Find out why your child is crying

Follow our simple checklist and you’ll help soothe your little one in no time

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    How long has your baby been crying for?

    Less than five minutes

    It’s a little too soon to worry. If rocking and cuddling him is having no effect, though, try putting him down somewhere safe and comfortable and leaving him for another couple of minutes. Sometimes crying is a sign of over-stimulation, so he might just want to be left alone for a bit. FINISH

    More than five minutes 

    Does he have a fever?

    You can check this with a baby thermometer or fever strip. Normal body temperature ranges between 36-38ºC. If your baby’s temperature is over 38ºC then he has a fever. He might also be feverish if he appears to be flushed, hot and sweaty.

    YES - If your baby is under 1, call your health visitor, GP or NHS Direct (0845 4647) for advice. However, if he’s over 3 months old and his temperature is 38.3ºC or above, 
you can give him a dose of infant paracetamol with a syringe. Follow the instructions on the label and never be tempted to give more than the recommended dose. Keep a close eye on him, checking his temperature regularly. If he’s under 3 months old, try cooling him by removing some of his clothing or bedding, or sponging his forehead and limbs with tepid (not cold) water. Check his temperature regularly. A baby with a temperature of 40ºC or higher is usually considered a medical emergency, so don’t hesitate to seek urgent attention. FINISH


  • Is he in pain?

    Although it can be hard to know if your baby is in pain, there are a few classic signs to look out for: his crying may be more high-pitched than normal, or he may be clenching and unclenching his fists, or shooting his legs out straight then bringing them up to his chest. He may also be going red in the face due to the amount that he’s crying.

    YES - Try to identify the source of the pain: has he hurt himself on a toy, been scratched or trapped his fingers? Does he have oral thrush, which appears as milky white spots on the inside of his cheeks and tongue? (This can also cause nappy rash and is treated with oral antifungal drops and cream.)

    If it seems like tummy pain (which may cause your baby to pull up his legs and then kick them out), then your baby may have colic. To ease colic, massage his back whilst laying him face down across your lap (supporting him under the chin) or rock him gently whilst walking up and down rhythmically. You may also want to offer him some infant colic drops before his next feed. If you suspect he’s in any other type of pain, seek medical attention by calling your GP or NHS Direct (0845 4647). FINISH


  • Is he hungry?

    Breastfed and bottlefed babies can both become hungry soon after a feed: a breastfed baby may have fallen asleep prematurely or not taken as much milk as you thought; a bottlefed baby may simply be hungrier than most – in which case it’s worth talking to your health visitor about changing his formula. Also, check that the hole in his teat is not too small or large, making the milk-flow too slow or too fast.

    YES - Offer him another breastfeed or a smaller-than-standard bottlefeed. You can buy ‘dinky’ sized bottles for making up supplementary feeds or small ready-to-drink cartons of formula milk. FINISH


  • Is he uncomfortable or overheated?

    Feel the back of his neck and his tummy: they should just be comfortably warm. If his temperature feels fine, other possible causes of his crying include needing a nappy change, getting his feet tangled, his vest label irritating his skin or needing a change of position.

    YES - Firstly, reduce his layers of clothing or bedding and check again in a few minutes’ time. If he eventually feels just comfortably warm and is still crying, see if his nappy needs changing. Also, check whether his clothes are damp or soiled and change them if necessary. FINISH


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  • Is he bored or over-stimulated?

    Sometimes babies can feel bored or frustrated if they’ve woken up and not got your attention, or if they’ve been left alone for too long. They can also feel over-stimulated if they’ve been handled for too long or if they haven’t spent any time alone for a while. You’ll soon get to know your baby’s temperament and recognise the signs that he either needs more or less attention and stimulation.

    YES - Put him down in his crib or cot and leave him to look around his surroundings. This doesn’t mean putting him in a separate room from you – although this is perfectly fine if you could do with the break. It simply means leaving him be for a little while. If he’s happy to be left to his own devices, chances are he’ll either drop off to sleep, gaze at his surroundings or play with his own fingers and toes for a bit. FINISH


  • Is he tired?

    Babies usually cry when they’re overtired, and you’ll soon recognise this distinctive, often rather whiny, cry.

    YES - Put him down somewhere comfy and safe, kiss or pat him gently and leave the room. Sometimes crying is a prelude to sleep: you may hear your baby’s crying begin to wind down, then turn into a series of whimpers before petering out. If not, and if crying through tiredness is a frequent problem for your baby, ask your health visitor about starting a sleep-training programme. FINISH

    NO - If you can’t soothe your baby after running through all the points on the checklist, call your health visitor, GP or NHS Direct (0845 4647) for advice. FINISH

  • Crucial colic info

    If your baby cries for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, it could be colic. Experts are unsure what causes colic but insufficient burping, rapid feeding, gas, food intolerance and your tot’s nervous system are possible causes.

    Try the following:

    1. If you breastfeed, avoid chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts).

    2.  If you bottlefeed, use an anti-colic bottle.

    3. Try swaddling your baby.

    4. White noise might help – cuddle your baby near something with a continual hum or vibration, such as a washing machine or vacuum cleaner.

    5. Give your baby a gentle massage.

  • Mums’ stories

     “George often starts crying around 5pm. I’ve found the best way to soothe him is to give him a warm bath. It calms him every time.

    Sarah Matthews, 29, from Edinburgh, mum to George, 8 weeks

    “When Tillie cries I pop her in her swing chair and that usually does the trick. She’s smiling and giggling within a couple of minutes.”

    Julie Sawyer, 27, from Brighton, mum to Tillie, 6 weeks


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