M., Fujiwara, T., Conway, J., Catherine, N., & Brant, R. (2009). Do educational materials change knowledge and behaviour about crying and shaken baby syndrome? A randomized controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 180(7), 727-733.
Gustafsson, E., Levréro, F., Reby, D., & Mathevon, N. (2013). Fathers are just as good as mothers at recognizing the cries of their baby. Nature Communications, 4, 1698.
Michelsson, K., Rinne, A., & Paajanen, S. (1990). Crying, feeding and sleeping patterns in 1 to 12‐month‐old infants. Child: care, health and development, 16(2), 99-111.
Richards, P. G., Bertocci, G. E., Bonshek, R. E., Giangrande, P. L., Gregson, R. M., Jaspan, T., … & Rorke-Adams, L. B. (2006). Shaken baby syndrome. Archives of disease in childhood, 91(3), 205-206.
Riem, M. M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., Pieper, S., Tops, M., Boksem, M. A., Vermeiren, R. R., … & Rombouts, S. A. (2011). Oxytocin modulates amygdala, insula, and inferior frontal gyrus responses to infant crying: a randomized controlled trial. Biological psychiatry, 70(3), 291-297.


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