Colic, overstimulation, hunger–there are many reasons why your baby could be crying at night. And, of course, you want to ease your little one’s discomfort and help them get as much quality sleep as possible. After all, an enormous amount of physical and cognitive development happens while they’re asleep!
Babies can easily get overstimulated by bright lights or noise. Cuddling, swaddling, and walking with your baby and providing motion and body contact may help calm your baby. The soothing sounds of a white noise machine or fan in the room may also promote relaxation.
2. Schedule disruptions and sleep regressions
Changes to your baby’s regular schedule due to traveling, visitors, illness, and other everyday disruptions can affect their sleep, causing them to wake up and cry. And while your infant’s internal clock may not know the difference between night and day yet, following a routine can help them sleep better.
Try to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Go into mellow mode and dim the lights, turn off the TV, phone, and electronics, and minimize activity before bed.
To help your little one learn how to fall asleep on their own, avoid letting them fall asleep in your arms. Put them to bed when they are sleepy but still awake.
6-month sleep regression
Between four and six months, some babies go through a sleep regression that may cause your baby to cry and wake more at night. There are several theories as to why this may happen, including separation anxiety and increased sensitivity to overstimulation.1
Following a consistent sleep schedule and a relaxing bedtime routine filled with cuddles and calm activities may help them wind down.
12-month sleep regression
Your baby may undergo a similar sleep regression around their first birthday. By now, your baby may be walking, talking, teething, weaning themselves off naptime, and maybe even having nightmares. All these new activities can keep your baby active and irritable in the middle of the night.
While this regression usually lasts just a few weeks, you can help manage it by sticking to your regular sleep-friendly bedtime routine and keeping your baby busy during the day so they are more tired at night.
3. Sheer hunger
Many babies cry at night because they are hungry. Crying is actually a late indicator of hunger after things like smacking lips or sucking on their fist. Check the clock and how long it’s been since their last feeding. Depending on your baby’s age, they may be waking up to tell you they need to be fed. If you're formula-feeding, Enfamil has a range of baby formulas that can support your baby's health and wellbeing at every stage.
When feeding your baby at night, try to keep the lights off and the sounds low. Encourage feeding, not play.
Your newborn needs to eat every few hours because their stomach is so tiny. Over 24 hours, most formula-fed newborns will eat eight to 12 times.
As your baby grows, so will the time between feedings. Your baby may eat every three to four hours.
During this time, your baby will gradually transition to eating five to six times a day, including three meals a day and snacks or milk in between. Around nine months, babies will also typically start eating more solid foods. Feed your baby when they start showing hunger cues. If your baby is older than nine months, they may not need a nighttime feeding, and if they wake up crying, it could be for another reason.
Talk to your doctor about how much formula your baby should be consuming. Comparing formula options? Consider Enfamil formulas, the #1 infant formula brand recommended by pediatricians. From everyday nutrition formulas, such as Enfamil NeuroPro with expert recommended DHA, to specialized formulas like Nutramigen for little ones with food allergies, our family of formulas provides nutrition to feed your baby’s potential.
4. Hunger-gas-crying cycle
If your baby cries at night from hunger for some time, they may work themselves into a frenzy and find it difficult to calm down when nourishment arrives. A frantically hungry baby is prone to gulping air while feeding, causing gas. This can create a cycle of discomfort that makes your baby fuss and cry instead of settling back into sleep once the hunger has been satisfied.
To help avoid this, try to feed your baby before they become overly hungry and agitated. To help ease gas, burp your baby during and after feeding. If you’re formula-feeding your baby, you may want to talk to your doctor about changing to a different type, such as Enfamil NeuroPro™ Gentlease®, a formula designed to ease fussiness, gas, and crying in 24 hours while providing nutrition to support growth and healthy development.
5. Colic associated with cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA)
Colic is prolonged and intense crying and fussiness that tends to follow a pattern of threes: crying for more than three hours per day (usually in the evening), for more than three days per week, and for more than three weeks—and CMPA is a frequent culprit. Read more about colic indicators and cow’s milk protein allergy.
When do babies start sleeping through the night?
While every baby develops at their own schedule, most babies regularly sleep through the night—considered sleeping for a stretch of six to eight hours—by the time they are six months old. And when they do wake up, you’ll know it (or hear it, rather) when they fuss and cry. Let's look at typical infant sleeping habits, why your baby may cry at night, and what you can do to help you both get more rest.
Typical baby sleep patterns3
Sleep at age 0–3 months
Infants up to three months usually sleep between 15 to 16 hours a day, but only one or two hours at a time. And since they need to be fed every two to three hours, they’ll be up throughout the night.
Sleep at 3–5 months
Around three months, babies will be more awake during the day and sleep for longer spans at night, getting about 14 hours of total daily shut-eye. They may snooze for four to five hours at a stretch and wake up for one or two night feedings.
Sleep at 6–8 months
By six months, most babies can snooze at night for a good chunk of time, between seven and eight hours, and will have two or three naps during the day.
Sleep at 9–12 months
As your baby gets older, they’ll need less daytime sleep—typically just two naps. And at night? Rejoice! Your little one may be getting as much as 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Could my baby have colic? What to ask your doctor
If your baby has been having persistent, uncontrollable crying spells for over three weeks, it could be colic, and it’s possible that it could be related to an underlying issue. To get proper guidance, call your doctor. Your healthcare provider will be able to explain what’s going on and either have you come in for a visit or explain what your baby is experiencing.
