Trying to get your baby to go back to sleep, can be frustrating when you’re not sure what’s making them cry or how to help them stop crying. Your baby needs their sleep and so do you.
The most common reason that babies cry at night is because they’re hungry or need a nappy change. Other reasons can be because they feel uncomfortable or unwell. Knowing what could make your baby uncomfortable or feel out of sorts, may help make it easier to find out why they are crying.
Why do babies cry at night?
Some of the reasons why babies may cry, particularly at nighttime, include:
Young babies need to be fed frequently because their stomachs are small. Although the gap between feeds may change, feeding every 2-3 hours at first, is not unusual. Newborn babies wake for feeding as often in the night as they do in the daytime and their sleeping pattern doesn’t differ much between day and night. They’ll sleep longer and have longer gaps between night-time feeds at around 3 months of age.
Your baby might need some assistance getting rid of trapped wind. Sometimes babies swallow air whilst feeding, which makes them uncomfortable. To help stop this from happening, sit or hold your baby upright during feeding. You can also relieve wind after feeding, by holding your baby upright against your shoulder or on your lap whilst gently rubbing their back to help the air out of their food pipe.
Teething can be another cause of crying in babies. It usually starts at around 6 months of age but can start any time during your baby’s first year. Teething can be painful and distressing for baby’s and may give them a fever, which can make them cry and keep them awake at night. There are several ways to help soothe your teething baby, such as giving them a teething ring, children's medicine for pain and fever such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, or you can soothe their gums by gently rubbing with your clean finger.
Reflux (spitting up)
Reflux or regurgitation may cause your baby to bring up milk after a feed and might also give them hiccups. This may also keep them up at night, particularly after a feed. If you think that your baby is crying due to reflux, speak to your health visitor or doctor for advice.
If your baby is generally healthy but cries at night for no reason, for more than 3 hours a day and for at least 3 days in a week, they may have colic. Colic can affect as many as 1 in 5 babies. The cause is not known but it’s likely to be from bowel cramping or other tummy discomfort. A colicky baby can be distressing for parents, but the problem will eventually pass when a baby is around 3 to 4 months old and is usually nothing to worry about. If you’re worried, speak to your GP or health visitor for advice.
Constipation can cause babies to cry but will usually stop once they have had a poo. Formula fed babies are more likely to have constipation. Signs that you baby is constipated, include crying, irritability, or pain before doing a poo, dry hard pellet like poo in the nappy that is hard to pass, bad smelling wind (gas) and a hard tummy. To avoid your formula fed baby having constipation, check that you’re using the right amount of formula powder and water as recommended on the packaging. Too much powder or too little water can cause your baby to be constipated. Speak to your health visitor or GP for advice if you’re worried or you think your baby has constipation
If your baby is feeling ill, because of an infection or pain, they may cry more than normal. If they have other symptoms such as fever, this can also be a sign that they may be ill. Speak to your GP if you’re worried about the symptoms or you think your baby may be ill.
Some of the reasons why your little one may be uncomfortable:
- Drinking milk too quickly or too much can make your baby sick. Check that the hole in the teat of their bottle is not too large and don’t force them to drink more milk than they want in a feed.
- They might not be in a very comfortable position while breastfeeding. Try changing your baby’s position or attachment to help settle them.
- A common reason for a baby to cry is a wet or dirty nappy. Check to see that they’re dry or that there is no skin irritation caused by a wet nappy, that might be irritating your baby.
- Babies may cry if they feel too hot or too cold. Check that your baby’s clothes are not too tight and uncomfortable, too warm or too cold, particularly if the temperature has changed since you dressed them.
7 ways to soothe a crying baby
Wear your baby
Yup, that’s right! Wearing your baby in a sling keeps your baby close to your body and they’ll hear your heartbeat, which is calming and comforting. It’ll also free you up to move about whilst you gently rock them or sing to them.
Put on calming sounds or something to look at
Calming sounds like soft music, white noise, or humming and singing, may help to settle your baby. Be careful not to over stimulate your baby with too much rocking or singing. Try different music to see what is most calming for them. You could also distract your baby by placing something nearby for them to look at, such as a mobile above the cot or give them a rattle.
Sometimes too much rocking and singing can keep your baby awake. You might find lying them down after a feed will help. You can also try reducing the noise, lights, and movement around them. This will help calm them, settle down and possibly fall asleep easier. Remove anything that could be overstimulating before you want them to fall asleep, turn off the TV, dim the lights, and reduce movement around them.
Take them for a ride
Many babies find motion soothing. Rock your baby gently, backwards, and forwards in the pram or take them in the pram for a walk. Some babies like to sleep in cars. Try taking them for a short drive and even if they wake up when you stop, at least you’ll have had a break.
Give them a warm bath before bed
The warm water of a bath before bed can be soothing and can help your baby relax enough to fall asleep. Some babies may cry more when bathed so you’ll need to discover what works for your little one.
Suckling and comforters
If you're breastfeeding, let your baby suckle at your breast. Alternatively, you can offer them your clean fingers to suck on or a dummy if your baby is bottle feeding. Breast fed babies can be offered a dummy once they are older than 4 weeks to allow breastfeeding to first be established. Some older babies like to use a bit of cloth or a blanket as a comforter, particularly whilst feeding.
A gentle massage
Undress your baby and massage them gently by stroking your baby's back firmly and rhythmically, holding them against you or lying them face downwards on your lap, but with their airways clear so that they can breathe easily. Avoid using any oils or lotions until your baby is at least a month old. Talk soothingly and keep the room warm enough during the massage. Some health centres and clinics run baby massage courses. For information, ask your midwife or health visitor.
A GP can check for possible causes of your baby's crying
See a GP or call 111 about your baby’s crying, if:
- you’re worried about your baby's crying
- your baby is crying, and nothing seems to soothe or settle them
- you're finding it hard to cope
- your baby is not growing or putting on weight as expected
- your baby still has symptoms of colic after 4 months of age
Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if your baby:
- has a fit (seizure or convulsion)
- has blue, blotchy, grey or very pale skin
- breathes quickly (rapid) or makes a throaty noise while breathing, or seems to be struggling to breathe or sucking in their stomach under their ribcage
- has a high temperature, but their hands and feet feel cold
- has a spotty purple-red rash anywhere on the body – this could be a sign of meningitis
Sometimes it can be overwhelming when your baby can’t be soothed and won’t stop crying. Most parents can share stories of exhaustion and frustration from trying to cope with a crying baby. Never be ashamed to ask for help from family, friends, your doctor or a health visitor. If you’re at your wits end, leave your baby safely in their cot and take a 10-minute break to calm yourself before going back to your little one. Above all, trust your instincts and call your doctor if your baby’s behaviour is worrying or different from their normal cry.
All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters for further information or medical advice, please speak to your GP or a Pharmacist.