Seven reasons babies cry and how to soothe them
In this article
- I’m crying because I’m hungry
- I’m crying because I have colic
- I’m crying because I need to be held
- I’m crying because I’m tired and I need a rest
- I’m crying because I’m too cold or too hot
- I’m crying because I need my nappy changing
- I’m crying because I don’t feel well
- My baby’s still crying. How can I soothe her?
- What should I do if nothing seems to help?
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Your baby is fully dependent on you. You provide her with the food, warmth and comfort that she needs. When she cries, it’s her way of communicating those needs and asking you for attention and care.
It’s sometimes hard to work out which need your baby wants you to take care of. But as your baby grows, she’ll learn other ways of communicating with you. For example, she’ll get better at eye contact, making noises and smiling.
In the meantime, here are some reasons why your baby may cry, and what you can try to soothe her.
I’m crying because I’m hungry
Your baby’s stomach is small and can’t hold very much. So it won’t take long before she needs another feed. If you’re breastfeeding, offer her your breast, even if her last feed doesn’t seem that long ago. This is called responsive feeding. Your baby will let you know when she’s had enough, by coming off your breast in her own time, and seeming content and settled.
If you’re formula-feeding, your baby may not need more milk for at least two hours after her last feed. Every baby is different, though. If your baby is consistently not finishing her feeds, she may prefer to drink formula little and often. In this case, you could try offering her another feed earlier.
Your baby may not stop crying immediately, but let her keep feeding if she wants to.
I’m crying because I have colic
If your baby cries a lot, but is otherwise healthy, she may have colic. Your baby may become flushed and frustrated, and refuse your efforts to soothe her. She may clench her fists, draw up her knees, or arch her back.
The exact cause of persistent crying isn’t clear. It’s so common in babies, that many experts think it may simply be a normal developmental stage.
Other experts think that it may be associated with tummy problems. For example, an allergy or intolerance to something in your breastmilk, or a type of formula milk. Or it may be linked to wind, constipation or reflux, when your baby brings up feeds.
If you think your baby is crying excessively, take her to your GP to rule out any other causes. Your doctor will check that nothing more serious is causing your baby’s distress.
Whatever the cause, living with a baby who regularly cries inconsolably can be very stressful. It’s important to look after yourself too, so that you have the patience and energy to soothe your little one. These tactics may help you cope with colic.
Remember that this phase will pass: colic tends to peak at two months, and is usually gone by around three to four months.
I’m crying because I need to be held
Your baby needs lots of cuddling, physical contact and reassurance to comfort her. So her crying may mean that she just wants to be held.
Swaying and singing to her while you hold her close, will help to distract and comfort her.
You could try babywearing with a sling or carrier to keep your baby close to you for longer periods. She loves the sound of your heartbeat, the warmth of your body and your smell.
I’m crying because I’m tired and I need a rest
Your baby may find it hard to get to sleep, particularly if she’s over-tired. The younger your baby is, the more subtle her sleep cues are, so it may take a few weeks for you to recognise the signs. Fussing and crying at the slightest thing, staring blankly into space, and being quiet and still are just some of the ways in which your baby tells you she needs some shut eye.
Lots of attention from doting visitors may over-stimulate your baby and make it hard for her to sleep, as can too much rocking and singing. Try taking her to a quiet room after a feed and before bed to help her calm down and switch off.
I’m crying because I’m too cold or too hot
You can check whether your baby is too hot or too cold by feeling her tummy or the back of her neck. Don’t be guided by the temperature of your baby’s hands or feet. It’s normal for them to feel colder than the rest of her body.
Keep the temperature of your baby’s room between 16 degrees C and 20 degrees C. Use a room thermometer to keep track of the temperature. Place her down to sleep on her back with her feet at the foot of her cot. That way she can’t wriggle down under the blankets and become too hot.
Take care not to overdress your baby, or she may become overheated. As a general rule, she needs to wear one more layer of clothing than you to be comfortable.
Use cotton sheets and cellular blankets as bedding in your baby’s cot or Moses basket. If her tummy feels too hot, remove a blanket or layer, and if it feels cold, simply add one. If you’re using a sleeping bag, make sure it’s the right tog for the season and the right size for your baby.
I’m crying because I need my nappy changing
If your baby doesn’t like having her nappy changed, it may be because of the strange feeling of cold air on her skin. After a week or so, you’ll probably be a pro at quick nappy changes. Otherwise, distracting your baby with a song or a toy she can look at during changes may work well.
