A baby's cry can be upsetting and frustrating. It is designed to get your attention and you may be worried that something is wrong with your baby.
Your baby may start to cry more frequently at about 2 weeks of age. The crying may get more frequent and last longer during the next few weeks, hitting a peak at about 6 to 8 weeks.
Every baby is different, but after about 8 weeks, babies start to cry less and less each week.
Babies cry for many reasons - most commonly because they are uncomfortable or are unwell. This may be due to colic, reflux, constipation or infection amongst other things.
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.
The amount babies cry tends to peak at about seven weeks, then gradually tail off.
Try some of the following ways to comfort your baby. Some may work better than others:
- Offer your baby another feed. To learn more about responsive feeding and cues see the information on breastfeeding and/or bottle feeding.
- Some older babies like to use a bit of cloth or a blanket as a comforter.
- Hold your baby or put them in a sling so they’re close to you (see Baby Sling Safety - the T.I.C.K.S. rule for safe babywearing). 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.
- Undress your baby and massage them gently and firmly. Avoid using any oils or lotions until your baby is at least a month old. Talk soothingly as you do it and keep the room warm enough. Some health centres and 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 too much rocking and singing can keep your baby awake. You might find lying them down after a feed will help.
- Ask your health visitor for advice.
Some babies cry and seem unsettled around the time of a feed. If you’re breastfeeding, you may find that improving your baby’s positioning and attachment helps them settle. You can go to an infant feeding support group and ask for help, or talk to your health visitor.
It may be that something you’re eating or drinking is affecting your baby. If you think this is happening, try keeping a diary of what you eat and when the crying happens. If you see any patterns, talk to your health visitor.
Crying during feeds can sometimes be a symptom of reflux, a common condition where babies bring back milk after feeds. Speak to your health visitor or GP for more information and advice.
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 nobody 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. See some tips for coping with colic.
Crying and illness
If your baby is crying constantly and you can’t console or distract them, or the cry doesn’t sound like their normal cry, it can be a sign they are ill.
Or they may be ill if they are crying and have other symptoms, such as a high temperature. If this is the case, contact your health visitor or GP.
Get medical attention as soon as you can if your baby:
- Has much drier nappies than usual
- Has a high temperature, but their hands and feet feel cold
- Has a fit (seizure or convulsion)
- Has blue, mottled, ashen (grey) or very pale skin
- Breathes rapidly or makes a throaty noise while breathing, or seems to be working hard to breathe, perhaps sucking in their stomach under their ribcage
- Has a spotty purple-red rash anywhere on the body – this could be a sign of meningitis
If you think there’s something wrong, always follow your instincts.
During the day, Monday to Friday, contact your GP surgery. At evenings and weekends you can call NHS 111 or your GP’s out-of-hours number.
You can talk to a friend, your health visitor or GP, or contact the Cry-sis helpline on 08451 228 669, open 9am to 10pm, 7 days a week. You will be charged for your call.
Cry-sis can put you in touch with other parents who have been in the same situation.
You can also visit the Cry-sis website for information on coping with crying babies.
If you decide to talk to your health visitor or GP, it can help to 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 health visitor or GP to work out if 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 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 brain damage.