Why babies cry
All babies cry, and some cry a lot. Crying is your baby’s way of telling you they need comfort and care.
Sometimes it’s easy to work out what they want, and sometimes it isn’t. The most common reasons for crying are:
a dirty or wet nappy
wanting a cuddle
being too hot or too cold
There may be times of the day when your baby tends to cry a lot and can’t be comforted. Early evening is the most common time for this to happen. This can be hard for you as it’s often the time when you’re most tired and least able to cope.
See why you should never shake your baby.
How to calm a crying baby
Try some of the following ways to comfort your baby. Some may be more effective than others:
If you’re breastfeeding, let your baby suckle at your breast.
If you’re bottle feeding, give your baby a dummy. Sterilise dummies as you would bottles. To avoid tooth decay don’t dip them in anything sweet. Some babies find their thumb instead.
Some older babies will take a bit of cloth to use as a comforter.
Hold your baby or put them in a sling so that they’re close to you. Move about gently, sway and dance, talk to them and sing.
Rock your baby backwards and forwards in the pram, or go out for a walk or a drive. Lots of babies like to sleep in cars. Even if they wake up again when you stop, at least you’ll have had a break.
Find something for them to listen to or look at. This could be music on the radio, a CD, a rattle or a mobile above the cot.
Try stroking your baby’s back firmly and rhythmically, holding them against you or lying face downwards on your lap. You could also undress your baby and massage them with baby oil, gently and firmly. Talk soothingly as you do it and keep the room warm enough. Some clinics run baby massage courses. For information, ask your midwife or health visitor.
Try a warm bath. This calms some babies instantly, but makes others cry even more.
Sometimes, rocking and singing can keep your baby awake. You might find that lying them down after a feed will help.
Ask your pharmacist for advice.
Crying during feeds
Some babies cry and seem unsettled around the time of a feed. If you’re breastfeeding, you may find that improving your baby’s attachment helps them settle. You can go to a breastfeeding or drop-in centre and ask for help, or talk to your health visitor.
It may be that something you’re eating or drinking is affecting your baby. Some things will reach your milk within a few hours, while others may take 24 hours. All babies are different, and what affects one won’t necessarily affect yours. You might want to consider avoiding dairy products, chocolate, fruit squashes, diet drinks and drinks containing caffeine.
If this doesn’t work, try keeping a note of when the crying happens to see if there’s a pattern. Sometimes, crying during feeds can be a symptom of reflux, a common condition in which babies bring back milk after feeds. Speak to your GP or health visitor for more information and advice.
If your baby cries constantly
There are several reasons that can cause a baby to cry excessively. It can be exhausting if you've tried everything and nothing seems to comfort your baby.
Excessive crying could be a sign that your baby has colic. Everyone agrees that colic exists but no one knows what causes it. Some doctors think it’s a kind of stomach cramp. The crying sounds miserable and distressed, and stops for a moment or two, then starts up again, which suggests it could be caused by waves of stomach pain.
The crying can go on for some hours. There may be little you can do except try to comfort your baby and wait for the crying to pass.
Crying and illness
Although all babies cry sometimes, there are times when crying may be a sign of illness.
Listen for sudden changes in the pattern or sound of your baby’s crying. Often, there’ll be a simple explanation. For example, if you’ve been going out more than usual your baby might be overtired.
If they seem to have other symptoms, such as a high temperature, they may have an illness. Your baby may have something minor, such as a cold, or something treatable, such as reflux. If this is the case, contact your GP or health visitor.
Get medical attention as soon as you can if your baby:
has a weak, high-pitched continuous cry
seems floppy when you pick them up
takes less than a third of their usual amount of fluids
passes much less urine than usual
vomits green fluid
passes blood in their stools
has a fever of 38C or above (if they're less than three months old) or 39C or above (if they're between three and six months)
has a high temperature, but their hands and feet feel cold
has a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on a baby's head)
has had a fit
turns blue, mottled or very pale
has a stiff neck
has difficulty breathing, breathes fast or grunts while breathing, or seems to be working hard to breathe (for example, sucking in under the ribcage)
has a spotty purple-red rash anywhere on the body (this could be sign of meningitis)
If you think there’s something wrong, always follow your instincts and contact your GP or health visitor, See Spotting the signs of illness for more information.
Getting help with a crying baby
If you’ve decided to talk to your health visitor or GP it can help if you keep a record of how often and when your baby cries. For example, this might be after every feed or during the evening. This can help your GP or health visitor to work out whether there is a particular cause for the crying.
Keeping a record can also help you identify the times when you need extra support. You could also think about possible changes to your routine. There may be times when you’re so tired and angry you feel like you can’t take any more. This happens to a lot of parents, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
If you don't have anyone who can take care of your baby for a short time and the crying is making you stressed, put your baby in their cot or pram, make sure they’re safe, close the door, go into another room and try to calm yourself down. Set a time limit (for example, 10 minutes), then go back.
Never shake your baby
No matter how frustrated you feel, you must never shake your baby. Shaking moves their head violently, and can cause bleeding and brain damage.
Talk to a friend, your health visitor or GP, or contact Cry-sis on 08451 228 669 (lines are open 9am to 10pm, 7 days a week). They can put you in touch with other parents who’ve been in the same situation