I’m crying because I don’t feel well
If your baby’s unwell, she’ll probably cry in a different tone from the one you’re used to. It may be weaker, more urgent, continuous, or high-pitched. If she usually cries a lot but has become unusually quiet, this may also be a sign that she’s not well. Here’s how to spot the signs that your baby may be poorly.
Nobody knows your baby as well as you do. If you feel that something’s not right, trust your instincts and call your GP, midwife or health visitor. Health professionals will always take your concerns seriously.
Call your doctor straight away if your baby is persistently crying and has a fever of 38C or above (if she’s less than three months old) or 39C or above (if she’s three months to six months), is vomiting, or has diarrhoea or constipation.
If your baby has difficulty breathing through her crying, call 111 for advice immediately or take her to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E).
My baby’s still crying. How can I soothe her?
As you gradually get to know your baby’s personality, you’ll learn which techniques work best for her. If a cuddle or a feed doesn’t do the trick, these suggestions may help:
Play a constant sound
In your womb, your baby could hear the beat of your heart. She probably enjoys being held close to you now because your heartbeat is so familiar.
Other noises mimic the sounds she’ll have heard in your womb. The repetitive noise of a vacuum cleaner, washing machine or hairdryer may help to lull your baby to sleep.
White noise can also help to soothe your baby. Download an app to your phone or buy a toy that plays a range of sounds, from ocean waves to raindrops.
Rock and sway your baby
Most babies love to be gently rocked. You could rock her:
- in your arms while you walk around
- in a rocking chair
- in a baby swing
Try a massage or a tummy rub
Massaging your baby’s tummy can help with her digestion, and your touch will help to soothe and comfort her. Regular massage may help your baby to cry and fuss less. The best time for massage is when your baby is settled and alert. If she cries during the massage, she’s telling you she’s had enough, so stop and give her a cuddle.
Watch our calming massage video for babies.
Try a different feeding position
Some babies cry during or after feeds. If you’re breastfeeding, you may find that changing the way your baby latches on helps her to feed calmly, without crying or fussing. Ask your health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor to check your positioning.
Burp your baby after a feed by holding her against your shoulder and gently patting or rubbing her back. If your baby cries straight after a feed though, she may still be hungry, so offer her your other breast or more formula milk.
Let her suck on something
For some babies, the need to suck is very strong. If you’re breastfeeding, you could let your baby suckle your breast for comfort. Alternatively, let her suck on your clean finger or knuckle. Or you could offer her a dummy, if you think it may help her.
Give her a warm bath
A soothing bath may help your baby to calm down. Check the water temperature before placing her in the bath. It should be about 37 degrees C to 38 degrees C. If you don’t have a thermometer, dip your elbow into the water. It should feel neither hot nor cold.
Bear in mind that a bath may also make some babies cry more, if they don’t enjoy the sensation of being in water. In time, you’ll get to know your baby’s likes and dislikes.
What should I do if nothing seems to help?
It’s normal for babies to cry, so try not to blame yourself if your baby simply won’t be soothed.
Your baby may just naturally cry a lot in the early weeks. Crying tends to peak at around two months, and usually starts to ease off after that. But in the meantime, it’s likely to make you and your partner feel stressed and unhappy at times. If she’s resisting every effort to calm her down, you may feel rejected and frustrated.
Try to remember that you are not the cause of her crying. Sometimes, simply accepting that you have a baby who cries a lot can help. If you’ve met your baby’s immediate needs and tried everything you can to calm her, it’s time to take care of yourself:
- Put your baby in her cot and let her cry for a few minutes out of your range of hearing. Take deep breaths and let yourself relax for a moment or two.
- If you and your baby are both upset and you’ve tried everything, call a friend or relative for support. Give yourself a break and let someone else take over for a while.
- Find a local support group or parent-and-baby group. That way you can meet other new parents in the same situation and offer each other moral support.
- Talk to your health visitor or GP about coping strategies before everything gets too much. Don’t let things build up, as it could make things harder for you and your baby.
- Call a helpline. Cry-sis offers support seven days a week for parents of babies who have sleep problems or who cry excessively. Contact Cry-sis on 08451 228 669.
This crying is probably just a phase. It is very common and it will pass. As your baby grows, she’ll learn new ways of communicating her needs to you. And when this happens, the excessive crying will soon stop.