The sound of a crying baby, while often distressful to the parents, tugs at the emotions of most humans within earshot.

All infants cry. This is their way of communicating. Babies may cry when they are tired, hungry, thirsty, too full, uncomfortable, hot, cold, wet, soiled, or in pain. They may cry for long periods or stop as quickly as they started.

When a baby cries they can appear uncomfortable, squirming and drawing up their legs. They may whimper or scream out loudly. There may be lots of tears or none at all.

As parents, we naturally want to soothe our crying baby and it is important for your baby’s future that they develop a basic sense of trust in you. This means you should respond to your baby’s first cries as quickly as you can.

But how do parents know what a crying baby wants?

If your baby has been awake for some time, they may simply be tired. If you have recently fed your baby they may be thirsty, rather than hungry. Signals such as straining and pushing with their arms and legs can be signs your baby is tense or overstimulated. Check your baby’s diaper, feel their body to see if they are too hot or cold, and make sure that they aren’t lying in an awkward or uncomfortable position.

The truth is, sometimes it may not be possible to work out why your baby is crying. When this occurs it is best to try not to feel too anxious about it and remember that they are not crying just to upset you. Research has shown that babies aged between one and three months will generally cry for about two hours each day. After three months of age, this should decrease as they learn other ways to communicate.

When your baby does cry you may have to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes trying to settle them. Make sure they are comfortable, help them relax by holding them close, singing or talking to them, or rocking them gently in a bassinet or carriage. If your baby cries excessively you should consult your doctor to check that there isn’t any medical problem.

Sometimes it isn’t possible to soothe a crying baby, and it is these times that can be most stressful, particularly for new parents. So long as your baby is in a safe place there may be nothing more you can do than let them settle by themselves. While it may be distressing for you to listen to your baby’s cries, remember that babies generally don’t suffer any physical or emotional injury simply by crying themselves to sleep.

A good preventative measure against excessive crying is to encourage contentment in your baby by interacting with them when they are awake and alert. Give your baby new things to look at or do and change their position often. An interesting mobile or rattle placed nearby in front of them will allow your baby to look and touch. Carrying your young baby in a sling when they are quiet and alert can not only help prevent crying, it’s also a good way for busy parents to get things done.

Remember too that as your baby becomes capable of making more complex gestures — making sounds, pulling faces, laughing and smiling — these new ways of communicating need to be responded to as well. Babies who receive more attention when they cry than when they are calm may learn to gain attention in the future through more crying.


If your baby is still crying after you have done your best to settle them, it is important that you remain calm yourself. Try and get some relief by sitting quietly and taking a few gentle deep breaths. Have a cup of tea or coffee, take a shower, telephone a friend, or listen to some of your favorite music. Remember, your baby will eventually stop crying.

Dr. Matthew Sanders is a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and founder of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program.