Essential information to remember

Essential information to rememberShe feels safe and happy when she hears your voice.

Photo: Geneviève Rondeau

Babies can’t communicate with words, so they use crying as one way of expressing themselves.

All babies cry and it’s normal. Some cry more than others.

Crying tends to increase starting in the second week of life. It reaches a peak around the sixth week and usually decreases by the third or fourth month.

It can be hard to understand why a newborn is crying. By spending time with her, you will learn to recognize what her different cries mean. For example, you’ll know if she is hungry or tired, needs to burp, needs affection, wants your attention, or has a dirty diaper.

You will also learn how to soothe your baby's crying. Her reactions will help you understand what makes her feel better and what she doesn’t like.

Sometimes, despite your efforts, you won’t understand why your baby is crying. When that happens, stay with her and try to remain calm. This will teach her that she can trust you.

During her first nine months, your baby doesn’t have any sense of time. She needs you to respond quickly when she cries. Comforting a baby when she cries will not spoil her. It teaches her that you are attentive to her needs. She will feel loved.

That said, even if your baby cries, she can be put down in a safe place if you need a bit of time to yourself.

Excessive crying (colic)

Essential information to remember

Essential information to rememberThis is a soothing position for your baby.

Photo: Jean-Claude Mercier

Information to which special attention should be paidIn general, excessive crying is only something to be concerned about if it is accompanied by other signs. For example, you should see a health care professional if, in addition to being inconsolable, your baby

  • Behaves differently
  • Won’t eat or sleep
  • Has a fever (see Fever)
  • Is vomiting or has abnormal stools (see Stools)
  • May have been injured
  • Is showing other signs that worry you

All babies can cry heavily at times, whether they are full-term or premature, breastfed or bottle-fed, or boy or girl.

Some babies cry for more than three hours a day, especially at the end of the day, and seem inconsolable. During a crying spell, your baby may appear to be in pain: her face is red, her fists are clenched, and her legs are curled up on her tight belly. She may have gas because when babies cry, they swallow air.

These episodes of excessive crying, often called colic, are completely normal. They are rarely associated with a health problem and have no long-term consequences for the baby.

What to do?

Make sure your baby’s needs are being met and that she isn’t exhibiting any other concerning signs (see the red box below).

You can try different techniques to help soothe your baby:

  • Find a calm area and turn down the lights.
  • Put on soft music, some background noise, or speak softly to her.
  • Massage, caress, or touch her, for example by placing her on your stomach with her skin against yours, in a warm place.
  • Offer your breast. Many babies calm down while sucking at the breast: it can satisfy their hunger and be a source of comfort.
  • Move her around, rock her, take her for a walk in a stroller or baby carrier, or take her for a car ride.
  • Give her a bath. Some babies find water soothing.
  • Place your baby face down on your forearm with her back against your belly, her head in the crook of your elbow, and your hand between her legs. Often babies find this position soothing.

Keep in mind that if the method you use to soothe your baby works once, it may not work the next time.

If you’ve tried these various techniques for several days and nothing is working, or if you have any concerns, do not hesitate to consult a health professional. He or she can reassure you about your baby’s health and suggest other options if necessary.

Medication and natural health products for “colic” are usually not recommended.

If your baby is inconsolable

Information to which special attention should be paidNever shake an infant or young child: shaking can cause permanent brain damage or even death. Put her down and get help.

Bouts of excessive crying is hard on the whole family. It’s normal to feel perplexed, helpless, irritated, or even frustrated.

When you are feeling tired or impatient, it’s good to have someone you can trust who can give you a hand. You can ask someone to look after the baby for you so you can rest. When you come back, you will be able to pass along your sense of calm.

Are you feeling overwhelmed and have no one to replace you? Put your baby in a safe place, like her crib, close the door and leave the room for a few minutes. It’s normal to need a break. Check on your baby every ten minutes to make sure she is still safe, but don’t pick her up again until you have calmed down.

Don’t be afraid to seek help from a babysitter, relative, doctor, CLSC, or volunteer centre. You can also phone the LigneParents help line, at 1-800-361-5085.

Breath-holding spells

Starting at 6 months of age, some babies may cry until they stop breathing for several seconds and briefly lose consciousness. They may turn blue or pale. An episode like this is called a breath-holding spell. Babies do this unintentionally when they are experiencing something unpleasant.

It’s normal to be worried if this happens, but don’t worry: your child’s health is not in danger. Remain calm, stay with your baby, and reassure her. She will quickly start breathing again on her own. However, if a breath-holding spell occurs before the age of 6 months or lasts for more than one minute, it’s a good idea to talk to her doctor.