How much do babies cry? In studies of American babies, the total time spent crying during a 24 hour day averaged 1.8 hours a day for a two week old baby. At around 6 weeks, they average 3 hours per day. By 12 weeks, crying may average as little as one hour a day.


Crying Patterns: Crying increases in the first few weeks of life, then typically peaks in the 2nd or 3rd month, then decreases from there.

This pattern was found consistently in cross-cultural comparisons between American, Dutch, and !Kung San infants. All these infants also showed a similar number of crying episodes. However, the duration (length) of crying episodes was much shorter for the !Kung San babies, who tended to cry only half as long as Western babies.


Colic: Colic is generally defined as when a baby cries for more than 3 hours a day, on than 3 days a week, and it generally peaks when the baby is around 2-3 months old, and fades around 4 months. Cries tend to be high-pitched and distressed, and babies grimace. The prime time for crying is the evening hours.

In the U.S., up to 20% of parents report having a colicky baby.

Colic is unknown in many cultures, particularly those which practice co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and near-constant contact, including carrying the baby throughout the day.

There can be physiological causes for “colic” behavior, such as allergies and food intolerances, but some caregivers estimate that only 5% of babies have these medical causes. Others don’t seem to have clear reasons for crying behavior.

Some hypothesize it results from overtired, over-stimulated babies. When babies begin to fuss a bit to announce that they are tired, parents may try to “fix” the fussing by diaper changes, bouncing, burping, active play, and so on, which may lead to an over-stimulated baby who can’t settle himself down to sleep. Then he begins the colicky crying which can stretch on for hours.


Minimizing Crying, and Calming a Crying Baby

Crying is baby’s last resort for getting its needs met. Most babies will demonstrate a need in a number of ways before they will escalate up to crying. Learn to watch for babies’ cues so that you can sense their needs early on, and meet them before the baby begins to cry.

Hunger cues: rooting (if you touch baby on cheek, he will turn his mouth toward your finger), sucking, thrusting his tongue out. Tired: yawning, rubbing eyes or ears, turning head from side to side as if trying to get comfortable on a pillow. Overstimulated: yawns, turns away, sneezes or hiccups. Hot: clammy skin. Cold: blotchy skin. Pain: high-pitched sudden cry, doesn’t stop to breathe often. Blowing off steam: a grinding, growling sort of cry.

Sometimes, though, we miss all the cues, and we have a crying baby. When they are crying full-tilt, the first necessary step is to calm them down enough to figure out their need, then meet their need. Here’s some tips for calming.

Under three months of age, babies are really neurologically immature. They don’t regulate their breathing well, they don’t regulate their temperatures well, they startle when they’re moved and their arms and legs flop out.

The more you can re-create the womb environment for them, the better. In utero, they were snuggled in tight, had the constant sound of your heart beat and breathing, had consistent temperature and environment, and had lots of motion as you carried them around through daily life.

So, snuggle them in tight: swaddle in a blanket, or carry in a sling, or hold them in your arms. (Some babies also do very well in their car seats where they’re enclosed.) Provide them with constant, consistent sound, temperature, and motion. One of the easiest ways to do this is by carrying them with you in a sling where they can hear your heartbeat and regulate their temperature and breathing to yours. Other helpful options for white noise are: static on the radio, the clothes dryer, a vacuum cleaner. Helpful options for motion are: swinging in a baby swing, rocking with you in a rocking chair, going for a ride in your car, being held in daddy’s arm while daddy does the world-renowned daddy dance of swaying back and forth with the baby.


The Effect of Carrying on Crying

A study was done (Hunziker and Barr, 1986), starting with three-week-old babies. Between 4 and 12 weeks of age, experimental group was asked to carry their babies in their arms or a carrier for at least three hours a day (any three hours, not just when crying; whether they were awake or asleep.) Control group were asked that whenever they would normally put the child in a crib, they should place it so it can see a mobile, and an “abstract” of a face.

Control group babies were carried for an average of 2.7 hours per day throughout the study period. ‘Supplemented’ babies were carried an average of 4.4 hours a day; 3.5 hours in the parent’s arms, and .9 hours in the carrier.

In the control group, the “normal” crying curve started at 1.7 hours a day at week 3, peaked at 2.2 hours at week 6, and decreased to 1.3 hours a day at week 12.

In the supplemented babies, the peak at week 6 was eliminated. They cried for 1.8 hours a day at week 3, when the carrying began. This amount decreased gradually to 1 hour a day at week 12.

The amount of crying time for babies who were carried more was reduced by 43% at week 6, and 23% at week 12.

For more on carrying your baby, see the “Carrying your Baby” section.


Sources: Compiled by Janelle Durham

“’Indulgent’ versus ‘Separation’ Caregiving Strategies: Modifying the Early Infant Crying Curve.” Lecture by Ronald Barr, MD. On March 5, 1999 in Bellevue, WA. “Increased Carrying Reduces Infant Crying: A Randomized Controlled Trial” by Urs A. Hunziker and Ronald Barr, Pediatrics, 77:5, 1986. “Crying in !Kung San Infants: A Test of the Cultural Specificity Hypothesis” by Barr, et al. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 1991. Calming information from various sources.


Carrying your Baby

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