It can be unnerving to hear an infant cry. As your baby’s caretaker, it’s normal to feel responsible and even inadequate when your baby is crying and you don’t understand why.
However, until your baby learns to talk, crying is his or her first (and one of the only) means of communication. For infants, crying can mean a range of many and equally important feelings. Here’s a guide to baby cries and what they mean:
1. Hungry. Your baby will try to gnaw at his or her hand or peck at mom’s breast. This type of cry is rhythmic and can sound intense—and it should be addressed right away. Waiting for your baby to cry as a sign of hunger can result in a baby who is more difficult to soothe.
2. Tired. The crying tends to be accompanied by rubbing of the eyes; the cry can start out slowly and low and build in intensity and tone. When your baby is exhausted, he or she may be more difficult to soothe and put to sleep. This cry can be misread as hunger cry.
3. Overstimulated. Your baby may look away from the object or person he or she was looking at and start with a fussy cry. Babies need to be taken to a less stimulating environment with dimmed lights and less noise to help calm down.
4. Scared. This cry tends to have a screechy sound and your baby’s face looks startled. Try rocking, holding, and soothing your baby to calm him or her down.
5. Gassy/Colic. This cry is characterized by high intensity, rhythmic patterns, with a high volume and will last until the gas is passed. Body movements include raising of legs to the tummy, arching of the back, and fidgeting.
6. Cuddle. This cry may be softer than those mentioned above, but still with some intensity. Usually, your baby will calm down once held.
Attending and tuning in to your baby’s needs will foster a strong bond and deep sense of comfort between parent and baby. For newborns, parents go through a lot of guesswork until they learn to decipher the meaning of the baby’s cry. A high-pitched, consistent cry can make many parents feel like they need to make it stop immediately.
Though infants should be attended to on demand, both they and the parent will benefit more from taking the time to figure out what the source of the cry is rather than jumping to conclusions.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019