What to do when your baby's crying for no reason

Sometimes your baby won't stop crying, even after you've tried everything you can think of to calm them down. And sometimes babies cry for no discernable reason, or won't stop crying unless they're held. Here's what you can do.

baby crying while swaddled
Photo credit: / Qwasyx

It's normal for babies to cry a lot: It's the only way they can communicate. In fact, most newborns cry for 45 minutes to two hours every day during the first six months of life.

Babies with colic – which affects about 1 in 10 infants – cry for seemingly no reason at all for at least three hours per day, three or more days per week, for at least three weeks.

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Babies cry for many reasons, including to tell you that they're tired, or hungry, or have a wet diaper. Sometimes your baby cries because they want to be held or played with – or, sometimes, they're simply overstimulated and need a little quiet time.

In some cases, however, babies cry no matter what you do to soothe them. It's possible to rule out all of the usual suspects for crying, and find that none of the usual soothing strategies (such as feeding, swaddling, pacifiers, motion, and white noise) work.

Every parent knows that a crying baby is stressful and sometimes exasperating, especially when there's seemingly nothing you can do to help. Here's how to cope.

For more helpful suggestions from a top pediatric sleep physician on how to soothe a fussy baby, as well as how to teach your baby to self-soothe when they get a little older, check out our premium course, Baby Sleep 101Opens a new window.


Why babies cry for no reason

Whenever your baby cries, start by going through a mental checklist of the most likely causes. These include needing to eat or take a nap, feeling overstimulated, or wanting to you to hold them or play with them.

If none of these causes seem to be the problem, consider some of the less common reasons babies cry, which include:

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  • The witching hour, evening fussiness that occurs because babies are overstimulated and have a hard time self-soothing
  • Colic, which often starts for no identifiable reason and happens at about the same time every evening
  • Discomfort due to a gassy tummy, teething pain, diaper rash, or more unusual causes like a hair tourniquet (when a tiny hair or thread wraps around a finger or toe, potentially cutting off circulation)
  • Illness – especially if the cry sounds different from your baby's usual cry. Causes may include gastrointestinal reflux disease (babies will often refuse to feed and cry during feedings), fever (from the flu or another infection), or an ear infection (babies usually tug at an ear, which may have fluid drainage)
  • Sensitivity to a food in a breastfeeding mother's diet in breastfed babies, or sensitivity to cow's milk or soy in baby formula, which can lead to painful gas
  • Baby growth spurts, which can cause fussiness at 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months of age

It's possible to check all of the possible causes for crying and come up empty-handed. Sometimes, there simply isn't a clear reason for a baby's tears.

My baby won't stop crying and I've tried everything – help!

There's nothing quite like a crying baby to make a parent feel helpless, anxious, and even angry – especially if the baby is inconsolable for no discernible reason. Know that most every parent goes through this with their child (some more often than others).

Although it may not seem like it now, your crying baby still loves you and needs you. Their crying isn't a reflection on you – it doesn't mean you're a bad parent.

Here are a few tips if your baby won't stop crying:

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  • Manage the here and now. If you're overwhelmed by a crying baby, recognize and name your feelings – whether it's anxious, angry, or sad. Then put your baby in a safe place (such as their crib) and take a few minutes for yourself. If possible, ask your partner or a loved one to watch your baby while you step outside for some fresh air.
  • Focus on your breath. Stress causes a "fight or flight" response: Breathing becomes shallow, leading to symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat. Deep breathing into your abdomen helps you to reset and reduce stress hormones so you can think clearly and calmly. Close your eyes and take a few deep belly breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowly count the time it takes you to inhale and exhale, or simply place your hand on your abdomen to feel it expand.
  • Take care of yourself. Do your best to set aside time every day to tend to your own needs. That includes sleeping or taking naps (exhaustion makes it impossible to think rationally), exercising, eating well, and connecting with friends and family. Taking care of yourself also makes it possible for you to calmly care for your child, especially when they're going through a difficult phase.
  • Check in with the doctor. Be sure to talk to your baby's doctor if your baby has persistent crying episodes – especially if it's upsetting you or your gut's telling you something isn't right. The doctor can help definitively rule out other causes for persistent crying that might require treatment, such as a milk allergy, ear infection, or GERD. Also check in with your healthcare provider (such as your primary care doctor, ob-gyn or midwife, or a therapist) if your baby's crying is causing you to feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed. Whether you're experiencing postpartum depression or simply need more support, they can help.

Call 911 if your baby won't stop crying and:

  • Has a seizure
  • Has blue or ashen skin
  • Breathes fast or seems to struggle to breathe (you may notice they're sucking in their stomach under the ribcage)
  • Has a high temperature but cold hands and feet
  • Has a spotty purple-red rash (which could be a sign of meningitis)

Note: Shaken baby syndrome often occurs in response to a baby's crying – their caregiver becomes frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry and shakes them violently. If you or anyone who cares for your baby ever feels close to losing control, they should put your baby someplace safe, step away for a few minutes, and call a friend or relative for help – or the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736.

My baby won't stop crying unless held

Babies love to be held – some of them so much that they won't stop crying unless they're in an adult's arms. Know that you can't spoil a baby and this phase will pass, as difficult as it can be. In the meantime, here are a few ways to deal:

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Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

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Colleen de Bellefonds
Colleen de Bellefonds is a freelance health and lifestyle journalist. She's raising her toddler daughter and newborn son with her French husband in Paris.