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.
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March 2, 2017
Retro black and white photo of baby crying in playpen.
Image: 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

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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