Why Is My Baby Crying?

To hear a baby crying is so heart-wrenching. The sound reaches deep inside of you. All you want to do is calm and quieten your baby. But how do you know what the problem is? Should you stay calm or is this crying a cause for alarm?


Why does my baby cry?

First, let me tell you that a baby crying is normal. How else can your baby communicate? If you feel uncomfortable or hungry, chances are that you will share that with those close to you. That's what we humans do. Babies are no different except they don't have the language skills yet to communicate with words. But, as you know, they have their own unique way of being heard.

So a baby crying is a baby communicating. A baby can't fend for himself, so he depends on his mother, or father or whoever his carer is, to look after him. 

He needs to be able to tell her when he needs help or attention. He cries. And just to complicate it, sometimes babies cry for no apparent reason - what we now refer to as the period of PURPLE crying - read more

It is up to you to figure out what is wrong or if there is anything wrong. It can be difficult at times but don't worry, I will help you with some simple strategies to decide what the matter might be and some strategies you can use to try an soothe your baby.

If you are concerned that picking up your crying baby, will "spoil" her, click here.

Remember, never shake a crying baby. If you feel stressed and your baby is crying, put him in his crib and walk away to leave him to settle if there is nobody else to take him.


Why is My Baby Crying?

There are 4 main sections below that deal with different causes of a baby crying.

  1. Basic strategy - try this first. Click here
  2. A fussy baby who cries but is otherwise well. This just describes the period when all babies cry to some extent, often for no obvious reason and we often refer to this as the period of PURPLE crying. Click here
  3. A different cry than usual, perhaps associated with pain. Click here
  4. A baby crying who is unwell in other ways and may have a serious illness. Click here

To read about the controlled crying technique used to get babies over 6 months back to sleep, click here


Basic Strategy for Crying

Babies cry if they are uncomfortable or distressed. So, first questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is my baby hungry? If it's time for a feed, feed him.
  • Does my baby need a diaper (nappy) change? Check for a wet or dirty diaper (nappy) and change if necessary.
  • Is my baby too hot or too cold? Your baby needs to be warm but not too hot. Make sure your baby is appropriately dressed. If you are comfortable in short sleeves, your baby will most likely be too hot in 4 layers of clothing! Generally, babies need one more layer than an adult is comfortable in. Your baby's skin should feel warm or be covered, and your baby shouldn't be sweaty. Cold feet? - put on booties. Red in the face and sweaty? - take off a layer. Check if the body is warm by touching the top of the chest or the back between the shoulder blades
  • Does your baby feel lonely? Try picking him up and rocking him gently. Remind him that you are still around and haven't abandoned him - make him feel safe and loved.
  • Does your baby need to wind (burp) - it can be uncomfortable for a baby to have gas. To read about burping a baby, click here
  • Is your baby tired? Sometimes, babies are so tired, they just don't know what to do with themselves and they cry. If you think your baby is tired, try putting him to sleep. He may cry a little at first - you may need to rock him a little, but try and help him to fall asleep.
  • Is your baby perfectly well between episodes of crying? Your baby may just be going through his fussy stage, which is now also referred to as the period of PURPLE crying - click here to read more.
  • Does your baby seem unwell in any way? Is he feeding normally? Is he as aware of his surroundings as usual? Is he a strange color (grey or blue)? Has he been vomiting more than usual? If you answered yes to any of these questions and your baby is irritable and not settling at all, your baby may be ill and you should see your doctor. You can read more about illnesses that may be causing the crying below.

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Fussy Baby

A baby crying is sometimes referred to as a fussy baby. All babies go through a fussy stage at some stage over the first three months of life. Your baby is just getting used to this world. They have to figure things out and it can be scary all by yourself in a strange land!!! They don't always know what they want or need - they're just fussy (and cry). This time has more recently been described as the period of PURPLE crying. The letters of PURPLE are a reminder of what this period of normal crying behavior looks like - read more.

If the usual strategies such as feeding or cleaning don't stop the crying , then your baby might just be fussy. So all babies cry and just like all things, some babies cry a little and some babies cry a lot. Those babies who cry excessively are sometimes referred to as having colic. Fussy babies have their crying moments and then are perfectly happy doing everything normally (feeding and sleeping and goo-ing and gaa-ing) for hours. Then they can have a fussy time again. So, if most of the time your baby seems happy and well, but just has crying times, then your baby is probably just going through his fussy stage (or is in the period of PURPLE crying).


What is the Period of PURPLE CRYING?

The period of PURPLE CRYING is a way of remembering what happens in infants with regards to crying and is also a reminder that it will have an end - it is a 'period' of crying. All infants to a certain degree have this crying or fussy stage - those who have it excessively are the babies often referred to as having colic or excessive crying of infancy.

The letters of the word PURPLE remind us of the features of this normal crying tendency:

  • P - there an increase in crying every week from about 2 weeks until a Peak that occurs at about 2 months of age before gradually reducing over the next few weeks
  • U - the episodes are Unexpected and Unexplained. The episodes of crying can come and go and you can't really find a cause for the crying
  • R - the episodes Resist soothing so there seems nothing you can do to help or settle your baby
  • P - the baby often looks in Pain although they are not, so they may grimace or pull up their legs
  • L - the periods of crying can be Long - even up to 5 hours at a time
  • E - the episodes often occur in the Evening

To read more on PURPLE crying, click here.

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For strategies for excessive baby crying (colic), click here - this page gives you information on what colic is and how we diagnose it. Remember that colic is just a lot of the normal crying that babies do during the period of PURPLE crying. You will find some more strategies for trying to soothe your baby. The page then links with the colic treatment page. If you already know about colic and just want to read about the treatments for colic, you can go directly to the colic treatment page.

To go to the Colic Treatment page, click here - this page gives up-to-date information on treatment options for colic.

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The following poem is something you might find useful when your baby cries. Feel free to download and when you are holding your baby, recite (or sing) the poem. The desired outcome is that it will help you stay present and that energy is very reassuring for a baby. The cadence may also have a soothing effect on your baby. Try it and see.

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Unusual Cry. Is It Pain?

If you think the way your baby is crying is different from his usual cry or there are other symptoms, your baby may need some medical help. Trust your instincts and get some help.

If your baby is having short bouts of crying while drawing up his legs and then is settled for a while before starting again (more frequent and closer together than a fussy baby), he may have a blocked (obstructed) bowel, like an intussusception or a strangulated hernia. You can read more about these on the Intussusception or Hernia pages.

To go to the Intussusception page, click here - read about this condition where you get telescoping of the bowel into itself causing a blockage (obstruction). It presents with bouts of tummy pain and sometimes vomiting and is a serious cause of baby crying. It can often be treated without an operation.

To go to the Hernia page, click here - read about hernias in babies - which type need surgery and which type needs no treatment. What is a strangulated hernia? this section is especially important if you have a boy baby crying.

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Unwell Baby

Sometimes, a baby crying can be an indicator of a sick baby. To find out what other features should cause concern, see the section on Signs of Serious Illness in a Baby - click here.

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For help with babies who wake crying, click here - information on the Controlled Crying Technique, a behavioral approach to stop your baby waking at night and crying. Suitable for babies over 6 months of age.

To go to the top of the Baby Crying page, click here

To return to the Home Page, click here

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Last reviewed 28 February 2012

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.

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