Topic Overview

Crying is a child’s first way of communicating.
Parents and caregivers become better over time at identifying their child’s
cry. Along with crying, a child may not act normally when something is
wrong with him or her. Infection, illness, injury or pain, or a medical problem may
cause a child to not act normally.

If your baby has
colic, you may be concerned that a health condition is
causing the excessive crying. Usually a baby with colic isn’t crying because
of pain or physical discomfort. But it is important to be aware that
health problems or injuries can cause a baby to cry excessively. And it’s important to watch
for related signs.

Here are a few things to look for that may mean your baby has a health problem.

Signs of not acting normally

  • Looks or acts different, such as a change in
    balance or coordination
  • Appears confused or doesn’t interact with
    people or objects in his or her environment. Look for a change in the
    level of consciousness.
  • Sleeps more or
    appears to have no energy
  • Cries more than usual or cries during
  • Has refused two feedings in a row or is
  • A baby older than 1 month has a different type of cry than
    you have identified as usual for him or her.
  • Cries and is fussy
    after 24 hours of home treatment
  • Has swelling over a body part and
    cries (pain cry) when the area is touched or moved
  • Refuses to use
    an arm or leg or refuses to walk or stand. (This is for children who are old enough to walk. Children usually start to walk when they are 9 to 15 months of age.)

If your child isn’t acting normally, check for a
fever. For information on how to take a temperature,
see the topic
Body Temperature.

Medical treatment is
needed for a fall or injury that causes more serious symptoms, such as a head
injury or
severe bleeding. Medical evaluation may also be needed
for injuries that cause swelling and pain in the affected area.

Signs of pain

A baby who is in pain may:

  • Have a furrowed brow, wrinkled forehead, or
    closed eyes.
  • Have a change in his or her daily activities or
    behavior (such as decreased appetite, irritability, restlessness, or agitated
  • Sleep more or less than usual. He or she may suddenly
    start waking up during sleeping, appearing to be in pain. Even if a baby is
    having severe pain, the baby may take short naps because he or she is
  • Grunt when breathing or hold his or her
  • Have clenched fists and pull his or her legs up or
  • Cling to whoever holds him or her, or the baby may be limp
    and not move at all.
  • Flinch and move to protect a painful area of
    his or her body when touched.

Minor injuries or illnesses that can cause a child to cry

  • An open diaper pin in the skin
  • A
    piece of hair wrapped around a finger, a toe, or the penis
  • Bumping
    the child’s head when putting him or her in a car seat
  • A fall (or
    being dropped) that causes a small bruise or scratch
  • A broken collarbone (fractured clavicle)
  • An eyelash or
    other object in the eye. Look for one eye that is red and tearing more than the
    other eye. An eyelash in the eye may scratch the clear covering (cornea) over the colored part of the eye, causing a
    corneal abrasion.
  • An insect bite. Look for a reddened area on the
    skin, and look for any insects, such as mosquitoes or spiders. If you suspect a
    dangerous spider (a
    brown recluse or
    black widow) or
    scorpion bite, capture the insect and seek medical
    care right away. These insects can cause serious
    reactions (especially in young children), such as coma
    and death.
  • A foreign object stuck in the skin or an opening, such
    as an ear. Young children can put small things-such as beads, rocks, popcorn,
    plastic toy pieces, or small batteries-in their body openings. It may be
    hard to see these small things and remove them.
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). If other children you
    know have pinkeye and there has been no injury to your child, consider that the redness may
    be pinkeye.


Common infections in babies that may cause crying are:

If you aren’t able to identify the cause of your
child’s behavior, medical evaluation may be needed.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O’Connor, MD – Emergency Medicine
David Messenger, MD

Current as ofMarch 20, 2017