If your pediatrician recommends a visit, remember to ask if there’s anything you should do to prepare. To get the most out of your appointment, it helps to have the following information on hand:
- A list of all of your baby’s issues and your concerns
- When do you notice crying and fussiness? Is it after eating? Any particular time of day?
- How long has the crying seemed excessive?
- About how many hours a day does the crying last?
- Are there any other issues that seem to be related to or causing the crying (e.g., gas, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash)?
- Log anything you are giving your baby:
- Vitamins or other nutritional supplements
- Type of formula
- Breast milk
- Any solids
- Note any changes in your baby lately:
- Sleep pattern
- Eating habits
Also, write down your list of questions and bring them with you. Here are some starters:
- What might be causing my baby to cry?
- What’s normal to expect for my baby’s crying—amounts and intensity?
- Any suggestions for tips to calm them down?
- How can you tell normal crying and fussiness from something more serious?
- I’m not sure if my baby is teething. Could this be causing his crying and fussiness?
- My baby often cries after they eat. Could this indicate something?
- My baby doesn’t cry much, but they seem to fuss a bit. Is this normal?
- They seem gassy and fussy at the same time. Should I be worried?
- What resources do you recommend to better understand why my baby is acting this way?
If your pediatrician does suspect colic, know that your baby may outgrow it and that it should not have an impact on their health and development. Work with the doctor to rule out any underlying issues and help your baby through this phase.
If your baby is formula-feeding and diagnosed with cow's milk allergy, don’t be alarmed. It is typically managed quickly and effectively, and babies often outgrow the allergy by the time they are in school. Your doctor will likely recommend switching to a hypoallergenic infant formula, such as Nutramigen with Probiotic LGG®, which is designed to manage colic due to cow's milk allergy, with 90% of infants improving within 48 hours. Consult with your doctor before making any dietary changes.
Other reasons your baby may cry through the night
Crying is a baby’s way of telling us that they are unhappy, and it’s up to us to figure out why and respond accordingly. While we’ve touched on some of the common reasons your baby may cry at night, there are a few others:
- Soiled diaper
- A finger tangled uncomfortably in a swaddle
- A room that’s grown too hot or too cold
- Sickness (a baby who has a cold or ear infection might wake up more often than usual)
- They want to be held. Some babies just love to be held.
Why is your baby crying? This checklist may help you figure it out
Babies cry day and night, and there are many things that may trigger those tears. What is your little one trying to tell you? As parents and caregivers, we need to be great interpreters, which can sometimes be challenging. Use this checklist to help pinpoint the possible issue.
- Is your baby hungry? Depending on your baby’s age, they may need to eat as often as every two hours.
- Do they have a wet or dirty diaper?
- Is it past naptime?
- Is your baby just saying, "I've had enough"? Babies often cry when overstimulated and may need soothing, not play.
- Your baby can sometimes have gas, which can also lead to crying. Speak with your doctor to make sure that everything is OK physically with your baby. You can also ask about formula differences that could help when bottle feeding. For example, Enfamil NeuroPro Gentlease Infant Formula is for gassy, fussy babies and is clinically proven to reduce fussiness, crying, gas, and spit-up within 24 hours of use. If you're breastfeeding, ask about new nursing techniques or changes to your diet that may help.
- Your baby could have colic due to a cow’s milk protein allergy. Remember the threes: Look for relentless crying that lasts more than three hours a day, for three or more days a week, for three weeks or more. If you’re formula-feeding and think your little one may be allergic to cow’s milk, see your doctor and ask them about switching to a hypoallergenic formula like Enfamil Nutramigen, which can quickly relieve colic due to cow’s milk protein allergy.
- And don't forget to look for signs of pain or sickness. Call your doctor anytime you feel something is just not right
- Finally, realize that some young babies cry for no apparent reason. It can be normal and will pass. Meanwhile, try swaddling, rocking, rhythmic noise, or car rides. Cuddling and music can also soothe you both.
Knowing what to check on when your baby starts crying will help make the situation less stressful for you and your sweet pea. And as always, talk to your pediatrician if you ever have any concerns or questions.
Helping your baby sleep tight and eat right
Good nutrition plays an essential role in your baby’s health and wellness. If you’re formula-feeding, consider how Enfamil’s family of formulas could benefit your baby.
Sleep better knowing we’re the number one trusted brand for brain-building nutrition and immune support and the number one infant formula brand recommended by pediatricians. Whether you’re just starting your baby on formula, switching or supplementing, or looking for everyday feeding options or specialty formulas for allergy issues or tummy troubles, you can count on Enfamil for complete nutrition for your little one. Explore our formula options, and if your baby is diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy, ask your doctor about hypoallergenic Nutramigen with Probiotic LGG.
Nutramigen with Probiotic LGG has been clinically shown to manage colic due to cow's milk protein allergy fast, in as quickly as 48 hours.* It helps more babies overcome cow’s milk allergy and return to consuming regular milk as soon as six months of feeding.† Nutramigen also has the probiotic LGG that promotes an increase in healthy bacteria in the microbiome, supporting gut health and your little one’s developing immune system. Nutramiigen with Probiotic LGG is a lactose-free formula. It helps reduce the incidence of future allergies.**
Join our Nutramigen Support Program for samples, tips for cow's milk allergy management, and more.
Does your baby cry a lot at night? Do you have tips on how to soothe your little one? Share your tips!
*Studied before the addition of LGG®, DHA, and ARA.
†Vs. Nutramigen without LGG®.
**Asthma, eczema, rhinoconjunctivitis, and urticaria at 3 years compared to Nutramigen without LGG. Feeding began at 4 months of age or older in the study (ref#2).
Updated on: 12/21/2022