Crying and colic

All babies cry – it’s how they communicate with us – but when you’ve checked every possible cause for your baby’s distress and they’re still crying, it can be very stressful. Hopefully the information in this section will provide some support and reassurance.

Crying

As you get to know your baby, you’ll start to tune in to their different cries and will be better able to anticipate what they need, providing support and reassurance before they get too distressed. You’ll also spot their cues – for example a hungry baby might start to smack their lips, suck on their hands or turn their head looking for food before they start to cry as a last resort.

If your baby’s crying and you’re not sure why, ask yourself whether it could be for one of the following reasons:

  1. They’re hungry. Babies only have tiny tummies, and in the early weeks especially they need to feed regularly. Respond to their needs by feeding them small amounts more frequently, rather than going by the clock. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your public health nurse (health visitor) to check that your baby’s latching on to the breast correctly. If you’re formula feeding, they can give you advice as to whether the teat you’re using provides the best flow for your baby.
  2. They’re tired. Babies need a lot of sleep, but in the early days may also need some cuddles and suckling to help them drop off. Your public health nurse (health visitor) may talk to you about using a dummy if you feel as if you’re feeding constantly.
  3. They’re uncomfortable. In the early weeks, babies produce at least eight wet or dirty nappies in a 24 hour period, so they may be crying because they need you to change them. They might also feel too hot or too cold – babies can’t really regulate their temperature, so be careful not to over wrap them. If you’ve just taken your baby to have their immunisations, they may be feeling a bit out of sorts, or their crying could simply result from discomfort caused by trapped wind.
  4. They’re over or under stimulated. Some babies find being handled by lots of different people is overwhelming, and may need to be close to you again for reassurance. In these situations, skin-to-skin contact can really help. Babies like you talking to them, singing to them, reading to them and holding them close so they can see your facial expressions. With very young babies, mobiles, toys or cloth books which feature black and white are great because they can see the colour contrast clearly, keeping their interest.

What else can help?

Infant massage can be very soothing for both your baby and for you. As well as being calming, it also promotes bonding and brain development. Your public health nurse (health visitor) may be able to suggest a local class or you can look at your local Children’s Centre programme.

A baby sling is very useful for settling fretful babies, as it means they’re held close to your chest (and therefore your heartbeat) which they find reassuring. And the upside for you is having both hands free! You’ll just need to make sure your baby is big enough to go in the sling.

Sometimes music can be very effective at calming a baby. You could also try singing lullabies!

Getting out and about is good for both you and your baby. Join a baby group – there will be lots at your local Children’s Centre, and it’s a great way to make new friends. Other parents will be understanding and supportive if your baby cries a lot.

If you find yourself getting stressed and overwhelmed, put your baby down in their cot or Moses basket, and walk out of the room. Give yourself space to take some deep breaths and calm down. Never shake a baby or rock them vigorously, as it can be very dangerous. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, tearful and low in mood over a longer period, do talk to your public health nurse (health visitor) as it’s important to get the support you need.

Excessive crying (colic)

Some babies who are otherwise completely healthy, cry excessively for hours at a time, and can’t be soothed no matter what you do. This crying is often referred to as colic, and can begin from when your baby is just a few weeks old. Normally it only lasts until they are five months – but that can seem like an eternity if you’re the one on the receiving end!

This short film from NHS Choices explains more.

Babies often cry more in the late afternoon or evening, and may raise their knees to their tummy, arch their back or clench their fists. Colic is common, and just as likely to affect breastfed babies as formula fed babies. Excessive crying may be caused by indigestion and wind, or it might be your baby just needs a cuddle or just some peace and quiet. If the crying is hard for you to bear, it’s fine to put your baby in their cot for a few minutes while you take a break, as long as they are safe. The important thing to remember is that the fact that your baby is crying excessively isn’t down to anything you’ve done or not done – it’s not your fault ! Try to stay calm and remind yourself that they will grow out of it.

Talk to your public health nurse (health visitor) or GP if you feel that nothing is working and you’re finding it hard to cope. There are lots of support groups available for parents going through this.

Useful links


ChatHealth logo

Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

Leicester City: text 07520 615381

Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382

Healthy Together Logo