All Your Baby’s Cries and What They Really Mean

Babies cry for all sorts of reasons. Learn how to decipher these cries to more easily determine your baby’s needs.


Is she hungry, wet, or just wants to be held? It can be tough to decode your baby’s cry. As crying, whining, and whimpering are your baby’s only means of communication, you may find that she cries at various times of the day and for different reasons. Luckily, you don’t have to be a mind reader to narrow down what your baby’s cries mean.

“Usually by 3 weeks or so most parents have figured out the basic cues from their child,” says Naturopathic Pediatrics. “But with all babies, just as soon as you think you’ve figured them out, something changes.”

While it may take trial and error, looking for visual and audial signs can help. For example, you may notice that your baby makes sucking motions, licks his lips, or sticks out his tongue shortly before he starts wailing. This is likely a hunger cry and his way of saying “Mom, feed me!”

What the Experts Say

Research has found that all babies, regardless of their location or race, use the same types of cries to indicate the same things during the first few months, according to Sleeping Baby. Here’s what some experts have to say about different types of cries.

“Fifty percent of babies have bouts of inconsolable fussiness lasting two hours a day – or more. And 10-15 percent – about half a million new babies born each year – suffer three-plus hours of red-faced, eye-clenched screaming a day.”

Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby on the Block


“Most newborns cry very easily. They often go back and forth between lethargy and fussing. One of the main causes for a baby’s crying is hunger. When he tries to suck his hand or mouths at your shoulder, he is just asking to nurse. If he has trouble latching on, or his nose gets buried in your breast, or the milk sprays out too fast, he cries harder still.”

Sandy Jones, Crying Baby, Sleepless Nights


“When a baby is born, her only means of communicating with us is through crying. Through crying, she has to express an enormous number of needs. In the early weeks, this crying mean seem random to new parents, for no obvious reason, at no particular time, and we need to try to work out if she is hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, or simply in need of a cuddle.”

Anna McGrail, Book of Crying Baby


“Cryprint pattern show that a baby’s crying is complex and well-coordinated. Each baby’s cry is not just one sound, but a combination of several sounds made all at once. Every baby’s cry is unique – it can be identified among the cries of all other babies. And interestingly, every sound your baby makes is a little different from every other sound he has made.”

Sandy Jones, Comforting Your Crying Baby


“It is easy to understand why babies cry if you consider that it is really the only way they can communicate their needs. They cry when they are hungry, wet, or tired. And they may cry when they are overstimulated or simply bored. No one really knows why some babies cry so much more than others, though.”

Vincent Iannelli, The Everything Father’s First Year Book


The Hunger Cry

Hunger is one of the most common reasons babies cry. When your baby is hungry, she may make a low-pitched – or sometimes intense – repetitive cry. It’s also common for crying to be combined with certain behaviors, such as rooting for the breast, putting her fingers in her mouth, or making a sucking motion with her tongue.

You may be able to avoid hunger cries by feeding your baby as soon as she begins to exhibit the physical signs of hunger.

The Tired Cry

Newborns sleep an average of 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and 8 hours at night, according to Stanford Children’s Health. Without adequate sleep, most babies will cry and may even become inconsolable.

Tired cries often start out low and slow and build up in tone and intensity. As your baby becomes over exhausted, it may become more difficult to soothe her to sleep. Be on the lookout for signs that your baby is tired, such as tugging at the ears, rubbing the eyes, or yawning.

The Overstimulated Cry

New sights, sounds, or unfamiliar smells can cause your baby to become overstimulated. This type of cry is usually whiny or fussy in nature and may be accompanied by certain behaviors, such as your baby trying to turn her head or body away from the stimuli. If the stimulus is scary, the sound may be more screechy and your baby may have a startled expression. When this happens, move your baby away from the stimuli.

In some cases, there is no known cause for your baby’s crying episodes. This is what is referred to as colic. Colic is defined as the frequent, prolonged, and intense crying or fussiness of an otherwise healthy infant, according to Mayo Clinic. Colic often occurs in the late afternoon or evening and can last for several hours. It often starts around 3 weeks and goes away by the time a baby is 3 or 4 months old.


Brandy Dishaw

Brandy is a content specialist and proud mother of two children. She enjoys writing engaging content on parenting, children’s health, and educational topics, and has been published on websites like Modern Mom, Yahoo! Shine, and With more than a decade of experience as a writer and mom, she combines research and personal experience to provide her audience with insight to the world of parenting.

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