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How long is too long for a baby to cry?

It’s normal for babies to cry, but how long is too long before it becomes concerning? As a new parent, it can be frustrating and worrying when your baby cries inconsolably. Knowing when to step in or seek help is important for your baby’s health and development.

What’s Normal Crying?

Crying is your baby’s main way of communicating their needs and discomforts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it’s normal for a newborn to cry for up to 3 hours per day, peaking at 6 weeks then declining after 3-4 months old. Crying durations can vary but on average a newborn cries:

  • 30 minutes to 2 hours per day in the first week
  • Peaking at 2 hours per day at 6 weeks
  • Declining to 1 hour per day at 3-4 months

Crying more than 3 hours per day may indicate an issue like hunger, discomfort, illness or need for bonding. But keep in mind every baby is different. Premature babies may cry more while others cry less but more intensely.

Normal Newborn Crying Patterns

Newborns tend to follow predictable crying patterns:

  • Clustering – crying more in the late afternoon/evening
  • Colicky crying – intense crying episodes at predictable times of day
  • Growth spurts – crying more with hunger before a growth spurt
  • Witching hour – fussy crying in the evening

These patterns are normal but can be stressful for parents. Just remember they are temporary as your baby develops.

Comforting Crying Babies

For normal crying patterns, try these comforting techniques:

  • Hold/carry your baby close
  • Gently rock or bounce your baby
  • Give a pacifier, finger or breast to suck
  • Play white noise or soothing music
  • Go for a walk or drive
  • Give a warm bath
  • Gently massage your baby

If crying continues, try to identify possible causes like hunger, dirty diaper, overstimulation etc. But resist the urge to immediately feed or change the baby every time they cry. Babies need to learn to self-soothe and taking action too quickly can form bad sleep habits.

When to Be Concerned

While normal newborn crying can be stressful, excessive crying or inconsolable crying may indicate an underlying issue that needs attention. Contact your pediatrician if:

  • Crying exceeds 3 hours per day consistently
  • Crying seems painful – high-pitched or shrill
  • Inconsolable crying even after trying usual comforting techniques
  • Crying refuses to stop when held or comforted
  • Crying occurs at same time daily but won’t stop
  • Crying disrupts feeding and sleeping routines

Excessive crying like this could indicate issues like reflux, food intolerance, illness or a need for better parent-child bonding. It’s best to have your pediatrician assess the situation.

When to Call Emergency Services

In rare cases, immediate emergency care may be needed if:

  • Crying is accompanied by breathing issues – gasping, panting etc.
  • Crying causes baby to choke or vomit excessively
  • Crying is followed by seizure-like movements or stiffening of the body
  • Crying continues nonstop for over 45 minutes

Prolonged, inconsolable crying can lead to dehydration or other dangerous effects. Call emergency services if you observe any of these worrisome signs during excessive crying bouts.

Understanding Colic

Colic is intense, prolonged crying in an otherwise healthy, well-fed baby. It tends to follow predictable patterns – often at the same time each day, usually in the late afternoon or evening. Colicky crying may seem louder, more intense or higher-pitched than normal fussing.

Doctors diagnose colic if an infant:

  • Cries intensely for over 3 hours per day, at least 3 days per week
  • Cries for more than 3 weeks consistently
  • Is otherwise healthy, fed and not in distress

Colic peaks at 6 weeks and improves by 3-4 months old. The exact cause is unknown but may relate to gastrointestinal discomfort, immature nervous system, overstimulation, or differences in parent-baby bonding.

Managing Colic

Suggested colic management techniques include:

  • Frequent burping during feeds
  • Using probiotics
  • Massaging baby’s tummy
  • Using white noise or vibration
  • Swaddling for soothing
  • Allowing baby to suck – pacifier, pinky finger
  • Trying hypoallergenic formula if breastfed

Check with your pediatrician before making major diet changes or using medicines. No intervention relieves colic immediately, but these measures may provide incremental comfort. With time and patience, colic will pass.

When to Seek Colic Treatment

See your pediatrician promptly if your baby’s colic:

  • Prevents proper feeding and sleep routines
  • Creates significant family stress
  • Doesn’t improve after trying comfort measures for 2 weeks
  • Has signs of reflux – spitting up, arching back etc.

