It is a fact of life that baby’s cry. This is a normal part of development. Since crying is normal, it will not hurt your baby. The question always arises, “how long should you let a baby cry?” One important note is that infants that cry for overly long periods of time may suffer from issues with insecurity. Any infant that is under four months old is not crying to “get their way” and it is impossible to “spoil” an infant that young. They are expressing to you that they clearly need something and have no other way of telling you. While crying is not harmful, infants needs have to be met and one of those is attention and affection.

How Long Should You Let a Baby Cry?

Many parents wonder if they should let their baby “cry it out” and only answer cries with a reassuring pat on the back. Studies have shown that kids who are left to cry have changes in their brains consistent with emotional and/or physical neglect and some even show signs of mental health deterioration later in life. Answering your baby’s cries and meeting his or her needs is important to help them feel secure. Here are some guidelines for infant crying:

Birth to 3 months. Baby’s this age need to have their cries answered promptly. They are crying because they need something and not because they are spoiled. When they cry and you answer their cry, this is an early form of communication between your baby and other humans. If you don’t answer your baby’s needs when they cry you are letting them know they are not worthy of having their needs met. A baby who is left to cry at this age may be left with emotional difficulties and trust issues later in life, as well as altered communication patterns.

After 3 to 4 months of age, crying usually drops off to only when baby is wet, hungry or tired and as a parent you can pick up on these patterns easily. Once you get to know your baby’s routine, you can meet any needs before a crying spells starts and avoid it altogether. This way, if your baby does have a prolonged crying spell, you will know that baby may not be feeling well.

5 to 6 month olds are ready to start learning to “self-soothe” and still they should only be allowed to cry for 6 minutes or less at a time. They still need to know you are there and this helps the bonding and attachment process, which is an important part of child development.

Things You Can Do

  • Make sure diaper is clean and dry
  • Make sure baby is fed, burped and not in pain
  • Try white noise, music or TV
  • Gently rock your baby, walk while bouncing
  • Kangaroo care or skin contact
  • Swaddle your baby in blankets
  • Put baby in car seat and take on a car ride

Make Sure It Is Not Caused by Something Serious

If you baby cries constantly at this age, you may need to make a doctor appointment to make sure there is nothing physically wrong. Your baby should settle down with one of the above methods.

Some babies may have the following; milk allergy, intolerance to formula or breast milk, constipation, acid reflux, gas, hernia or eye abrasions.

Advice from Another Mom Who’s Been There:

“It is important to never let a one month old baby cry for prolonged periods of time. This is far too young an age and by answering cries you are helping your baby learn to trust that you will bring comfort and meet his or her needs. Babies need held and cuddles early on and later in infancy to help their emotional development. Babies over 5 months old can be left to cry for short periods in their crib to help them learn to sleep. It took our son about 2 nights of crying and he began to sleep through the night. We thought he would never take to his crib alone, but he did! Good luck to all the new moms out there and those sleepless nights to go away with time and patience.”

What About the Cry It Out Method?

If your baby has reached the age of 5 to 6 months, you may be able to start letting them “cry it out” at bedtime to learn how to go to sleep on their own. Keep in mind that your baby must have reached this age, be fed, have a dry diaper and not sick.

The theory behind this method is that your baby may be used to you answering his or her cries. While you still must be providing adequate cuddling and affection while your baby is awake, to do this method you only answer cries with a soft touch on the back and gently use your voice to calm the crying. This will reassure your baby that you are there for them, but still tell them it is time for them to go to sleep.

To do this method, make sure you have taken care of any needs before bedtime.

  • ŸEstablish a good bedtime routine so your baby will settle down easier. Take care of the last feeding. Give your baby a warm bath and good rubdown with lotion. Dress him or her in pajamas. Take a little time for reading, singing songs and quiet play. Then place your baby in his or her crib. Turn the lights down and anything else that might provide stimulation.
  • Leave the room. (This is where it may get hard. Realize it is harder on you than on your baby) Wait five minutes. If your baby continues to cry at 5 minutes, go in and reassure. Give a gentle rub or pat on the back. Soothe gently with a quiet voice and leave the room again.
  • ŸKeep repeating the process every 5 minutes until baby falls asleep. You may even want to switch every other time with dad if your baby is associating one or the other parent with feedings or changing.

Understand Possible Causes for Your Baby’s Crying

Before letting your baby cry for too long, you need to assess why your baby might be crying in the first place. Here are some possible reasons you may have a fussy baby on your hands:

  • Overstimulation. If you have been around a lot of people, shopping in stores or at any event with lots of people and noises your baby may just be done. Try taking your baby to a quiet place to calm down.
  • Hunger. Try feeding your baby. If your baby has already been fed, it is possible he or she is going through a growth spurt and may be ready to increase feeding amounts.
  • Wet diaper. The new disposable diapers are so efficient these days, your baby may be wet but the diaper feels dry. Try changing the diaper anyways to see if your baby calms down.
  • Too hot or too cold. Babies cannot regulate their body temperature as well as we can. If it is hot, dress them cool and if it is cold bundle them up.
  • Needing cuddles. Your baby may just need some cuddle time and affection. Try holding your baby for a little while and talking or singing.
  • Needing movement. Your baby may be bored with lying still and need to move around a little. Try putting your baby in a swing, stroller for a walk or an infant backpack while you do housework.
  • Wanting a pacifier. Babies have an innate need to suckle. Sometimes the bottle or breast is not enough. Try using a pacifier if your baby is making excessive mouth movements or putting his or her hands to mouth and not hungry.