Why Is Baby Crying? What It Means, And How To Calm Them

What Do Babies Cries Mean? Plus, How The Heck To Stop Those Tears

January 29, 2021 Updated May 24, 2021

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Let’s be honest here. Because we’re all friends, right? Here goes: Babies are cute but very scary at times. If you don’t have a ton of experience with small children, baby crying can be alarming — especially if it’s a high-pitched screaming baby. A little one suddenly crying uncontrollably might make you want to call your pediatrician immediately, but it may be nothing. With time, new parents will be able to better distinguish these cries. Plus, with time, you’ll learn more about how to soothe a crying baby. But if you’ve got a baby in the house, chances are you’re going to be asking yourself, “Why is baby crying?” And you’ll be asking it, like, a lot.

Babies cry for plenty of reasons. They could be hungry, they could be uncomfortable, or perhaps they’re too warm or too cold. For newborns, in particular, you’ll want to make sure the temperatures are right and also ensure this isn’t colic crying, which is another health concern. Not sure where to start deciphering your baby’s outbursts? Here’s a guide to help answer the question of why your baby is crying and (hopefully) alleviate any fear.

Why is baby crying suddenly and uncontrollably?

This can be very alarming when it happens, especially if you’re the only adult around your baby. If your baby is three-months-old or younger, and crying seems to be the only symptom, it may be colic. Colic crying usually happens for three hours per day. Aside from the crying, it’s very common for there to be no other symptoms. Colic isn’t a disease; it’s more of a behavior that’s baffled plenty of parents throughout the years. Most pediatricians diagnose colic by looking at the “rule of threes” — the crying happens three hours a day, three days a week, for three weeks in a row. These cries are usually super high-pitched and loud. Babies usually wiggle around like they’re in pain or extremely uncomfortable. While it’s alarming, it’s not forever.

If the crying isn’t happening in these durations, ask yourself what may be startling your little one. Think about whether baby is sleepy or hungry. After spending almost a year in a warm and secure belly, babies sometimes have a hard time going to sleep on their own after being born. It’s especially tough when baby is sick.

Newborns also eat… a lot. They need to be fed every few hours, so hunger is likely the reason baby’s upset. This cry usually sounds short and low-pitched. Or, maybe they have gas. Since babies can’t verbally communicate with us, crying is the best way to indicate something’s wrong.

How do you interpret baby cries?

Don’t you just wish you could understand your baby? Your child may not talk, but they do make certain sounds to express specific problems. According to Priscilla Dunstan, an Australian opera singer who created the Dunstan Baby Language, here are five sounds babies usually make before they begin crying. 

  • Neh — “I am so hungry, Mom.”
  • Eh — “I need to be burped.”
  • Eairh — “I have to gas!”
  • Heh — “I am super hot or cold. I also might be wet.”
  • Owh — “I’m so sleepy. Put me to bed, now, please.”

Why do babies cry at night?

It’s often tough for new parents to get a decent amount of sleep during the first few months. The most often culprit for nighttime baby crying is hunger. Newborns need to be on a strict and constant eating schedule to thrive. So, when trying to figure out why babies cry at night, try giving them a bottle (or breastfeeding them) first. If a baby cries after that, it may be because their digestive systems are still technically developing. An older baby may also start having nightmares, or be a little scared at night, so comforting them is a great way to calm them down.

What do I do if my baby cries when put down?

Two big reasons your baby cries when put down could be hunger and separation anxiety. If your baby isn’t used to being away from you, they may start crying when they realize you’re about to leave the room. The best thing to do is create a healthy routine. Babies need to know that they’re not being neglected if you’re out of eyesight for a brief amount of time.

It could also be gas pains! Gassy babies are usually unhappy and very cranky, so always make sure that they’re burped after each meal.

How do you calm a crying baby?

After you figure out why a baby is crying, the next step is to understand how to soothe them. Each baby is different, but there are a few surefire methods that help.

  • A good swaddle often helps soothe a crying baby, since it’ll make them feel warm and secure. Thin materials usually work best.
  • Calming sounds also work well. Baby crying might stop when you play white noise, infant songs, or relaxing instrumental music. Your own reactions to the cries are also important. Remember, your child is looking to you for support and comfort. If you’re tense or agitated, that can make things worse. It’s important to know when to take a step back and take a break.
  • Rocking a baby is a classic remedy and very effective. Being physically close to you is a nice feeling for your child. Aligning their heartbeat with yours can provide instant comfort. It’s very important to be gentle with newborns, so avoid letting any nerves or fear turn into negative physical reactions.
  • Give your baby something to suck on. Nonnutritive sucking is when your baby sucks on something for comfort instead of for food. To put your baby at ease, let them suck on their hands or your fingers. And if you’re thinking about giving them a pacifier, make sure your baby is breastfeeding properly before making that introduction.
  • Massage your baby. Everyone loves a spa day, right? Break out the baby skin-safe lotion and gently rub it on your newborn’s body. Pay attention to your baby’s reactions to see if they like it.
  • While calming your baby, turn off the lights. Babies hate overstimulation, and sometimes even light gets to be too much. Plus, being in darkness with a white-noise machine on reminds them of being in the womb, which is basically their happy place. So the next time your baby is being super fussy, make the room dark and cut out overstimulating noise.