While colic is common and temporary, excessive crying can disrupt development. Check in with your pediatrician if colic persists beyond 6-8 weeks without improvement.

Soothing Crying with Parent-Child Bonding

Strong parent-child bonding can help reduce excessive crying while making baby feel secure. Try these bonding-focused responses:

  • Respond promptly – Don’t wait to intervene if baby is in distress
  • Hold baby close – Keep your newborn close through touch and baby-wearing
  • Make eye contact – Engage baby through eye contact and facial expressions
  • Talk, sing or read to baby – Bond through verbal communication
  • Prioritize tummy time – Build trust and security during daily tummy time interactions

Responding to your baby’s cues and providing affection builds secure attachment between you. This helps baby thrive and cry less overall.

Parent Self-Care for Crying Babies

Coping with excessive crying can be exhausting for parents. Be sure to:

  • Ask your partner, friends or family for help
  • Take breaks when possible
  • Sleep/nap when baby sleeps
  • Go for a walk with baby
  • Do an activity you enjoy, even briefly
  • Talk to other parents for support

Don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician about resources like parent support groups that can help you manage. Taking care of yourself lets you be fully present for your baby.

The Purple Crying Period

“Purple crying” refers to persistent, inconsolable crying in healthy infants roughly 2-4 months old. The term was coined by the Period of PURPLE Crying education program, which aims to prevent shaken baby syndrome.

The acronym PURPLE describes common features of this developmental stage:

Letter Meaning
P Peak of crying – cries the most at 2 months
U Unexpected – daily crying with no clear reason
R Resists soothing – may be inconsolable at times
P Pain-like face – may seem like baby is in pain even if not
L Long lasting – crying bouts can last over an hour
E Evening crying – tends to be worse in the late afternoon/evening

This PURPLE crying is normal but can frustrate and overwhelm parents. Understanding that it’s temporary can help parents cope safely.

Soothing Purple Crying

Suggestions for soothing purple crying include:

  • Holding/carrying baby close
  • Giving a pacifier for sucking
  • Using white noise or vibration
  • Baby-wearing in a sling or carrier
  • Going for walks or drives
  • Asking others to care for baby, even briefly

If crying persists over 20-30 minutes, check for hunger, dirty diaper or other needs. But remember your baby may simply need to cry.

Coping with Purple Crying

To cope with purple crying:

  • Take breaks when possible
  • Sleep when baby sleeps
  • Ask your support system for help
  • Do an enjoyable activity, even for 15 minutes
  • Join a parent support group
  • Remind yourself this stage will pass

Never shake or hurt a crying baby. If you feel overwhelmed, place baby safely in the crib and take a break. Asking for help is always okay.

Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Also called abusive head trauma, shaken baby syndrome refers to injuries caused by violently shaking an infant. Shaking can damage the brain, causing:

  • Brain swelling and damage
  • Skull fractures
  • Retinal bleeding
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive and developmental delays
  • Death

Shaken baby syndrome often occurs when frustrated caregivers lose control trying to stop inconsolable crying. Crying peaks around 2-4 months, when the risk of shaking is highest.

Preventing Shaking Injuries

To prevent harming a crying baby:

  • Put baby in a safe place like the crib and leave the room
  • Take deep breaths and calm yourself before picking baby up
  • Ask your partner, friend or relative to care for baby
  • Check if baby needs a diaper change, feeding or burping
  • Call your pediatrician for help with excessive crying
  • Join a parent support group to reduce isolation

All caregivers should know the dangers of shaking. Never, ever shake or toss a baby.

Age Acceptable Crying Per Day Call Doctor if Exceeds
0-2 months 0-2 hours Over 3 hours
2-4 months 0-3 hours Over 5 hours
4-6 months 0-2 hours Over 4 hours
6+ months 0-1 hour Over 3 hours


It’s normal for babies to cry, especially at around 2 months old. Try comforting techniques and addressing possible causes, but accept that you can’t always immediately stop the crying. Seek medical guidance if crying is extreme or worrisome. Stay patient, take breaks when needed, and remember this trying time will pass.