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.
25 January 2023
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