Crying Child Who Is Not Acting Normally

Overview

Crying is a child's first way of communicating. Along with crying, a child may not act normally when something is wrong. Infection, illness, injury, pain, or a medical problem may cause a child to cry and not act normally.

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

Here are a some signs of abnormal behavior in a baby that may be a sign of a health problem.

Along with crying, your baby may:

  • Look or act different. You may notice a change in balance or coordination.
  • Seem confused or not interact with people or objects in their environment. Look for a change in the level of consciousness.
  • Sleep more or seem to have no energy.
  • Cry more than usual or cry during sleep.
  • Refuse two feedings in a row or vomit.
  • Have a different type of cry than usual. You may notice this if your baby is older than 1 month.
  • Cry and be fussy after 24 hours of home treatment.
  • Have swelling over a body part and cry (pain cry) when the area is touched or moved.
  • Refuse to use an arm or leg or refuse 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.)

Signs of pain

Along with crying, a baby who is in pain may:

  • Have a furrowed brow, wrinkled forehead, or closed eyes.
  • Have a change in daily activities or behavior (such as decreased appetite, irritability, restlessness, or agitated behavior).
  • Sleep more or less than usual. A baby may suddenly start waking up during sleep, seeming to be in pain. Even if a baby has severe pain, the baby may take short naps because they're exhausted.
  • Grunt when breathing or hold their breath.
  • Have clenched fists and pull legs up or kick.
  • Cling to whoever holds them. Or the baby may be limp and not move at all.
  • Flinch and move to protect a painful area of the body when touched.

Minor injuries or illnesses

Minor injuries or illnesses that can cause a child to cry include:

  • An open diaper pin poking the skin.
  • A piece of hair wrapped around a finger, a toe, or the penis.
  • Bumping the child's head when putting the child 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 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, the redness may be pinkeye.

Common infections in babies that may cause crying are:

  • Ear infections.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Stomach infection (gastroenteritis).

If you aren't able to find the cause of your child's behavior, you may need to see your child's doctor.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.