Crying Child >3 Months Old (Irritability/Fussiness)

Symptom Definition

  • Excessive crying, irritability or fussiness
  • Child is too young to tell us or show us the cause for his crying
  • Main cause: coming down with an illness
  • Other common causes: overtired, stressed, whining, tantrums, separation anxiety, pain (teething generally doesn’t cause crying)

See More Appropriate Topic

  • If Fever or any symptom of illness, see that topic
  • If crying from an injury, see specific TRAUMA topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Stiff neck or bulging soft spot
  • Possible injury (especially head or bone trauma)
  • Very irritable, screaming child for > 1 hour
  • You are afraid you might hurt your baby
  • Your child cannot be comforted after trying for > 2 hours
  • Crying interferes with sleeping for > 2 hours

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Low grade, off-and-on fussiness (acts normal when not crying) continues > 2 days

Parent Care at Home if

  • Mild fussiness present less than 2 days and you don’t think your child needs to be seen

Home Care Advice for Mild, Consolable Crying

  1. Reassurance: Most infants/toddlers become somewhat irritable and fussy when sick or overtired. Crying tells us your child is not feeling well. If the crying responds to comforting, it’s probably not serious
  2. Comforting: Try to comfort your child by holding, rocking, massage, etc.
  3. Sleep: If your child is tired, put him to bed. If he needs to be held, hold him quietly in a horizontal position or lie next to 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 (eg insect bite).
  5. Expected Course: Most fussiness with illnesses resolves when the illness does. Most fussiness due to stress or change (eg new day care) lasts less than 1 week.
  6. Call Your Doctor If
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor” symptoms
    • Constant crying lasts > 2 hours
    • Intermittent crying lasts > 2 days