Medically Reviewed on 8/20/2021
Crying nonstop for too long likely means there’s something wrong. If no amount of soothing seems to work, and crying continues for three hours, then your doctor may help.
Babies cry to tell you what they’re feeling. Whether it’s discomfort, hunger, or pain, crying is how they communicate it.
Their crying can also take a toll on you. You may lose sleep over it, and the most common advice you may hear is, “Let the baby cry it out.” But what does that mean?
What your baby’s crying means
Most parents can tell what’s wrong based on their baby’s cry. For example, a parent knows when their baby is hungry versus when they are fussy.
There aren’t universal types of crying, but crying suggests possible discomforts. When your baby’s crying, check them for the following before deciding to let them “cry it out”.
- Your baby’s hungry
- They’re tired
- Lights or sounds are overstimulating them
- Your baby has a soiled diaper or clothes
- They’re too hot or cold
- Your baby is generally uncomfortable (such as a build-up of gas or their clothes are too tight)
- They’re in pain
- They’ve had a drastic change in their environment, routine, or lifestyle
Crying can just be crying. Your baby will sometimes cry because of boredom, excess energy, or strange emotions. When there’s nothing you can fix, this can be frustrating. But it’s normal.
Too much crying may mean colic. If your baby is crying a little too much, keep track of how long they cry. Colic is crying without a cause for at least three hours a day and three days a week.
Colic is self-resolving. Many newborns go through a colic period, and it typically goes away by around four months old. If you suspect your baby may be going through colic, contact your doctor.
How to soothe your baby
If your baby’s crying after you’ve met their basic needs, what else can you do? First, they may need some simple soothing to help them relax.
Try these soothing methods before letting your baby “cry it out”:
- Gently rock your baby
- Gently stroke, pat, or rub their chest or back
- Snugly (and safely) swaddle them
- Sing and talk to them
- Play white noise or gentle music
- Walk with your baby in their stroller or carrier
- Give them a warm bath
Every baby will prefer different types of soothing. For example, an overstimulated baby might hate having their back rubbed. So, finding what soothes them can ensure “crying it out” is saved for last.
How to safely let your baby cry it out
If all else fails and you don’t think your baby needs to see a doctor, it’s OK to let them cry it out. Often, they’ll expel their energy and fall asleep.
Letting your baby cry it out doesn’t mean that you abandon them. On the contrary, checking on them as they cry will make sure they stay safe.
Put them safely in their crib. Cribs have safety guidelines to ensure your child’s safety. Proper use of the crib by following those guidelines is crucial to ensuring their safety as you leave them alone.
Keep the crib empty. Lay your baby on their back in the crib without blankets, pillows, or plushies. You may think these objects will soothe your baby, but they can be dangerous.
Leave them for 10 minutes. Take a break for yourself during this time. Brew some tea, meditate, or do something else to help you relax. If you’re stressed, it’s challenging to soothe your baby.
Keep checking until they fall asleep. Your baby will eventually cry it out with enough time. If you can’t stay to check on your baby, ask a friend or family member to be on standby and check on your baby for you. But if your baby is tired, they should fall asleep quickly.
After three hours, contact your doctor. Crying nonstop for too long likely means there’s something wrong. If no amount of soothing seems to work and they aren’t crying it out, your doctor can provide guidance.
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Watch your stress
You likely feel frustrated when your baby starts crying without cause. When nothing you do seems to help, the stress can get to you.
Always find help when you don’t think you can handle the stress. Reducing your stress will make sure your baby gets the care they need.
Always be gentle. No matter how stressed you feel, always be careful with your baby. Never shake, hit, or be rough with them. Rough handling can lead to:
- Shaken baby syndrome (SBS)
- Brain damage
Letting a baby cry it out can be a difficult thing for a parent to do. Listening to their cries can feel like torture. But as long they’re safe, you don’t need to worry.
Medically Reviewed on 8/20/2021
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Responding To Your Baby’s Cries.?
Australian Prescriber: “Infantile colic.”
Mayo Clinic: “Crying baby? How to keep your cool.”
Nemours KidsHealth: “What to Do When Babies Cry.”
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: “Crib Safety Tips.”