Crying is a normal, healthy way for your baby to tell you they need something. This means that in the first few months, you can expect to spend a few hours every day listening to some pretty impressive wailing.
Sometimes, though, the howling can go on for longer than a few hours, like in the case of colic, purple crying, and some sleep training methods. This can be distressing and might leave you wondering: Can babies die from crying too long? And is it dangerous?
Is It Safe to Leave Your Baby to Cry?
On average, babies cry for between 2 and 3 hours a day for the first 3 months of their lives. It’s one of the biggest sources of stress for new parents, and it can be tempting to let them “cry it out,” but is it safe?
The good news is that no healthy child has ever died from crying too much. However, this doesn’t mean that you should leave a newborn or young baby to cry. When they are less than 6 months old, you should respond to all cries and check that they aren’t:
- Too hot or cold.
- Overtired or overstimulated.
- Experiencing trapped wind.
Beyond 6 months, most experts agree that short periods of crying as part of sleep training methods like “cry it out” will have no adverse effects on your child or your bond. Just keep in mind that the NHS recommends leaving your little one to cry for no longer than 10 minutes.
Can Crying Hurt My Baby?
Screaming and wailing is hard work and exhausting for your little one, but it doesn’t hurt. After a long period of sobbing uncontrollably, they might:
- Be red in the face.
- Have an elevated heart rate.
- Be congested or have a runny nose.
- Have a sore throat.
- Have an increased body temperature.
Fortunately, these symptoms are all normal and should only take an hour to disappear.
However, there is one long-term issue you should be aware of. In cases where babies are routinely separated from their caregiver and left to cry for long periods, they can develop abnormally high cortisol levels.
This can affect brain development and has been linked to issues later in life, including:
- Poor Behavior.
- Lower academic achievement.
- Difficulty dealing with emotions.
- Poor impulse control.
It’s important to remember that this is usually seen in cases of neglect or when very young babies are left to cry. It’s not something you should worry about if your baby cries routinely due to colic or if you are following a recommended sleep training program.
Why Do Babies Get Sick When They Cry?
Long periods of wailing can cause vomiting due to excess mucus triggering the gag reflex. If this happens, clean your baby up as calmly as possible to avoid them becoming more upset.
Can Baby Crying Be Dangerous?
There are lots of myths and misinformation about the dangers of babies crying. Here are the 5 most common and why you don’t need to worry about them.
- Can Baby Crying Cause Seizures?
Crying won’t give your child seizures, but it could reveal an underlying condition. For example, there have been a few cases of a rare form of crying-induced epilepsy, where prolonged sobbing has triggered a benign seizure.
- Can Baby Crying Cause Brain Damage?
A few psychologists have claimed that crying for 20 minutes or more can kill brain cells. However, they based their idea on animal studies that had nothing to do with crying.
Most neurologists disagree with the claim and say that stress from crying has never been shown to cause damage. Plus, if the limit before harm is 20 minutes, we’d all be affected.
- Can a Baby Cry Enough to Cause Hernia?
A hernia is a condition where part of the intestine pushes through a weakness in the abdominal muscles. It presents as a bulge in the stomach or groin. Yelling and screaming can’t cause a hernia, but it will make it more noticeable due to the increased pressure in the belly.
- Can Baby Screaming Damage Hearing?
As your little one cries, signals are sent to their brain and ears to dampen the noise. This is a very clever system that means they won’t damage their own hearing when they cry. Unfortunately, it’ll do nothing to protect yours!
If you’re worried that your baby’s screaming is damaging your hearing, noise-dampening earplugs are a great option.
- Can Baby Crying Cause a Fever?
The stress and exertion of prolonged wailing can cause your child’s body temperature to rise. However, it will not be high enough to count as a fever and should return to normal after around 20 minutes.
How Much Baby Crying Is Too Much?
If your little one is sobbing for more than 3 hours a day, it’s considered excessive and should be investigated.
Reasons could include:
- An allergy, e.g. cow’s milk protein allergy.
- Pain, e.g. a hair tourniquet or diaper rash.
Unfortunately, sometimes your baby might cry for hours for no reason. This is called purple crying or colic.
What Is Colic?
Colic is a special pattern of high-pitched shrieking that some healthy babies go through. It usually starts when they are between 2 and 5 weeks old and can last until they are 3 to 4 months old.
To identify colic, use the rule of 3s:
- More than 3 hours a day.
- At least 3 days a week.
- For 3 weeks or more.
What Is Purple Crying?
Purple crying is a term used to describe colic or persistent screaming. It’s identified according to the mnemonic PURPLE.
P – Peak of crying: Your baby cries most at 2 months old and stops between 3 and 4 months old.
U – Unexpected: It can come out of nowhere with no obvious reason.
R – Resists soothing: Your child cries uncontrollably, and you can’t calm them down.
P – Pain-like face: Your little one looks as if they are in pain.
L – Long-Lasting: It can last 5 hours a day or more.
E – Evening: Episodes are more likely in the afternoon or evening.
How to Stop a Baby Crying
The best way to calm your little one is to identify what’s bothering them and fix it. Sometimes, this is easy, and you just need to change a diaper or add a blanket.
However, if you’re dealing with overtiredness, overstimulation, or colic, the issue can be a little trickier to solve. In this case, try:
- Taking your child out in the stroller or car.
- Putting your baby in a sling and dance or sway.
- Playing gentle music, white noise, or singing.
- Sharing a bath.
- A soothing massage.
- Offering your breast if you are breastfeeding.
- Offering a pacifier.
- Laying your tot, tummy down, across your legs, and stroking their back.
- Adjusting their routine, e.g. putting them to bed earlier or changing nap times.
If all else fails, ask for support from a relative, friend, or health professional, or call a hotline like cry-sis. The sleep deprivation and stress that comes from non-stop wailing can be dangerous, so it’s vital you seek help.