Understanding a Crying Baby

Recognizing your baby's cries is important in determining his or her needs. There are typically three main cries that are important to recognize. The "I'm hungry" cry is generally a semi-frantic cry, while the "I'm tired" cry is a softer, whinier cry. The "I'm in pain" cry is shrill and more intense than the other two. Ways to soothe a crying baby may include walking, bouncing, and swaddling.

Why Do Babies Cry?

It can be extremely frustrating when a baby cries and you don't know why. You feel like you've tried everything and nothing seems to work. By learning about the different types of cries, you can limit the guessing game, help your baby faster, and maybe even get back to sleep quicker (wouldn't that be a treat?).
 

Why Is Baby Crying? -- Decoding the Cries

Crying is the main way your newborn will communicate with you for the first few months. Don't worry -- learning the different types of cries and being able to figure out the different needs being expressed will come in time. There are three main cries that you should become familiar with right away:
 
  • "I'm hungry/uncomfortable/hot/cold/lonely." This cry is usually a semi-frantic and generally upset sound. Your crying baby is saying, "I need something to be done -- sooner rather than later." It can mean anything from "feed me" to "I lost my binky -- please help." Something is amiss, and you need to figure out what it is.
     
  • "I'm tired and I don't know what to do about it." This baby cry is a softer, whinier version of the first. This is less of a call-to-action and more of an attempt to let you know how they are feeling. This cry may even sound as if they are genuinely sad. It is a heartbreaking sound, but it is generally more straightforward as to the cause and solution.
     
  • "I am in pain." This cry is really important to recognize. It is shrill and more intense than both of the other cries. It has a much higher pitch and is communicating a sense of urgency. A baby crying in this way is more than likely in pain -- investigate quickly.
     
Recognizing each of these cries will help you navigate your child's needs. The first example is the one you will hear most often, as it is how they will let you know about most of their needs. Once you master the different messages, the next step is learning how to calm your crying baby.
 
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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