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Pregnancy and baby

Soothing a crying baby

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:

  • hunger
  • a dirty or wet nappy
  • tiredness
  • wanting a cuddle
  • wind
  • being too hot or too cold
  • boredom
  • overstimulation

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.

How to calm a crying baby

Crying during feeds

If your baby cries constantly

Getting help with a crying baby

Never shake your baby

How to calm a crying baby

Try some of the following ways to comfort your baby. Some may work better 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 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 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.
  • 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 that lying them down after a feed will help.
  • Ask your health visitor 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 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.

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.

Colic

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.

See some tips for coping with colic.

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 had a long day out and about, your baby might be overtired.

If they seem to have other symptoms, such as a high temperature, they may have an illness. If this is the case, contact your health visitor or GP. Your baby may have something minor, such as a cold, or something treatable, such as reflux.

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 three to six months old)
  • 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 a sign of meningitis)

If you think there’s something wrong, always follow your instincts and contact your health visitor or GP, or phone NHS 111.

Read Spotting the signs of a serious illness for more information.

Getting help with a crying baby

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.

How do I calm my crying baby?

Media last reviewed: 20/03/2014

Next review due: 20/03/2017

Page last reviewed: 07/02/2016

Next review due: 07/02/2018

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