New parents quickly learn how to identify the hunger cry, the wet wail, or the cranky, tired shrieks. Sometimes though, a crying baby is inconsolable, leaving parents scratching their heads and seeking an explanation.

Incessant crying episodes may be due to a number of causes, some less serious than others. Having an idea of what to look for goes a long way in alleviating parental panic. New parents should be open to any cause, but according the Merck Manual only less than 5 % of intense crying episodes are due to a serious medical condition.

Some less common causes of infant distress that may not be at the top of the list for new parents to consider as they worry about the temperature of formula and number of wet diapers include belly pain in a constipated infant, or hair tourniquets (hair wrapped around a finger or a wrist digging into the baby’s skin). Anal fissures, or painful tears in the lower rectum can cause agony for babies during bowel movements.

Babies may also cry due to discomfort from gastroesophageal reflux or a stinging scratch. Newborns can flail around and scratch themselves accidentally or incur extremely painful scratches on the cornea of the eye. In the case of gastroesophageal reflux, crying episodes typically occur after feedings. Babies may arch their backs and spit up frequently during these episodes. An erupting tooth that is not yet noticeable to the parents can be another reason an infant becomes inconsolable around four months of age. Drooling, restless sleep, nightly whimpers and sometimes a mild fever may accompany teething.

Some medical conditions that cause incessant crying may be more serious, but often other signs are present along with the overt distress. Ear pain or infections can be causes, but are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as fever and vomiting. Of course, there is always colic. It is defined as excessive crying with no identifiable cause and occurs at least three hours a day for more than three days a week for more than three weeks and occurs in infants six weeks to three to four months old. Physicians recommend to rule out everything else before diagnosing a child with colic.

How do you comfort a crying baby?

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