8 Tips for Understanding Different Baby Cries
It's no secret that babies can cry — a lot.
Crying is, after all, the first sound most babies make when they first enter the world and expand their lungs. While hearing your baby's first cry brought joy to you as a new parent, seeing them cry regularly without knowing the cause can be discouraging.
"Is my baby hungry?" "Are they in pain?" “Am I comforting them enough?” These are all questions you might ask as you try to comfort your crying baby. Don’t let it get you down, though — crying is a normal and healthy part of a baby’s life.
Trying to figure out why your baby is crying can be challenging and frustrating, especially during the first few months of their life. We’re here to make it a little easier.
We’ve created this handy guide to help you understand the possible meanings behind your baby’s cries and the ways to soothe them when the tears are flowing.
Why Do Babies Cry?
Babies cry for plenty of reasons.
Crying is their only way to communicate before they have the words to express how they’re feeling, so they do it a lot.
As newborns, it’s common for babies to cry because they simply want attention, feel fussy, or are overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds of the world.
Although there are more than eight reasons why babies cry, we’ve narrowed down the most common ones below:
- They’re hungry
- They’re sleepy
- They’re in pain
- They’re sick
- They have a dirty diaper
- Your baby has colic
- Your baby is teething
- Your baby is bored
Identifying each cry is essential so you can quickly soothe your baby. Once you get your baby’s crying patterns figured out, you can respond to them faster, leading to fewer tears in the long run.
Below is more detailed info about identifying and understanding these types of cries so you can figure out what your baby needs and get them settled down faster.
1. How Do You Tell if Your Baby Is Tired?
Tiredness is one of the main reasons your baby may be crying.
Newborns don’t develop a consistent sleep pattern at first, and many babies have their days and nights confused. Until your little one has a routine and can fall asleep independently, they can be fussy or whiny when tired.
Signs That Your Baby Is Tired
If your baby is sleepy, they may give the obvious signs: rubbing their eyes, yawning, whimpering, or closing their eyes often. The area around their eyes may also be red.
What a Sleepy Baby Sounds Like
A tired baby may sound breathy and whiny. Before a sleepy baby begins to cry, you’ll probably notice them yawning and sighing more often.
A tired baby’s crying usually starts slow before it builds in intensity. The good news is this cry is typically more manageable than the others.
Tips for Soothing a Tired Baby
Babies need a lot of sleep, so make sure they get enough rest throughout the day! It’s crucial to their development. Remember, newborns can sleep up to 16 hours per day.
To soothe your baby, try safely swaddling them to give them some comfort. If they’re still restless in your arms, they may be overtired and want to be put down in a crib for better sleep.
2. How Do You Know if a Baby Is Hungry?
Hunger is another super common reason why your baby might be crying. Who doesn’t get hangry from time to time?
Signs of a Hungry Baby
Besides crying, your baby may give other hunger cues like licking their lips, sticking their tongue out, putting their hand to their mouth, clenching their fists, opening their mouth, or sucking on everything around.
How a Hungry Baby Sounds
Many babies may start with a whimper or a small whine before it turns into a full-on wailing session when they are hungry.
Babies also use a sucking reflex to make the often heard “neh” sound when hungry. You will hear the “neh” if your baby is making sucking gestures and crying.
Tips for Soothing a Hungry Baby
If your baby is crying tears of hunger, you’ll want to respond quickly so that they don’t get too worked up. Once a baby gets fed, they typically mellow out and quiet down — cue the oh-so-adorable yawns and sighs.
Calculating when your baby’s last feeding was is also a good idea. The number of times a day a baby eats changes as they age.
Newborns usually eat every two to three hours, and a six-month-old may eat every four to five hours. When in doubt, feed the baby! They won’t latch on to the breast or bottle if they aren't hungry (except in the case of flutter or “non-nutritive” sucking).
3. How Do You Know if a Baby Is in Pain?
This cry is never fun to hear. It crushes our hearts as caregivers.
If your baby is in pain, they will give you clear indications letting you know. Determining why your baby is in pain is more complicated. However, a common reason your baby could be dealing with discomfort is due to gas or constipation.
Signs of a Hurting Baby
If your baby is in pain, they may be fidgety, agitated, and tense and may keep their arms and legs close to their chest. Their sleep pattern may also change, and they may eat less.
What a Hurt Baby Sounds Like
When your baby is in pain, they may make a high-pitched, piercing, and intense crying sound.
