Normal Crying vs. Excessive Crying: How to Tell the Difference

Yep, babies cry. But sometimes it goes beyond the normal amount. Wondering if it could be colic or some other condition? Read on to find out.
ByThe Bump Editors
Updated
Mar 2017
Retro black and white photo of baby crying in playpen.
Photo: George Marks

What is considered excessive crying for a baby?

Obviously, all babies cry. Infants typically cry a total of one to three hours a day. But sometimes babies cry far more than that, enough to make a parent or caregiver wonder if something more serious is going on. While toddlers don’t usually cry as much as babies (they’ve learned to express their complaints in a more eloquent way—like flinging a handful of spaghetti at your head as they screech at the top of their lungs), they can also take to excessive bouts of crying.

What could be causing my baby to cry excessively?

Any number of issues could have baby wailing his or her lungs out. Baby could be hungry or thirsty, teething or need a diaper change, or it might be something more significant, like a hair tourniquet (one piece of hair wrapped very tightly around a finger or toe—this happens more than you may think!), an obstruction in the intestine or a food allergy. Or it could be colic (something most new parents dread), which begins around 3 weeks and lasts until about 12 weeks of age.

What should I do to treat my baby’s excessive crying?

First, make sure there’s nothing obvious causing baby’s pain. Then, troubleshoot: simply holding, rocking or singing to baby or your toddler may be enough to soothe those tears. In fact, the more baby’s held during the day, the less time he or she will be fussy at night. Of course, pacifiers can also help, as can movement (driving or riding) or white noise (a fan, washing machine, dishwasher or other background noise).

When should I take my baby to see the doctor with excessive crying?

Even colicky babies take a break now and then, so if your child has been crying nonstop for an hour or more and you’ve tried all the typical tactics mentioned above (feeding, changing, burping, rocking, etc.) there’s probably something more concerning to investigate.

Expert: Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, a pediatrician with Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group and instructor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Related Video

A New Way to Treat Colic: Baby Acupuncture

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
01/18/2017

When Baby Will Start Crying Less

Bonnie Vengrow
Contributing Writer

New Charts Determine 'Normal' Amount of Crying Worldwide

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
04/03/2017

A Case for 'Crying It Out'

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor

Colic 101: Everything You Need to Know

Stacey Feintuch
Contributing Writer

Need to Decode Baby's Cries? There's an App for That

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
12/31/2015

Q&A: Dairy and Colic?

Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA
Lactation Specialist

March of Dimes Composes Lullaby of Baby Cries

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
09/26/2017

Study Shows Universal Reaction of Moms to Babies Crying

Natalie Neusch
Contributing Writer
Published
10/28/2017

No More Tears: How to Stop Baby From Crying

Kristen Kemp
Contributing Writer