Crying Child - 3 Months and Older  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • A child more than 3 months old is crying or very fussy
  • You don’t know why
  • Your child is too young to tell you why
  • Crying is the only symptom
  • For crying with an illness or other symptom, go to that care guide

If not, see these topics
  • FEVER or any symptom of illness (such as diarrhea). See that SYMPTOM guide.
  • Crying from an injury. See that INJURY guide.
  • Shots within the last 4 days. See IMMUNIZATION REACTIONS.
When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving or very weak
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Stiff neck or bulging soft spot
  • Won't move one arm or leg normally
  • Cries when you touch or move your child
  • Could be an injury
  • Screaming child and can’t be consoled
  • Nonstop crying lasts more than 2 hours. (Your baby can’t be consoled using this Care Advice.)
  • You are afraid someone might hurt or shake your baby
  • Will not drink or drinks very little for more than 8 hours
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • You think pain (such as an earache) is causing the crying
  • New crying but your child can be consoled. Cause of crying is not clear.
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Mild, off-and-on fussiness without a cause lasts more than 2 days
  • Crying is a frequent problem
Parent Care at Home If
  • Mild fussiness without a cause is present less than 2 days
  • Normal protest crying
  • Temper tantrum crying
  • Sleep problem crying
Causes & Health Information

Causes

  • Main cause. Coming down with an illness. Young children cry about being sick, even if they don't have any pain.
  • Physical pain. Painful causes include earache, sore throat, mouth ulcers, or a raw diaper rash. An ulcer on tip of penis or constipation may also cause pain or crying.
  • Behavioral causes. Overtired, stressed, whining, tantrums, separation anxiety. This guide detects many babies with sleep problems. Crying always occurs during re-training programs for bad sleep habits. Some preverbal children (before 2 years) cry for everything.
  • Teething. Teething generally doesn't cause crying.
  • Gas. Gas in the intestines does not cause crying.
  • Hunger. Not caused by hunger, since by this age parents can recognize hunger.
  • Decongestants (such as Sudafed). These drugs can also can cause jitteriness and crying. (Note: FDA does not advise cough and cold medicines for children under 4 years.)
CARE ADVICE FOR MILD CONSOLABLE CRYING

Mild Fussiness of Unknown Cause
  1. What You Should Know:
    • Your child is crying and fussing more than usual. But, if acting normal when not crying, the cause is probably not serious.
    • He could be coming down with an illness. Most often, that will become clear in a day or so.
    • He could be reacting to some changes in your home or child care setting. See if you can come up with some ideas.
    • At times, children can also go through a "clingy phase" without a reason.
    • If the crying responds to comforting, it's not serious.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Comfort:
    • Try to comfort your child by holding, rocking, or massage.
  3. Sleep:
    • If your child is tired, put him to bed.
    • If he needs to be held, hold him quietly in your arms. Sometimes, lying next to him will comfort him.
    • Some overtired infants need to cry themselves to sleep.
  4. Undress Your Child:
    • Sometimes part of the clothing is too tight or uncomfortable.
    • Also, check the skin for redness or swelling (such as an insect bite).
  5. Stop Over-the-Counter Medicines:
    • If your child is taking a cough or cold medicine, stop it.
    • The crying should stop within 4 hours.
    • Allergy medicines (such as Benadryl) can cause screaming and fussiness in some children.
    • Sudafed (a decongestant) can cause jitteriness and crying.
    • The FDA does not approve any of these medicines for children under 4 years old.
  6. What To Expect:
    • Most fussiness with illnesses goes away when the illness does.
    • Fussiness may be due to family stress or change (such as new child care). Fussiness due to this cause lasts less than 1 week.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Nonstop crying lasts more than 2 hours
    • Crying with an illness gets worse
    • Mild crying lasts more than 2 days
    • Your child becomes worse
Normal Protest Crying
  1. What You Should Know:
    • Normal children cry when they don't get their way.
    • Normal children cry when you make changes in their routines.
    • Crying is their only form of communication in the first years of life.
    • Crying can mean, "I don't want to".
    • This is called normal protest crying and is not harmful.
    • Do not assume that crying means pain.
  2. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have other questions or concerns
Temper Tantrum Crying
  1. What You Should Know:
    • Crying is the most common symptom of a temper tantrum.
    • Temper tantrums occur when your child is angry or trying to get his way.
    • This is most likely the cause of the crying if it occurs at these times.
    • All kids have some temper tantrums, starting at about 9 months of age.
  2. Tips for Dealing with Temper Tantrums:
    • Ignore most tantrums (such as demanding something the child doesn't need).
    • Don't give your child an audience. Leave the room.
    • For tantrums from frustration (such as when something doesn't work), help your child.
    • For aggressive (hitting) or destructive (throwing) tantrums, put in timeout. Leave your child there until he calms down.
    • Don't give in to tantrums. No means No.
    • Be a good role model. Avoid yelling or screaming at others (adult tantrums).
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have other questions or concerns
Sleep Problem Crying
  1. What You Should Know:
    • Sleep problems can cause crying. Suspect this if most of your child's crying occurs in his crib or bed. The crying mainly occurs when you put him down for naps and at night. Also, suspect a sleep problem if your child acts normal during the daytime.
    • Sleep problems are common in childhood.
  2. Tips for Treating the Sleep Problem:
    • Re-train your child to be a good sleeper at bedtime and naptime.
    • Place your child in the crib "drowsy but awake".
    • Once placed in the crib, don't take your child out again.
    • Visit your child as often as needed until asleep.
    • For night awakenings, however, it's fine to hold your child until calm.
    • Do all of this in a loving way with a calm voice.
    • Never feed until asleep.
    • Never sleep in the same bed with your child.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have other questions or concerns

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/13/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.