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. And remember, some may work better than others for your baby:
- 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 use their thumb instead.
- 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. 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 maternal and child health nurse.
- Try a warm bath. This calms some babies instantly (but can make 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 maternal and child health nurse 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 positioning and attachment helps them to settle. You can go to a breastfeeding drop-in and ask for help, or talk to your maternal and child health nurse.
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 maternal and child health nurse.
Crying during feeds can sometimes be a symptom of reflux, a common condition where babies bring back milk after feeds. Speak to your maternal and child health nurse or GP 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 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.
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 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
If you think there's something wrong, always follow your instincts.
During office hours contact your GP surgery. After hours call your GP's out-of-hours number or a home doctor service. In an emergency contact your local hospital.
Getting help with a crying baby
Before you raise the problem with your maternal and child health nurse 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 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, go into another room and try to calm yourself down.
Set a time limit – for example, 5 minutes – then go back.
No matter how frustrated you feel, you must never shake your baby. Shaking moves their head violently and can cause brain damage.