Babies cry for many reasons – most commonly because they are hungry or need a nappy change. You can try these simple comfort methods to see if the crying stops. Sometimes babies cry because they are uncomfortable or are unwell. This may be due to colic, reflux, constipation or infection amongst other things (see below). Sometimes the crying can feel like it’s become too much, and if this is the case, click here (ICON organisation) for advice on what you can do.
Sometimes the crying can feel like it’s becoming too much, and if this is the case, click here for advice on what you can do with simple comfort methods to see if the baby stops crying.
Below are some things to look out for if your baby is crying that may suggest they are unwell.
When should you worry?
If your child has any of the following:
Becomes pale, mottled or abnormally cold to touch
Becomes stiff for a prolonged period or has rhythmic, jerky movements of arms or legs that does not stop when you touch it (a fit/seizure)
Becomes floppy or very lethargic (difficult to wake)
Is going blue around the lips
Has difficulty breathing
Is under 3 months of age with a temperature of 38°C / 100.4°F or above (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)
A rash that does not disappear with pressure (see the "Glass Test")
You need urgent help
Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999
If your child has any of the following:
Is 3-6 months of age with a temperature of 39°C / 102.2°F or above (but fever is common in babies up to 2 days after they receive vaccinations)
Continues to have a fever of 38.0°C / 100.4°F or more for more than 5 days
Becoming increasingly sleepy and not consistently waking for feeds
No wet nappies in the last 8 hours
Has a dry mouth or sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the head)
Is getting worse or you are worried
You need to contact a doctor or nurse today
Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111 - dial 111
If symptoms persist for 4 hours or more and you have not been able to speak to either a member of staff from your GP practice or to NHS 111 staff, then consider taking them to your nearest ED
None of the above features are present
Continues to feed well
Has plenty of wet nappies
Try to make sure that your baby stays well hydrated - you may need to offer them feeds more frequently than normal. And closely monitor them for any signs of deterioration by looking out for any red or amber features.
Additional advice is also available for families to help cope with crying in otherwise well babies – click here
Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child contact your Health Visitor or call NHS 111 – dial 111
Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many bugs. By teaching your child how to wash their hands properly with soap for 20 seconds, using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, and keeping away from others when feeling unwell, they will be able to reduce the risk of picking up or spreading infections.
Conditions that can cause a baby to cry excessively:
Most babies experience some degree of reflux because the muscular valve at the end of the food pipe, which keeps food in the stomach, is still developing. Reflux may cause your baby to bring up milk after a feed, and can also give him/her hiccups. As long as your baby is growing normally and is not showing any marked signs of distress, there is no need to worry.
More severe reflux can cause your baby to cry and be sick, often after feeding. The long name for severe reflux is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). This means that when your baby's tummy is full, food and stomach acid flow back up their food pipe causing discomfort and pain.
If you have tried the measures described above and seen no improvement, see your Health Visitor. They will review your child’s symptoms and ask you about feeding, and may possibly direct you to your GP to prescribe an antacid designed for babies.
Your baby may be crying because they have an infection. This is usually associated with a temperature above 38°C / 100.4°F. Although the most likely cause is a viral infection, other causes include urinary tract infections or very occasionally a more serious illness such as meningitis or sepsis. Signs of a serious infection include:
becomes pale and floppy going blue around the lips
is fretful or excessively miserable when touched
becomes difficult to rouse
is finding it hard to breathe
develops a rash that does not disappear with pressure (the Glass Test)
Your child needs urgent help if any of these features are present - go to the nearest hospital emergency (A&E) department or phone 999.
Colic can cause excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy. It's a common problem that affects up to one in five babies. Although the cause is unknown, it is likely to be due to intestinal discomfort like bowel cramping.
Colic tends to begin when a baby is a few weeks old. It normally stops by four months of age, or by six months at the latest.
Looking after a colicky baby can be very frustrating and distressing, but the problem will eventually pass and is usually nothing to worry about.
Signs and symptoms of colic include:
Your baby often starts crying suddenly. The cry is high-pitched and nothing you do seems to help
The crying begins at the same time each day, often in the afternoon or evening
Your baby might draw their legs up when they cry
Your baby might clench their hands
Your baby's face might flush
The crying can last for minutes or hours. A baby with colic cries for 3 hours a day or more
The crying often winds down when your baby is exhausted or when they have passed wind or poo
Being constipated is another cause of excessive crying babies. However, the crying tends to stop once your baby has had a poo.
Formula fed babies are more prone to constipation because formula can be harder to digest than breastmilk. A breastfed baby is far less likely to get constipated.
Signs of constipation may include:
Crying and discomfort, irritability or pain before doing a poo
Dry, hard, pellet-like poo that is hard to pass
Foul-smelling wind and poo
A hard belly
Try not to worry too much if your baby becomes constipated. It's likely to happen now and then. Simple things you can try at home if your baby is constipated include:
Gently move your baby’s legs in a bicycling motion to help move the hard poo along
If your baby is drinking formula, give them extra water in between feeds, but don’t dilute the formula. Make sure that you are using the recommended amount of milk powder when making up a bottle. Too much powder can dehydrate your baby, causing constipation. For babies under 6 months, use water from the mains tap in the kitchen - you will need to boil then cool the tap water because it is not sterile straight from the tap. Water for babies over 6 months of age doesn't need to be boiled
If your baby is in significant pain despite doing this, you should take them to see your GP who may decide to start them on treatment
Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.
School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.
Contacting the School Nurse
Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.
There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.
Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.
They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-
encouraging healthier lifestyles
giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
supporting children with complex health needs
Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.
If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.
Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.
A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.
Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance
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