Updated 25 August 2016

When a baby is unusually quiet

There are many reasons why a baby could be crying. But what does it mean if your baby is unusually quiet, and when should you worry?

Babies have limited means of communication. They can gurgle, they can sometimes smile, and they can cry. And cry they do – sometimes for hours on end. This can sometimes be extremely frustrating, especially when your little one doesn’t respond to any of your efforts to stop the crying.

Some of the reasons why babies cry include hunger, a need to be held, feeling tired, feeling too cold or too hot, in need of a nappy change, or because they’re feeling sick and need something to make them feel better.

But parents also worry about the opposite problem: when is a baby too quiet, and could it be a sign that something is seriously wrong?

Some babies simply cry more than others, but parents know their babies, and worry when a behaviour pattern changes. If your baby is sluggish when awake, difficult to wake for feeding, and doesn’t pay attention to visual stimulation or sounds, it could be a sign that he or she is ill.

A list of possible causes

Here’s what to look out for:

•    If a usually active baby suddenly becomes quiet, it may be a sign of a common infection, such as a cold, which may cause fever.
•    Lethargy could also be a sign of a more serious infection such as the flu or meningitis. If your baby sleeps a lot more than he or she usually does, and is difficult to wake for feeding times, a visit to the doctor is advised.
•    A baby who is less active than usual may also be mildly dehydrated. The more severe the dehydration, the more lethargic the baby will be.
•    Lethargy can also be caused by certain heart conditions and blood diseases. But don’t jump to any conclusions by yourself. Get an expert opinion.
•    Down syndrome can cause babies to cry very little, but that would most likely be a pattern from birth and not a sudden noticeable change in your baby’s behaviour. The same goes for babies with autism who are also usually very quiet.
•    Many babies are born with jaundice, which could lead to lethargic behaviour.

If your baby is lethargic, there will more than likely be other signs that something could be wrong, such as poor feeding, weight loss, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

It’s very important that you take your baby to the doctor if their behaviour suddenly changes. A doctor can order tests to determine the exact cause of your baby’s unusual quietness. Remember, it could be a sign of a serious, life-threatening illness such as meningitis.



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