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Is my baby’s crying normal, or is it colic?

Is my baby’s crying normal, or is it colic?
Is my baby’s crying normal, or is it colic?

Key points

  • Having a crying baby is stressful, so it can be hard to tell if there’s a problem or not
  • Certain medical problems might be causing excessive crying
  • Your healthcare professional can provide reassurance and guidance

Whether it’s in the early hours of the morning, the middle of the day or late at night, having a crying baby can be incredibly upsetting for parents – especially if it feels like it’s nonstop. You might worry that you’ve done something wrong, or that something is wrong with your baby. All of this fear and frustration can be a big source of stress for parents, and it can take a toll on your mental and emotional health.

It’s totally normal for babies to cry – that’s their main way of communicating, after all. But sometimes your baby’s cries can be a signal you might need to see a healthcare professional. So how do you know whether your baby’s crying is normal?

We sought the help of Dr Preeya Alexander as a GP and health expert, who told us that when it comes to crying babies, most of what parents worry about is perfectly normal.

“I think the biggest misconception among parents is that a baby who cries a bit more is abnormal,” she says. “I find I spend a lot of time reassuring patients and sharing some really simple pieces of information that can yield a lot of comfort – including the fact that infant crying tends to peak at six to eight weeks, and that’s actually a part of normal development.”

Dr Preeya says that at eight weeks of age babies tend to cry an average of two to three hours every 24 hours. “Often once I let patients know that that’s normal, they feel much better with reassurance alone and the knowledge that their baby is just like lots of other babies out there.”

The good news is that intense crying stages tend to pass before the five-month mark. What a relief!

Why is my baby crying?

In most cases your baby won’t be crying because of a medical problem – more likely, it’s because they’re hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, scared, tired, wet or uncomfortable. But if you’ve taken care of those needs, and your baby is still almost impossible to settle, colic could be at play. Colic is a term for excessive, frequent crying for no obvious cause – read more about the signs of colic, and tips for managing it here.

In some cases, however, there might be a medical reason a baby is crying excessively.

Cow’s milk allergy, when a child’s immune system reacts to the protein in milk, can cause intense crying. Other signs of cow’s milk allergy include skin reactions and gastro issues such as vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation – you can learn more about the symptoms and how to manage this condition here. Make sure you see a healthcare professional for diagnosis if you suspect your baby might have cow’s milk allergy, says Dr Preeya.

Another possible medical cause of excessive crying is reflux, where a baby brings up the contents of their stomach either into their food pipe or mouth. Get to know the signs of reflux and what causes it here

If you don’t think cow’s milk allergy or reflux are affecting your baby, and you can’t find any other obvious cause, it’s time to decide whether you need to call a healthcare professional.

How do I know if I need a doctor?

One of the really difficult aspects of dealing with a crying baby is that you’re usually sleep deprived and feeling overwhelmed – which aren’t great emotional states to make an accurate assessment about whether your baby might need a doctor. 

“Even with all my background medical knowledge it was confusing at times,” admits Dr Preeya, who has two young children. “I tell my patients to take a step back when their infant is crying – to pop the infant down somewhere safe like the bassinet and have a moment to breathe and reset. Once you feel calm – even if just for a moment – it is worth asking yourself if the crying is the normal crying you hear day to day but more pronounced in your brain because you are so exhausted?”

The big warning signs of a problem, says Dr Preeya, are when your baby is suddenly crying more than normal or seems unwell – with a fever, for example. Those signs mean you need to see a doctor immediately.

Even if you’ve ruled out signs of illness, it still might be a good idea to consult a healthcare professional.

“I always advise my patients to have a low threshold to seek a review with their GP or maternal child health nurse when it comes to crying and irritability. There is a lot to worry about as a parent – I know this personally having done it twice – and I think sometimes you just need a set of independent qualified ears and eyes who can guide you.”

She adds, “Most of the time a healthcare professional will listen to your story and ensure there is nothing else going on, like a medical condition that may be causing the infant to be irritable, and provide reassurance alone. Crying can be distressing and exhausting for parents and caregivers but the reassurance that your baby is normal can make you feel empowered.”

REMEMBER: This article is not to be substituted for medical advice. If you’re concerned about your baby crying excessively, or have questions about colic, reflux, cow’s milk allergy or any other conditions, please speak to a healthcare professional such as a pharmacist, GP or maternal child health nurse.

Disclaimer: Dr Preeya Alexander is an independent expert who was compensated for her time.


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