May 7, 2024
Developmental milestones
May 7, 2024
Developmental milestones

Baby cries and colic: a guide for worried parents

Trying to figure out why your baby is crying can feel like trying to solve a logic puzzle. Sometimes there’s an easy fix. Other times, the odds aren’t quite in your favor. It can be especially frustrating when your baby is fussy or crying right after you've tried to solve a core problem, like feeding them if you think they’re hungry. And if you have a colicky baby who cries more than most, your child may seem inconsolable. Knowing these can be stressful times for parents, here are some ways you can try to solve the unpredictable puzzle of baby’s cries.
Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Written by
Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Content Writer
Medically reviewed by

Why do newborns and infants cry? 

If you find it hard to endure your baby’s crying, know that you’re not alone. While it can be frustrating to hear their cries, it may help to remember that a newborn’s cry is the only way they have of communicating with the world around them. This means that whenever something — anything — is wrong, crying is their only way to verbally let us know. 

How do I know if my newborn has colic?

All newborns cry, but some cry more than others. And others cry a lot more than others. Babies who cry this much are said to have colic, or may be described as “colicky”. By scientific standards, a baby is said to have colic if they cry excessively for no clear reason during the newborn phase — their first three months of life — but there’s no specific measure how much crying is too much.

As a general rule of thumb, if a baby cries more than three hours a day total, for more than three days a week, they may have colic.

Up to 40% of all babies have colic, so it’s quite common and tends to kick in between 3 and 6 weeks of age. Colic winds down in most infants by 3 months old and in almost all infants by 4 months. 

Colicky babies often start crying suddenly, for seemingly no reason and can be inconsolable. Their crying spells often start in the evening, which can make bedtimes even more stressful for all.

What does a colic cry sound like?

Imagine a typical baby’s cry. Now imagine a baby’s cry if they are in pain, scared, or screaming. This is what a colicky cry tends to sound like. 

What’s tricky is that your natural instinct is to check to see whether there’s something obvious hurting your baby. And if there’s not, you may start to wonder whether there’s something hurting them that you can’t see.  When a baby has colic, it means neither their parents or caregivers, nor their pediatrician, can pinpoint a reason for the crying.

Four different baby cries and what they mean

In the first weeks, it may seem like all your baby’s cries are the same, but there are different types of cries and knowing them can help you figure out what might be going on with your little one. In addition to colicky cries, there are:

  1. Hunger cries - Crying is a late sign of hunger for babies, so by the time they’re crying, they’re very hungry. At this point, it may be harder for them to calm down enough to eat. Try to look out for earlier hunger cues — like lip smacking, turning their heads and opening their mouths, or chewing on their hands or fists — so you can feed them before they get too worked up.
  2. Pain or discomfort cries - If your baby is in pain, they might shriek or scream loudly and in a long, high pitch. You’ll want to check for visible causes of pain, like rubbing their ear (which could signal an ear infection) or signs of a diaper rash.
  3. Discomfort cries - A baby who is uncomfortable but not in serious pain may cry, or may just seem fussy. If a baby is fussy or crying on and off, but not too hard, it can mean your baby is tired, bored, gassy, overstimulated, or has a dirty diaper.
  4. Sick cries - When babies are sick, it can be harder for them to stop crying, and their cries often seem weak and whinier than normal. If your baby is sick, you’ll want to watch out for other symptoms in case you need to call a pediatrician. If your baby has much lower activity than usual (lethargy), isn’t eating as much, or has a fever above 100.4°F, let their doctor know.

Why newborns cry after feeding

When a baby cries, it’s standard practice to address the most common reasons why they may be crying by changing their diaper, helping them get to sleep, or feeding them. It can be especially frustrating when you’ve checked all the boxes — and are either actively feeding them or have just finished feeding them — only for your little one to still be in distress.

There are a few reasons why newborns might cry during or after feeding:

  • Colic - We’ve talked about this one, but unfortunately crying spells in babies with colic tend to come on without reason. And crying during or after a feeding can be normal for colicky babies.
  • Gas - If your baby has gas stuck inside, it can make them uncomfortable, and eating could make them feel worse. Babies can also swallow more air while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, which can cause or contribute to gassiness. Helping babies burp after feeding, or even mid-way through a feed, can help them release gas.
  • Reflux - It’s possible that your baby has acid reflux, which happens when stomach acid goes back up into your baby’s esophagus (or food pipe), causing a burning feeling. Reflux symptoms can be triggered by eating and might include spitting up, throwing up, gagging or choking, arching their backs during feeding, and — yes — fussiness or crying during feeds.
  • Allergies - Sometimes if a breastfed baby is sensitive or allergic to something in your diet — for example, dairy or caffeine — they may be irritable during or after nursing sessions.

The way to get to a solution is to figure out the root cause of the issue, which can take some trial and error, and possibly some conversations with your child’s pediatrician. They can help you figure out whether reflux or food sensitivities might be at play.

How to soothe a fussy, crying baby

Soothing techniques can be helpful when it comes to getting your baby to calm down. While they may not always be as effective for babies with colic, they’re certainly worth a try. In recent years, the 5 S’s of soothing have become popular. They include:

  • Swaddling - A nice snug swaddle helps newborns feel comforted, as though they’re still in the womb, and can also keep them from waking themselves up because of their startle reflex.
  • Shushing sounds - Shushing sounds in the form of white noise or making the “shhhh” sound with your mouth is quite soothing to babies and can even help them fall asleep.
  • Swinging motions - Whether you’re cradling your baby and gently rocking them from side to side, or giving them some time in a baby swing, these motions can be relaxing for babies. Just remember to remove your baby from a play swing before they fall asleep since sleeping in a swing is not recommended. Also, be sure the straps are placed on your baby correctly, and use the most reclined position available on the swing to keep young babies from tipping over.
  • Sucking - All babies have a sucking reflex and can find sucking motions soothing. Some breastfed babies will nurse for comfort since the sucking activity can be soothing. Babies may also suck their hands or fingers, and as a parent, you may allow your baby to use a pacifier.

The last “S” stands for side or stomach-down position, but only applies if you are holding your baby to soothe them. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) increases when babies sleep on their stomachs, so always place your baby on their back to sleep. 

When should I be concerned about my newborn being fussy or crying?

A baby crying inconsolably can be distressing, which can make it even harder for you to solve the puzzle of calming them down. If you’ve tried fixing all the possible problems to consider — like hunger, gas, wet diaper, diaper rash, etc. — you can always enlist the help of a professional. 

Your pediatrician may have ideas about possible solutions to try. But oftentimes babies are crying during off-hours when your pediatrician might not be as reachable.

Summer Health’s pediatricians and specialists are always just a text away. Don’t hesitate to reach out for some help understanding your baby’s cries. 


UptoDate. Patient education: Colic (excessive crying) in infants (Beyond the Basics).

American Academy of Pediatrics News. Safe and sound: tips for using infant swings.

Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Content Writer
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