All babies cry, although some babies cry a lot more than others. It doesn’t always mean your baby’s in pain or uncomfortable.
Why babies cry
Your baby will cry when they:
- are hungry or thirsty
- are tired or bored
- have a wet or dirty nappy
- are lonely and want comfort
Whatever the reason, your baby cries to get your attention. As you get to know each other you’ll get better at understanding what they need.
Colic is when your baby’s healthy but cries often and excessively and it’s hard to soothe them.
One of the possible reasons is bubbles of trapped wind causing stomach pain.
What causes colic?
Your baby can get colic if they’re:
- not in the right position or attached properly when you’re breastfeeding
- feeding too quickly from a bottle
You can help to prevent colic by:
- sitting or holding them upright when you’re giving a feed
- gently massaging their tummy, though they’ll need to be calm for you to do that
- making sure you wind them afterwards.
Ask your midwife, health visitor, family nurse or breastfeeding counsellor for advice.
Soothing a crying baby
It’s important to respond and not leave them to cry. However, if you’re getting stressed yourself, it’s okay to take some time out for a few minutes until you feel more able to cope.
If they start to cry:
- try skin to skin contact
- pick them up, talk to them and cuddle them
- rock them or pat or gently rub their back, tummy or feet
- feed them
You could also try:
- placing them in a sling – some babies like the closeness this brings
- a warm bath
- checking to see they’re not cold or overheating
- moving them somewhere calm and quiet
- having a change of scene – go for a walk or a drive
If your baby cries a lot
If you’ve tried a few things and your baby’s still regularly crying a lot:
- Keep a diary of your baby’s crying so you can see how things are changing
- Talk to other mums and dads and see if they have any ideas you can use — it’s sometimes helpful to know other parents are going through the same thing and you’re doing everything you can
- Talk to your partner, someone close to you, and your midwife, health visitor or family nurse about how the crying’s affecting you and get help if you need it
- Take some time out from your baby — ask someone you trust to look after them while you take a break
Coping with a crying baby
If your baby’s crying a lot, and you’re getting very upset or angry:
- put them down somewhere safe
- ask someone else to hold them
- leave the room
The ‘ICON’ approach can be a helpful way to remember what you can do if your baby is crying:
- I – Infant crying is normal and it’ll stop — babies start to cry more frequently from around 2 weeks of age, after about 8 weeks of age babies start to cry less each week
- C – Comfort methods can sometimes soothe the baby and help the crying stop — is the baby hungry, tired or in need of a nappy change?
- O – It’s OK to walk away if you’ve checked the baby is safe and the crying is getting to you — after a few minutes when you’re feeling calm, go back and check on the baby
- N – Never, ever shake or hurt a baby — it can cause lasting brain damage or death
Never shake or smack a baby
Never shake or smack your baby, no matter how frustrated you feel.
Shaking your baby is against the law and from 7 November 2020 all physical punishment of a child will also be illegal.
Shaking can cause tiny blood vessels to break and bleed inside your baby’s brain. This can cause:
- learning difficulties
- brain damage
It can even be fatal.
If you or anyone else shakes your baby, get medical help immediately. Don’t wait.
When to get help
If your baby keeps crying, even though you’re trying everything or you’re worried about them, it’s important to trust your instincts.
If you need support to manage and cope with crying, there are lots of places to go for help. Ask your health visitor or family nurse about local sources of support.
If you think your baby might be ill
If you think your baby might be ill, get some advice. You can also ask your health visitor or family nurse to check your baby to make sure everything’s okay.
If your baby’s healthy you may have to accept this is the way your baby is for now. Lots of babies cry a lot and many parents worry about it, but over time they should become more settled. You’re not doing anything wrong and it’s not your fault.
Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.
What to Do When Babies Cry
All newborns cry and get fussy sometimes. It’s normal for a baby to cry for 2–3 hours a day for the first 6 weeks. During the first 3 months of life, they cry more than at any other time.
New parents often are low on sleep and getting used to life with their little one. They’ll quickly learn to find out if their crying baby:
- is hungry
- is tired
- needs to be burped
- is overstimulated
- has a wet or dirty diaper
- is too hot or cold
Often, taking care of a baby’s needs is enough to soothe a baby. But sometimes, the crying goes on longer.
What Is Colic?
Some babies cry a lot more than others. A baby who cries more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks might have colic. Usually, it starts when a baby is 2–5 weeks old and ends by the time the baby is 3–4 months old.
