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Why babies cry

Why babies cry

All babies cry, and some cry a lot. Crying is your baby’s way of telling you they need comfort and care.

Sometimes it’s easy to work out what they want, and sometimes it isn’t. The most common reasons for crying are:

  • hunger
  • a dirty or wet nappy
  • tiredness
  • wanting a cuddle
  • wind
  • being too hot or too cold
  • boredom
  • overstimulation

There may be times of the day when your baby tends to cry a lot and can’t 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.

See why you should never shake a baby.

How to calm a crying baby

How to calm a crying baby

Try some of the following ways to comfort your baby. Some may be more effective than others:

  • If you’re breastfeeding, let your baby suckle at your breast.
  • If you’re bottle feeding, give your baby a dummy. Sterilise dummies as you would bottles. To avoid tooth decay don’t dip them in anything sweet. Some babies find their thumb instead.
  • Some older babies will take a bit of cloth to use as a comforter.
  • Hold your baby or put them in a sling so that 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. Lots of babies like to sleep in cars. 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. You could also undress your baby and massage them with baby oil, gently and firmly. Talk soothingly as you do it and keep the room warm enough. Some 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, rocking and singing can keep your baby awake. You might find that lying them down after a feed will help.

Ask your pharmacist for advice.

Crying during feeds

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 attachment helps them settle. You can go to a breastfeeding or drop-in centre and ask for help, or talk to your health visitor.

It may be that something you’re eating or drinking is affecting your baby. Some things will reach your milk within a few hours, while others may take 24 hours. All babies are different, and what affects one won’t necessarily affect yours. You might want to consider avoiding dairy products, chocolate, fruit squashes, diet drinks and drinks containing caffeine.

If this doesn’t work, try keeping a note of when the crying happens to see if there’s a pattern. Sometimes, crying during feeds can be a symptom of reflux, a common condition in which babies bring back milk after feeds. Speak to your GP or health visitor for more information and advice.



Colic is the medical term for excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy and well fed. It is a common yet poorly understood condition, affecting up to one in five babies.

Colic usually begins within the first few weeks of life but often stops by the time the baby is four months old, and by six months at the latest.

In most cases, the intense crying occurs in the late afternoon or evening and usually lasts for several hours. You may also notice that your baby's face becomes flushed, and they may clench their fists, draw their knees up to their tummy, or arch their back.

If your baby has colic, they may appear to be in distress. However, the crying outbursts are not harmful and your baby will continue to feed and gain weight normally. There is no clear evidence that colic has any long-term effects on a baby’s health.



Babies often bring up milk during or shortly after feeding – this is known as 'possetting', or 'reflux'.

This is different to vomiting, where the baby's muscles forcefully contract (vomiting in babies is covered separately). Reflux is just your baby passively "spitting up" whatever they have just swallowed.

However, it can still be upsetting to parents, and it's natural to be worried that something is wrong.

It's important know that reflux is normal, and often just the result of a baby's underdeveloped oesophagus (food canal).

It usually stops when the baby reaches 12-14 months of age, when the ring of muscle at the bottom of their oesophagus fully develops and closes off, preventing stomach contents from leaking out. It's unusual if reflux continues at 18 months.

Only in a small number of cases can reflux be a sign of a more serious problem, such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), a milk allergy or a blockage.

Useful Links

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