What is crying baby or child?

Crying in children age 3 years and younger: Overview

Crying lets others know when a young child is hungry, wet, tired, too warm, too cold, lonely, or in pain. If your child is crying, try to figure out the type of cry. It helps to go through a mental checklist of what might be wrong and to make sure that your child is safe and cared for. But remember that there may be nothing bothering your child. As parents or caregivers respond to the young child's other signals (such as whimpering, facial expressions, and wiggling), the child will usually cry less.

Parents and caregivers become better over time at knowing the cause of a young child's cry. A young child will often have different kinds of cries.

Crying related to normal development and behavior

  • Hungry cries. These cries start with a whimper and become louder and longer. Your hungry child will eagerly accept feeding and stop crying.
  • Upset cries. They are loud and start suddenly. Your young child may be afraid, bored, or lonely. As your child gets older, upset crying may be a reaction to such things as loud noises, frustration with clothing or toys, or fear of strangers.
  • Pain cries. These start with a high-pitched, strong wail followed by loud crying. These cries sound very irritating. They may make you feel anxious. A young child in pain will often have other signs of pain along with crying. In many cases, pain cries may be caused by:
    • A recent immunization. Your child may be fussy, cry more than usual, and have a fever after getting a vaccine, especially diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) shots. But your child will look well even while crying.
    • Teething. Teething symptoms may start about 3 to 5 days before a tooth breaks the skin. But symptoms can occur off and on for 1 to 2 months. The most common symptoms of teething include swelling, tenderness, or discomfort in the gums at the site of the erupting tooth; drooling; biting on fingers or toys; crankiness; or trouble sleeping. Teething may cause a mild increase in your child's temperature. But if the temperature is higher than 100.4 F (38 C) , look for symptoms that may be related to an infection or illness.
    • Constipation. A crying episode that occurs when the child is trying to pass a stool normally will stop when the stool is passed.
    • Diaper rash. Irritated skin around the thighs, genitals, buttocks, or belly may make a child cry, especially when a diaper is wet or soiled.
    • Colic. All babies cry. But sometimes a baby will cry for hours at a time, no matter what you do. This extreme type of crying in a baby who is between 3 weeks and 3 months of age is called colic. While it is upsetting for parents and caregivers, colic is normal for babies. Doctors usually diagnose colic when a healthy baby cries harder than expected in a "3" pattern: more than 3 hours a day at least 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks in a row. The crying is usually worst when babies are around 6 to 8 weeks of age. It goes away on its own between 8 and 14 weeks of age. Doctors aren't sure what causes colic. It may be related to gas in the belly or an immature nervous system.
    • Belly cramps from overfeeding or milk intolerance. Overeating or swallowing too much air during feeding can cause belly cramps. These cramps can make a baby cry. Crying also may occur if your child is sensitive to milk protein. The baby will often spit up some of the feeding and may have loose stools.
    • A minor illness, such as a cold or stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Crying related to an illness often starts suddenly. In most cases, there are other signs of illness such as fever, looking sick, and decreased appetite.
    • Minor injuries. Your child is likely to cry when they have an injury, such as an eyelash in the eye, an insect bite, or an open diaper pin in the skin.
  • Overtired or overstimulated cries. Crying can be your young child's way of releasing tension when there is too much noise, movement, or activity in the environment or when they are overtired.

Crying related to a serious illness or injury

In rare cases, crying may point to a serious illness or injury. This type of crying usually lasts much longer than normal, and your baby may not be acting normally.

  • Some illnesses may cause persistent crying. These include common infections, such as ear infections (otitis media) or urinary tract infections, and rarer infections, such as meningitis, encephalitis, or sepsis with dehydration. A persistent cry in a newborn may be the first sign of a serious illness, such as sepsis.
  • A serious injury from a fall, being shaken, or abuse may cause a child to cry for a long time. There are usually other signs of injury, such as swelling, bruising, or bleeding.

Crying and abusive head trauma

Crying can be very frustrating for a parent or caregiver. But never shake or harm your child. Shaking a child in anger or playing rough, such as throwing a child into the air, can injure the brain. Abusive head trauma needs to be reported to your doctor. If you find that you are losing patience or are afraid that you may hurt your child:

  • Place your child in a safe place while you go into another room, relax, and calm yourself.
  • Ask someone to help you. If you can't find someone to take over for you and you still feel out of control, call your doctor.

Crying related to medical conditions

Certain medical conditions can cause a young child to cry. They include gastroesophageal reflux, inguinal hernia, and intussusception.

What are some signs of pain in a baby?

Along with crying, a baby who is in pain may:

  • Have a furrowed brow, wrinkled forehead, or closed eyes.
  • Have a change in daily activities or behavior (such as decreased appetite, irritability, restlessness, or agitated behavior).
  • Sleep more or less than usual. A baby may suddenly start waking up during sleep, seeming to be in pain. Even if a baby has severe pain, the baby may take short naps because they're exhausted.
  • Grunt when breathing or hold their breath.
  • Have clenched fists and pull legs up or kick.
  • Cling to whoever holds them. Or the baby may be limp and not move at all.
  • Flinch and move to protect a painful area of the body when touched.

