How to Understand the Cry of Babies

Two Parts:Understanding Normal CryingUnderstanding Prolonged Crying

Babies communicate in their early life by crying. Your baby will cry often in their first three months. Babies cry when they want to be held, or fed, or when they are uncomfortable or in pain. They also cry when they are over-stimulated, bored, tired, or frustrated. Your baby's cries will become more communicative as your baby grows: after three months, your baby will cry differently for different needs. Some scientists believe that different crying sounds may communicate different needs, even in newborns.[1] Even if you aren't sure what kind of crying you're hearing, you should always respond to a baby's cry. Quickly reacting to a baby is fundamental to their development.[2]

Part 1
Understanding Normal Crying

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    Learn the "hunger" cry. A baby who is ready to be fed is likely to begin crying quietly and slowly. The cry will build in volume, becoming loud and rhythmic. Each individual wail is likely to be short and low-pitched.[3] The cry of hunger is a cue to feed your baby, unless you have fed your baby recently and are certain that your baby does not need more to eat.[4]
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    Learn the "pain" cry. A baby who is in pain is likely to begin crying suddenly. The cry may be high-pitched and harsh. Each cry will be loud, brief, and piercing. This cry is designed to communicate urgency! If you hear the pain cry, respond immediately. Look for opened diaper pins or snagged fingers. If you see nothing, try soothing the baby. The pain may have passed, and the baby may need comforting.
    • If your baby has an arched back and hard stomach, the pain cry may be due to gas. Soothe your baby, and hold her upright when nursing to limit stomach gas.[5]
    • If your baby's eye is red, swollen, or tearing, call your doctor. She may have a scratch or something in her eye such as an eyelash, which can cause pain.
    • In the case of prolonged pain crying, the baby may be sick or injured. Call a doctor if your baby cries more when being held or rocked, especially if you detect a fever.[6] If your baby under three months old has a fever (100.4 °F or 38 °C) call your doctor right away, even if she is not fussy.
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    Learn the fussy cry. Fussy crying is mild and may start and stop, or go up and down in volume. Fussy crying may increase in volume if you ignore it, so don't hesitate to soothe your baby when he fusses. Fussy crying can communicate discomfort, or it may just mean your baby wants to be held. Babies often fuss at the same time every day, usually late in the afternoon or early in the evening.[7]
    • Babies cry fussily when they want to be held. Newborns may often fuss to be held, as they are used to confined spaces.[8]
    • Check the diaper of a fussing baby. Fussy crying can indicate a wet or soiled diaper.
    • Check the temperature. Your baby might fuss because he is too hot or too cold.
    • The fussy cry can mean frustration. A baby may fuss when unable to fall asleep.
    • The fussy cry can mean that your baby is over-stimulated or under-stimulated. Newborns sometimes cry to shut out stimulation. Try adjusting light source, volume of music, or your baby's position.
    • Don't worry too much if a newborn does not stop fussing when you soothe him. Some babies fuss at length in the first three months of life.[9]

Part 2
Understanding Prolonged Crying

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    Recognize normal prolonged crying. When you have checked for hunger, pain, and discomfort, and have soothed your child, she may continue to cry. Sometimes babies just need to cry, especially in the first three months. Normal prolonged crying sounds like ordinary fussy crying. Your baby may be overly stimulated or have excessive energy.[10]
    • Normal prolonged crying happens in isolated instances. It is not to be confused with colic, when a baby cries for no reason at least several times a week.
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    Determine colic crying. A baby with colic will cry intensely with no cause. The cry sounds distressed and is often high-pitched. It may sound like your baby's pain cry. Your baby may show signs of physical stress: clenching of the fists, curled up legs, and stomach clenching. Your baby may pass gas or soil his diaper at the end of an episode of colic crying.[11]
    • Colic crying happens at least three hours per day, more than three days per week, for at least three weeks.
    • Unlike normal prolonged crying, colic crying tends to occur at the same time every day, around the time of normal fussy crying.[12]
    • Try to keep a diary of when your baby cries and for how long if your baby seems to cry a lot. Talk to your doctor if you are not sure if the crying is due to colic or not.
    • The cause of colic is unknown. There is no proven remedy. Soothe a colicky baby, and hold him upright when nursing to limit stomach gas.[13]
    • Your baby should not cry from colic after three or four months of age. Colic does not have any lasting ill effects on a baby's health or growth.
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    Recognize abnormal crying. Some cries may be telling you that something is seriously wrong. An abnormal cry may be very high-pitched, up to three times as high as your baby's normal cry. It may also be unusually low-pitched. A high or low cry that persists may indicate a severe illness. If your infant is crying in a way that sounds strange to you, call a doctor.
    • If your baby has been dropped or bumped and is crying abnormally, see a doctor right away.
    • If your baby is crying abnormally and moving less or eating less than normal, she needs to see a doctor.
    • Call the doctor if you notice unusual or fast or heavy breathing, or movements your baby does not ordinarily make.
    • Call an ambulance if your baby is blue in the face, especially the mouth.[14]


  • If your baby is crying a lot and you are frustrated or overtired, ask a friend or family member to help so you can get a break and some rest.


  • Talk to your doctor if you are afraid you could hurt your baby or have thoughts of hurting your baby.

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Categories: Baby Health | Calming a Baby