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Irritability in Babies

By Katie Regan ; Updated June 13, 2017

Babies may be cute, playful and cuddly, but like adults, they are susceptible to mood swings. A baby who’s happy one moment can easily grow irritable for a multitude of reasons. But knowing why babies become upset and how to soothe them can make parenting a much easier task.

Symptoms of Irritability

Irritable babies can display many symptoms. Some of the most common are crying and fussing, grumpiness and a generally poor attitude, according to online pregnancy and child-rearing expert Dr. Benjamin Spock. Irritated babies will often display these symptoms at select times, such as meals or bedtime.

Causes of Irritability

Determining what’s making your baby upset can be a tough job, but there are a few common causes. Hunger is a major one, according to Spock. Babies will also get cranky if they have digestion or heartburn, or some sort of discomfort, such as diaper rash. Wet diapers, fatigue and teething are big complaints, and wanting something but being unable to communicate it can turn a normally happy baby into a moody infant. Babies will also get irritable if they’re getting sick.

Determining the Cause

Parents can eventually learn to discern the meaning of one cry from another, but until that happens, some common clues can help you figure it out, according to If a baby is hungry, she typically will cry or get fussy before mealtimes. She might also get agitated directly after eating if she didn’t get enough, or right when she wakes up from a nap. Babies with indigestion or heartburn will also usually cry right after feeding. Babies who aren’t feeling well might pull at their ears and will usually exhibit cold symptoms soon after, according to If a baby is irritable due to fatigue, he might get fussy after being awake for too long or being handled too much.

Treating Irritability

The best cure for irritability depends on the individual baby, but there are some common, tried-and-true methods, according to Letting a baby suck on your finger or a pacifier is soothing and can calm her down, as can swaddling her tightly in blankets. Babies also respond well to rhythmic sounds, so singing, running a vacuum or washing machine, or taking a drive in the car can soothe her, according to


Often, a baby’s irritability will be due to a bad mood or discomfort, but sometimes it could be because of a serious problem. Call your doctor if your baby is refusing to eat, has persistent diarrhea or vomiting, has a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit that can’t be brought down with acetaminophen, or exhibits ear pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Seek emergency care if your baby has bleeding that won’t stop, trouble breathing or blood in the urine or stool.

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