What is the difference between colic and normal crying?

It's often hard to tell the difference between colic and normal crying. Both types of crying increase over time, peaking at about 6 to 8 weeks of age. Most crying episodes occur in the late afternoon and evening hours, but the timing may vary. How long and how hard the baby cries may change from one day to the next.

The difference between colic and normal crying behavior is related to how often, how long, and how intensely your baby cries. Babies with colic:

  • Typically cry for more than 3 hours a day more than 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks in a row.
  • Cry very loudly, sometimes piercingly, and often continuously.
  • May clench their fists and stiffen their stomach and legs during a colic episode. Some babies arch their backs. Others pull up their legs to their stomachs.

Most babies with typical crying behavior are soothed and will cry less when they are held, fed, and given attention. But babies with colic aren't easily soothed after they start crying. And their episodes typically last longer than expected.

Colic is usually worst when babies are around 6 to 8 weeks of age. It tends to go away on its own between 8 and 14 weeks of age.

Comforting a crying baby

First, make sure your baby isn't hungry. Very young babies usually don't eat much at one sitting. They may get hungry 1 to 2 hours after a feeding. Feeding your baby might stop the crying.

Comforting techniques often will calm a crying baby if the crying isn't caused by pain. They may help comfort a baby with colic, because colic isn't caused by pain. Here are some things you can try.

  • Offer a pacifier.

    Sucking can help babies relieve stress without crying. If you breastfeed, wait 3 or 4 weeks until breastfeeding is going well before you offer a pacifier.

  • Try rocking your baby.

    Gently rock your baby, or use a mechanical swing.

  • Sing quietly to your baby.

    You may find that singing the same song over and over is soothing. You can also try playing music at a low volume.

  • Turn on something with a rhythmic sound.

    You can try a fan that hums, a vacuum cleaner, a clothes dryer, or recordings of womb sounds.

    A white-noise sleep machine for babies may help. Put the machine far from the crib and use the lowest volume to keep the baby's hearing safe from harm. And use the machine only for short periods of time.

  • Cuddle your baby.

    Touching, holding, and softly talking to the baby may stop the crying. You can also try carrying the baby around (in a sling or other baby carrier) while you are doing activities so that the baby is comforted by being close to you.

  • Swaddle your baby.

    Swaddling means wrapping your baby in a blanket. When you swaddle your baby:

    • Keep the blanket loose around the hips and legs. If the legs are wrapped tightly or straight, hip problems may develop.
    • Be sure you don't make your child too warm.
  • Try a bath.

    Give your child a warm bath if your child likes to take a bath.

  • Take your baby outside.

    Try walking or taking your child for a ride in a stroller or a car. Sometimes a walk outside can change a child's mood.

  • Change your baby's position.

    Hold your baby so that you put gentle pressure on the belly. Try holding your baby with their belly over your lower arm and their head at your elbow.

Tips for using the techniques

  • Use one technique at a time, and give it time to work. Try it for about 1 to 2 minutes before you switch to another technique.
  • If your baby keeps crying for 20 to 30 minutes, change locations and try again.
  • When you find something that works, use it most of the time. Or use it as the first technique to comfort your child.
  • Sometimes nothing works. In these cases, consider placing your baby in their crib for 5 minutes while you stay close by. Then repeat your attempts to comfort.

What should you do if you get upset with your crying child?

Stay as calm as you can, and remember that crying is a normal part of your child's life.

Never shake or harm your child. Shaking a child in anger or playing rough, such as throwing your child into the air, can cause an injury to the brain. Abusive head trauma needs to be reported to your doctor.

If you find that you are losing patience or are afraid that you may hurt your child:

  • Place your child in a safe place while you go into another room, relax, and calm yourself.
  • Ask someone to help you. If you can't find someone to take over for you and you still feel out of control, call your doctor.

If you are concerned about your parenting abilities, contact people or organizations that can help you find places to learn parenting skills. You can contact:

  • Your child's doctor.
  • A local hospital.
  • National parenting organizations, such as Prevent Child Abuse America. Visit www.preventchildabuse.org to learn more.

What can make your baby's crying worse?

Health problems or injuries can cause a baby to cry. And they can make a colicky baby's crying worse. For example:

  • Babies may cry more when they have a digestion problem such as milk protein intolerance or milk sugar intolerance.
  • Some people notice that their baby's crying gets worse after they've had certain foods or drinks and then breastfeed their baby. Some foods may affect breast milk, such as garlic, broccoli, fresh fruits, and caffeine. They may help cause intestinal gas or other digestive problems in the baby.

Crying baby: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you or your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your baby has been shaken or struck on the head.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself, your baby, or another person.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is very cranky, even after 3 or more hours of holding, rocking, or feeding.
  • Your baby cries in a different manner or for an unusual length of time.
  • Your baby cries for a long time and has symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or blood or mucus in the stool.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your baby is not gaining weight.
  • Your baby has no symptoms other than crying, but you want to check for health problems.
  • Your baby seems to be acting odd, even though you are not sure exactly what concerns you.
  • You are not able to feel close to your newborn.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.