This cry sounds more urgent, and your baby may look noticeably distressed, so it's easier to tell what’s going on. A baby crying in pain will also probably cry for longer. Your baby may also make an “eairh''sound like they're trying to pass a bowel movement and feel blocked up.
Tips for Soothing a Hurting Baby
If you suspect your baby is experiencing gas pain, there are a few simple ways to help them get better:
- Giving them a tummy massage
- Gas relief drops
- Tummy time
- A warm compress or bath
If your baby continues to be in pain, a visit to their pediatrician is in order.
4. How Can You Tell if a Baby Is Sick?
Every baby comes down with a bug now and then. Seeing your little one go through the stages of recovering from a sniffle or cough is tough, but it’s easier when you identify the signs of an illness early.
Here are a few tips for determining if your baby is sick so you can help them find some quick relief.
Signs of a Sick Baby
Depending on the illness, your baby can experience many different symptoms that range from mild to more severe. Sometimes, the milder ones are much harder to spot.
There are some common signs of sickness you can look out for, like a runny nose or congestion. Some more serious symptoms might include fever, rashes, vomiting, or crying continuously for several hours.
What a Sick Baby Sounds Like
Your baby may softly whimper and have a weaker cry when they are sick. It often may sound like your baby has no energy to make a louder sound. If your baby has an ear infection, they may make a louder, more high-pitched sound.
Tips for Soothing a Sick Baby
Try your best to comfort your baby, and check for any of the symptoms listed above. If your baby is difficult to console and has one of these symptoms, get in touch with their pediatrician for treatment options.
5. How Do You Tell if Your Baby Has a Dirty Diaper?
A wet, dirty diaper is just as miserable for your baby as it is for you.
Here’s how to tell if that’s why your baby is crying:
Signs of a Dirty Diaper
If your baby feels like they gained weight and their diaper looks heavy, they may need a diaper change.
Some diapers also have indicators that let you know when a diaper is soiled. Another clear indication your baby needs their diaper changed is by the smell. If a nasty smell comes from your little one’s pants, it’s time for a diaper change. A diaper blowout is a really good sign of a dirty diaper — no explanation needed.
If you do a sniff test and smell urine in your baby’s diaper, change it right away to avoid a rash.
What a Dirty Baby Sounds Like
A baby who is uncomfortable from wearing a soiled diaper might be whiny and sound nasal. They’ll often have a short yet persistent cry followed by a longer, more intense one.
Tips for Soothing a Baby With a Dirty Diaper
The best way to soothe a baby who feels uncomfortable in a soiled diaper is to (obviously) change them as soon as possible.
Babies typically need their diapers changed every two to three hours. To avoid a fussy baby with a dirty diaper, try changing more often. Avoid waiting for a smell or a heavy diaper — do a preemptive strike instead.
6. How Do You Know if Your Baby Has Colic?
Colic is defined as prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant.
If your baby has been crying for more than three hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks, they may have colic. Episodes of colic usually peak in infants about six weeks old.
Colic can be especially tricky for parents because there is no known cause. Hearing your baby cry persistently for no apparent reason can be frustrating and stressful. The good news is your baby will eventually outgrow the colic stage.
Signs of a Colicky Baby
As stated earlier, a colicky baby will excessively cry for a prolonged period of time.
A colicky baby may cry for no apparent reason — unlike crying because they’re hungry or need a diaper changed. Babies with colic may also continue to be fussy even after they’re done crying.
What a Colicky Baby Sounds Like
Colic crying sounds are similar to sounds of babies who are in pain but often worse. In addition, a colic episode can occur at any time of the day, but they are extremely common in the evening.
Tips for Soothing a Colicky Baby
Colic is difficult to soothe, but there are some steps you can take to alleviate symptoms and give you and your baby some relief.
Here is a list of ways that may help soothe a colicky baby:
- Try giving them a pacifier
- Swaddle your baby
- Provide white noise like a white noise machine or the sounds of a vacuum or a dryer
- Rock your baby
- Give your baby a warm bath
- Massage your baby’s tummy
- Give your baby some fresh air
7. How Do You Tell if Your Baby Is Teething?
Babies grow up in a blink of an eye.
One minute you’re bringing them home from the hospital, and the next minute they’re busy crawling on the floor and growing teeth. Teething is an exciting time for families — but it can be rough, too.
Signs Your Baby Is Teething
Babies typically start teething around six to 12 months and can start as early as three months. Seeing teeth cut through your baby’s gums are the obvious signs of teething, but the bottom incisors usually come first as the first signs of teething.
The other common signs your baby may be teething are having a slight fever (not higher than 100 degrees), rash around the mouth, irritability, biting everything in sight, and drooling and crying more than usual.
