Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Crying, Colic, and Settling Your Crying Baby

This is an INFORMATION page, verified by physician

The Crying Infant

As adults. we generally associate crying with the shedding of tears. This is usually in response to an emotional state such as sadness or response to physical pain. It can be distressing or stressful for new parents to see their newborn baby crying, especially if they cry a lot.

Remember that babies are different from children and adults. Crying is a baby’s only means of communication, at least at first.

Not all infant crying is the same. Not all crying indicates hunger. Not all newborn baby crying indicates pain. Your newborn baby crying can be the need for attention, cuddles, feeding, tiredness, discomfort, or wind. And sometimes for no identifiable reason. It can be rather challenging at first. But you will learn over time to recognize your baby’s different cries.

Crying, especially if the cry is very different from your baby’s normal cry, can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. If you are worried about your newborn baby crying, it is important to have your baby seen by your paediatrician.

Looking for common and traditional soothing techniques? We’ve got you covered. Check out the following methods that may help settle your upset baby.

How Do I Work Out Why My Baby is Crying?

Baby’s often have a different type of cry, or rather pre cry, that signifies what they are trying to communicate. This is the cry they have before they cry hysterically if their need is not met. Often there are clues to what the cry may signify. These clues are by the body language, situation, and the time of day (particularly if your baby has a routine).

Sometimes it can be a bit of guesswork by working down a list of possible causes and addressing them one by one. Some helpful questions to ask are:

  • When did your baby last feed?When was the last nap?
  • Does the nappy need changing?
  • How does your baby feel (hot or cold)?
  • Does baby look like they are experiencing discomfort? (pulling up legs, arching).

Sometimes, there will be no identifiable reason why your baby is crying.

The Peak of Crying

Unfortunately, over the first few weeks of life, a baby’s crying may intensify. The peak crying time is around six weeks of age, when an average baby may cry for 3 hours a day. Some babies may even cry up to six hours a day making it feel as though if baby is not asleep or feeding then they are crying. But, this is not universal. Some babies will cry more than others and some less.

This period of peak crying is now recognized as a normal developmental stage. It is referred to as the Period of Purple Crying. But it can be a very stressful time for any parent.

What is the Period of Purple Crying?

The Period of Purple Crying is a phrase that Dr. Ronald Barr, a developmental pediatrician developed. It helps explain to parents that there is a developmental stage where babies will cry.

It is normal, and it will come to an end.

The word Period signifies a time frame with a beginning and an end. Purple is an acronym to explain the characteristics of the crying:

P – Peak of Crying,
U – Unexpected,
R – Resists soothing,
P – Pain like face,
L – long-lasting,
E – Evening.

This means babies between the ages of two weeks and three months, have a developmental phase where they cry more each week. This peaks in the second month of life. Often crying for no identifiable reason and resist soothing no matter what you try. Your baby may look like they are in pain even though they are not. The crying can last as long as five hours in a day, and babies cry more in the late afternoon and evening.

An older, more familiar term to many parents and grandparents for this period of crying is “Colic”.

For more information on purple crying www.purplecrying.info

How Will I Know if My Baby is Crying Because of Colic?

Colic may be diagnosed if a baby cries for more than three hours a day. Three times a week for more than three weeks in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. Colic affects around 25% of babies, and starts a few weeks after birth and often improves by three months of age.

Babies with colic have intense crying bouts. Typically in the late afternoons, when they can cry for hours, often with a red face, hands fisted and knees drawn up. The cause is unknown, and the baby grows and develops normally without any lasting consequences.

While there is no proven treatment to “cure colic”, there are some treatments that can be tried. Your paediatrician can discuss these with you. It is important to recognize that one thing does not work for all babies. It can be a bit of trial and error to work out what will help your baby.

There are some soothing techniques that can help settle a distressed crying infant. We’ll discuss those below. You may find one that works for your baby, or you may need to try a combination of these.

  • Some babies may respond to over the counter colic drops.
  • Probiotics may help by maintaining a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract. These are available in liquid/drop form especially for babies. They can be bought over the counter or can be prescribed by your paediatrician.
  • Cranio-osteopathy can also provide relief for some babies. Your paediatrician can provide a referral for this service.
  • Getting out of the house for a walk or drive with baby can help.
  • Finding good support for both you and your partner during this difficult time is important. As is remembering to take some time out for the two of you.

Here in Cayman, you can still find some over-the-counter colic drops or gripe water that contain alcohol. These should not be given to baby. It is safest to discuss colic drops and any suggested home remedies with your paediatrician before giving these to your baby.

How can I settle my crying baby?

Five traditional techniques that you can try to settle your crying baby, all starting with “S”.


Snug Swaddling
Swaddling a crying infant, provides the sense of being touched. It helps to stop their arms flailing about, further upsetting them. Wrap baby’s arms snug while the swaddle is looser around the knees and hips.


Side/stomach position (but not for sleep)
Changing your baby’s position may help. Try placing baby on their side or stomach, but not while unsupervised or for sleep. There are different ways to hold baby in either the side or stomach position.

Shushing is a form of white noise, theoretically mimicking the sound the baby heard in the womb. The louder the crying, the louder the shushing needs to be. Some parents download white noise tracks onto their phone to play.

Rhythmic moving, typically up and down or back and forth, can help settle baby. Upset babies respond better to short (only an inch or two) quick, gentle jiggly movements. These can then be slowed as baby becomes calmer, but make sure the head and neck are always well supported.

Sitting in a rocker or side of the bed, with baby facing your chest, supporting baby’s neck and head with your hand, is an easy way to provide back and forth rhythmic movement.


Offer baby your breast, clean finger or a pacifier to suck.

Other measures that may help settle baby include:

  • Skin to skin
  • Warm baths
  • Massage
  • Gentle patting at about 70 pats per minute (similar to your heart rate),
  • Taking baby into a dark room,
  • Going for a walk or drive.

Getting Help/Support

A baby that seems to always be crying no matter what you do, can be stressful and exhausting. For any parent, whether it’s your first, or fourth time with a newborn. Excessive crying can push any parent to their limit.

It is important to remember that it is okay to say you need some time out. Time out to breath. Ask your partner, a family member or friend to help look after baby for a while. If there is no one there, know that it is okay to place your crying infant in their cot, where they are safe, while you take a few minutes to calm down. Step outside the room or outside into fresh air or listen to some music. If you are stressed and frustrated, your baby can sense this. When you feel calmer, your baby will feel calmer too.

Please remember it is NEVER okay to shake a baby to try to stop their crying or out of frustration.

This can lead to Shaken Baby Syndrome. Shaken Baby Syndrome can be devastating, causing bleeding in the brain or worse, death.

If you are worried about the extent of your baby’s crying, please reach out to your paediatrician. Your baby will be seen in clinic, a thorough history taken and baby will be examined. This will be sure to rule out any physical or medical cause of excessive crying. You can then discuss settling measures and supports for you and baby.

You are not alone.

More Advice on Newborn Baby Crying

It’s also worth checking out help, advice, and any newborn baby crying posts in our Baby Facebook Group. It allows you to ask questions, gain access to basic advice and share experiences with others facing the same new experiences. You can join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/babycayman/

about the author

Dr Sarah Newton
Dr Sarah Newtonhttps://childrensdoctor.ky
SPECIALIST GENERAL PAEDIATRICIAN & NEWBORN CARE - Dr Sarah Newton (MMBChB, FRACP (paeds), DCH) is a general paediatrician with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, tertiary level trained in highly respected paediatric and neonatal centres in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Her specific interests include neonatal care, complex diagnoses and developmental follow up.

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