Colic happens to a lot of newborns. It’s hard to see your baby cry so much, but colic isn’t caused by anything a parent did or didn’t do. The good news is babies outgrow colic.
What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Shaken baby syndrome, or abusive head trauma, is when a child’s brain is injured from physical abuse. Most cases happen when a parent or caregiver shakes a baby while angry or frustrated, often because the baby won’t stop crying. These injuries can cause permanent brain damage or death. No one should ever shake a baby for any reason.
Finding ways to ease a parent or caregiver’s stress when a baby is crying can help stop shaken baby syndrome.
What Can Help a Crying Baby?
You can’t spoil your baby with too much attention. To soothe a crying baby:
- First, make sure your baby doesn’t have a fever. In a baby, a fever is a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C). Call the doctor right away if your baby does have a fever.
- Make sure your baby isn’t hungry and has a clean diaper.
- Rock or walk with the baby.
- Sing or talk to your baby.
- Offer the baby a pacifier.
- Take the baby for a ride in a stroller.
- Hold your baby close against your body and take calm, slow breaths.
- Give the baby a warm bath.
- Pat or rub the baby’s back.
- Place your baby across your lap on his or her belly and rub your baby’s back.
- Put your baby in a swing or vibrating seat. The motion may be soothing.
- Put your baby in an infant car seat in the back of the car and go for a ride. Often, the vibration and movement of the car are calming.
- Play music — some babies respond to sound as well as movement.
Some babies need less stimulation. Babies 2 months and younger may do well swaddled, lying on their back in the crib with the lights very dim or dark. Make sure the swaddle isn’t too tight. Stop swaddling when the baby is starting to be able to roll over.
When a Baby Won’t Stop Crying
If a baby in your care won’t stop crying:
- Call a friend or relative for support or to take care of the baby while you take a break.
- If nothing else works, put the baby on their back in an empty crib (without loose blankets or stuffed animals), close the door, and check on the baby in 10 minutes. During that 10 minutes, do something to try to relax and calm down. Try washing your face, breathing deeply, or listening to music.
Call your doctor if nothing seems to be helping the baby, in case there is a medical reason for the fussiness.
What Else Should I Know?
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome offers a prevention program, the Period of PURPLE Crying, to help parents and other caregivers understand crying and how to handle it.
All Babies Cry is a program that promotes infant soothing and ways to handle a baby’s crying. The program’s four parts are:
- What’s normal about crying?
- Comforting your baby.
- Self-care tips for parents.
- Colic and how to cope.
If you’re worried you might hurt your baby or someone else will, call the national hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) anytime for help.
Tell anyone caring for your baby to never shake the infant. Talk about the dangers of shaking and safe ways to soothe a baby.
Keep in mind that all babies cry a lot and it will get better. The crying isn’t caused by something you did or didn’t do. Take care of yourself and ask for help so you can keep taking good care of your baby.
Soothing a crying baby
Sometimes it’s easy to work out what they want, and sometimes it’s not.
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 cannot 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 when they’re around 4 to 8 weeks old, then gradually tail off.
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.
- Having some gentle noise in the background may help distract your baby.
- 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. But limit how long your baby sleeps in a car seat to up to 30 minutes for newborns and up to 2 hours for babies. 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’s 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.
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 settle.
You can go to a breastfeeding drop-in group and ask for help if there’s one available in your local area.
You can also ask your health visitor for advice.
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 have 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’s crying constantly and you cannot console or distract them, or the cry does not sound like their normal cry, it can be a sign they’re ill.
Or they may be ill if they’re crying and have other symptoms, such as a high temperature. If this is the case, contact your health visitor, GP or call NHS 111.
Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if your baby:
- has a fit (seizure or convulsion)
- has blue, mottled, ashen (grey) or very pale skin
- is unresponsive, floppy or not waking up as easily as usual
- 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
- is being violently sick a lot (projectile vomiting)
- has a high temperature, but their hands and feet feel cold
- has a spotty purple-red rash anywhere on the body – this could be a sign of meningitis
Trust your instincts. You know what’s different or worrying behaviour in your baby.
Getting help with a crying baby
You can talk to a friend, your health visitor or GP, or contact the Cry-sis helpline free on 0800 448 0737. It is open 9am to 10pm, 7 days a week.
Cry-sis can put you in touch with other parents who have been in the same situation.
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’s 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 cannot take any more. This happens to a lot of parents, so do not be ashamed to ask for help.
If you do not 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.
More in Caring for a newborn baby
Page last reviewed: 9 August 2022
Next review due: 9 August 2025
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