What a Teething Baby Sounds Like
A teething baby may release some high-pitched and intense cries — but not as fierce as a baby with colic.
Tips for Soothing a Teething Baby
There are plenty of techniques to help soothe your baby’s achy gums. Giving your baby’s gums a massage with a clean finger or a cloth, for example, can give them some relief from pain.
Teethers are another option that can help soothe a fussy baby. You can put a teething ring in the refrigerator to help cool your baby’s sore gums, but don’t put it in the freezer. You don’t want the teether to be too cold! Opt for teethers made of earth-friendly and non-toxic materials like organic cotton.
8. How Do You Tell if Your Baby Is Bored?
Like adults, babies get bored sometimes and need some entertainment. However, boredom for babies looks different than boredom in adults or older children.
Babies are little learning machines ready to explore and learn about the world around them. If a baby is stuck in the same environment on a daily basis, does not have much interaction, or plays with the same toys, they will get bored fast.
Signs of a Bored Baby
If your baby is bored, they will give you clues like yawning, squirming, looking away, and crying.
What a Bored Baby Sounds Like
Your baby may make cooing sounds like “ooh” and “ah” to get your attention.
If your baby was unsuccessful at grabbing your attention, their cooing sounds may burst into a fussy cry and then amplify into a tantrum alternating with whimpers.
Tips for Soothing a Bored Baby
If you have a bored baby on your hands, try holding them and playing with them.
You can also give them a new toy to keep them preoccupied or change their environment by taking them to a new room. You can also take your baby on a walk or bring them with you while running errands. These are perfect ways for your baby to explore and experience a different environment.
What To Do When Your Baby Won’t Stop Crying
Maybe you’ve done everything under the sun, and your baby still won’t stop crying.
If you go through every fix in the book and your baby is still crying, you can try to leave them alone in a quiet, safe location. Put your baby on their back in an empty crib (make sure there are no loose blankets or stuffed animals present), close the door, and check on them in ten minutes.
In addition, many babies can’t fall asleep without crying and will fall asleep quicker when they cry. However, if your baby’s crying is inconsolable, prolonged, and intense, call your pediatrician for help.
Tabeeze Is Here for Comfort
At Tabeeze, we understand the importance of keeping babies comfy and close. That’s why we created the world’s first Bottom-Up Baby Bodysuit that makes changing your baby a piece of cake while maximizing the ease of skin-to-skin bonding.
Skin-to-skin bonding is another technique parents and caregivers can use to help calm your baby and help them cry less, and it’s easier than ever with the Bottom-Up Baby Bodysuit.
Tabeeze’s Tips for Keeping Your Cool With a Crying Baby
There may be times when your baby has uncontrollable crying spells and seems inconsolable. Hearing your baby’s intense wails can be upsetting and stressful. Still, it’s important to always stay calm during these tough moments.
Here are a few strategies to help keep your cool with a crying baby:
Take a Deep Breath
Always remember to take a deep breath. You’ve got this.
Remember, babies tend to cry less often as they age. If your baby has colic, it should typically fade by the time your baby is three months old.
Take a Break
If you begin to feel overwhelmed and tired, take a break. Don’t ignore the signs of exhaustion, and always find time to take care of yourself.
Try doing some relaxing techniques like yoga or meditating. If you need to leave your baby alone in a safe room briefly during a crying spell, try washing your face or listening to music to calm down and give yourself a break.
Ask for Help
Don’t try to be a super parent — it’s okay to ask for help!
Parenting is hard work, and you need all of the help you can get. Reach out to a friend, family member, therapist, or support group if you feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Keep Yourself Healthy
Staying healthy while raising kids can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.
Make sure to eat healthy foods and exercise when you can. In addition, do whatever you can to get a healthy amount of sleep. We know that’s easier said than done!
Crying: Causes and Cures
Dealing with a crying and fussy baby can bring a lot of stress, but these tips will help you better understand how to detect each cry to help soothe your baby.
Remember, practice makes perfect. Over time, you’ll come to understand what your baby is trying to tell you when they cry. There may be trial and error during the process, but in the end, you and your baby will have a stronger bond.
Communication and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old (for Parents) | Nemours KidsHealth
Children and Sleep | Sleep Foundation
Baby Crying Sounds - What Do Different Cries Mean? | Petit Journey
How Often and How Much Should Your Baby Eat? | HealthyChildren.org
Colic - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
What to Do When Babies Cry (for Parents) | Nemours KidsHealth