The way your baby cries can tell you how the baby is feeling. It can also alert you to the baby’s needs. This sheet will help you understand what it means when your baby cries, and what you can do to help.
It’s normal for babies to cry. Sometimes the baby just wants to be held. But if the crying doesn’t stop, look for a cause. Common causes of crying include:
Discomfort (such as a wet diaper, clothes that are too tight, feeling too hot or too cold, or gas pains)
A stuffy nose, which can make it hard for the baby to breathe
Stress or overstimulation (especially common in preemies)
Crying can be the baby’s way of telling you there’s a problem. The baby trusts you to respond to crying and fix whatever is causing the problem. Figuring out what’s wrong may take some guesswork from you. If holding the baby doesn’t help, here are some other things you can try:
Try feeding, in case the baby is hungry. To help prevent gas pains, burp the baby about every 5 minutes while feeding. Also keep the baby’s head higher than the rest of the body while feeding.
Check the baby’s diaper. Change it if needed.
Give the baby a warm bath. Or, hold a damp, warm towel on the baby’s stomach for a little while. This may calm some babies.
Rock or walk with the baby. Motion is soothing.
Wrap the baby snugly in a blanket. This is called swaddling. It makes the baby feel safe and secure. (See the box later on this sheet to learn how to swaddle your baby.) A baby who is old enough to roll over (about 3 months) should never be left swaddled and unattended. This could be dangerous if the baby rolls onto his or her stomach.
Hold the baby against your bare chest. Skin-to-skin contact can be comforting to the baby.
If the baby has a stuffy nose, use a bulb syringe to clear it. (Your baby’s doctor or nurse can show you how to do this.)
Check for signs of illness, such as fever or diarrhea. If the baby seems sick, call the doctor.
In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher
In a child of any age who has a temperature that rises repeatedly to 104°F (40ºC) or higher
A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.
Your child looks very ill, is unusually sleepy, or is very fussy
Your child has had a seizure
Wrapping your baby securely in a blanket (swaddling) helps the baby feel warm and safe. Here is one method:
Fold a square blanket diagonally to make a triangle. Turn the triangle so the flat base is at the top and the point is at the bottom.
Lay the baby on top of the blanket with the head over the straight base of the triangle and the feet toward the point.
Pull one side of the triangle all the way over the baby’s torso and tuck it under the baby’s body (Figure 1). A baby is most comfortable with the arms folded over the chest. You can pull the blanket over the baby’s arms to keep them contained. Or, you can leave one arm free so the baby can suck on its fingers.
Bring the bottom of the blanket loosely over the baby’s feet and all the way up to the neck (Figure 2). It is very important to keep the baby's feet and legs free to move. Tight swaddling is associated with a condition called hip dysplasia. If your baby has hip dysplasia, do not swaddle.
Wrap the other side of the triangle across the baby’s chest (Figure 3).
After your baby is swaddled, check often for the following:
The blanket stays secure. A loose blanket can cover the baby’s face and cause suffocation.
The baby is not overheated. If your baby is hot, remove the blanket and try using a lighter blanket or sheet for swaddling.