When bringing a newborn baby home, you expect certain things: dirty diapers, warm bottles, late-night and early-morning awakenings. But you might not be prepared for the crying. How do you know how much crying is normal? And when is it a sign of something more serious?

Many babies have a fussy period between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., but it's not normal for a baby to cry incessantly. If your baby is crying constantly, the first step to alleviating the situation is identifying the source.

Rule Out Illness

The most common culprits are illness, hunger, or fatigue, so you'll want to begin by ruling out illness. Your pediatrician might diagnose colic, reflux, or mild lactose intolerance, and recommend using anti-gas drops or letting the baby sleep inclined in a car seat.

If well-meaning relatives advise rocking the baby or walking the halls, beware of such traps—excessive handling will only make the situation worse, because, experts say, most newborn screaming is due to either hunger or fatigue.

Hungry Baby

How do you know if your baby is hungry? The well-fed newborn will pass urine as often as four times an hour, making her diaper seem like it's always wet. She'll have a soft, yellow bowel movement at least once a day and her arms and legs will become rounded or chubby. She'll suck and swallow vigorously for 15 minutes and settle into sleep for three to five hours.

Conversely, the hungry baby will be irritable at the breast, have trouble settling into sleep within 15 minutes of feeding, and wake within one or two hours. Many nursing mothers worry about whether they have adequate milk, but humankind wouldn't have flourished if that were the case. Only a small percentage of women produce less than enough, and this is usually related to a medical problem—such as maternal hypothyroidism or medications such as birth control pills—which can easily be addressed.

Getting Enough Sleep

If your baby is gaining at least two-thirds of an ounce per day and is still wailing, then overtiredness may be the problem. Let's face it everyone loves a newborn, and new parents often feel obliged to let doting friends and relatives play pass the bundle of joy. But such social graces can undermine your baby's ability to get some serious Z's. He may fall asleep in Aunt Bertha's arms but not achieve the deep states needed for adequate rest.

If your baby is well, has eaten, and needs to sleep, then swaddle him in blankets appropriate for the weather, and leave him in the bassinet. If he fusses inconsolably, return in three to five minutes to reassure him with your voice and a light touch to his cheek.

Leave again and repeat the cycle, gradually increasing the time between visits until he falls asleep. Try to limit his waking periods to 40 minutes or less, being quiet and consistent about feeding, changing, and settling down.

After all, a good long sleep is probably what you both really need!