Understanding Baby's Cries and Responding Appropriately

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Newborns and babies into their first year, have only one way to communicate and tell you what they need. They cry when they need something, such as when they are hungry, or when they need to be changed; when they are tired; and when they need a cuddle. Babies use different types of crying to express themselves and if you listen very carefully, you will begin to hear the differences in their cries and respond to their needs.

Remember, it’s easier to settle and soothe baby if you respond to their cries sooner, than later. Often if you wait, baby will become more distraught, making it very difficult to console her.

Reasons your Baby may be Crying and How to Respond!

1) Baby is Hungry

2) Baby is Tired

3) Baby is Over-Tired/Over-Stimulated

4) Baby is Calling for you

5) Baby is Too Cold

6) Baby is Too Hot

7) Baby has a Dirty Diaper

8) Baby is in Pain

a) Gassy/Colicky

b) Constipated

c) Infant Reflux

9) Baby is Teething

10) Baby has a Cold

11) Baby just needs to be Cuddled


1) Baby is hungry

- Babies need to feed every 2 to 2 1/2 hours in the first 3 months of life. - Baby may turn her head from side to side;

- she may have her hands in her mouth, and

- she may peck at her mom's chest or suck vigorously on a pacifier

Hungry Crying Sounds like:

- short, low-pitched cries, that rise and fall that have a sort of 'wah, wah, wah' sound to them

- The crying may escalate quickly to a more hysterical cry

- may also sound like baby is saying, "neh!" because this is the sound

their tongues make when they hit the roof of their mouth, which is

the sucking reflex

What To Do?

- Time to feed! Offer baby the breast, or the bottle and they should stop crying

2) Baby is tired


- characterized by rubbing her eyes; blinking a lot and probably yawning, staring off into space, and kicking her legs.

- baby needs to go to sleep, either

for a short nap or for the night.

Tired Crying Sounds Like:

- two short breaths, followed by a long wail and the crying seems to come and go

- also you may hear an "owe" sound, in the reflex of a yawn

What To Do?

- Try shushing, nursing and rocking

- Check the time. When was the

last time baby was sleeping?

What Else Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

3) Baby is over-stimulated and now has become over-tired


- characterized by baby turning

her head away from the

commotion and her arms may be

flailing; baby seems very upset

Over-Stimulated Crying Sounds Like:

- Similar to the sound that the tired baby makes, but the cries are longer and harder.

- Pay attention to her body language because that is how you will

know your baby is over-stimulated

What To Do?

- Keep baby's immediate environment uncluttered, quiet and moderately calm.

- Swaddle baby with just her head and neck exposed, which mimics her time in the womb

- Shushing, rocking, singing a soft lullaby

- Room should be darkened; turn on a quiet, rhythmic sounding noise

machine; encourage baby to settle for a nap.

What Else Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

4) Baby is Calling You


- Baby has been alone for awhile and desperately needs your attention.

If you don't respond right away, your baby will repeat the cycle of crying

until you respond.

- So pick your baby up and give her all the love attention you can.

Baby Calling Out to you Crying, Sounds Like:

- Baby cries for about 5 to 6 seconds, then pauses for about 20 seconds and then starts crying again.

What To Do?

- Go to your baby, pick her up, snuggle her and give her as much attention as you can.

5) Baby is too cold


- characterized by quivering lips, goosebumps, shaking or cold hands and feet;

- may be a purplish tinge to her skin

Chilly Baby Crying Sounds Like:

- baby may make a sound like, "Heh!" which is telling you they may be uncomfortable and perhaps cold

- it is important that you hear the "H" sound at the beginning of "Heh!"

What To Do?

- Lift baby up to cuddle close to your chest

- Wrap baby in a warm blanket

- Sometimes 'skin on skin' is lovely and warming for baby

- make sure baby has socks or booties on and sometimes adding a cozy hat can be helpful.

6) Baby is too hot


- characterized by warm, rosy cheeks

- baby might have sweat on the back of her neck.

Over-heated Baby Crying Sounds Like:

- baby may make a sound like, "Heh!" which is telling you they may be uncomfortable

- perhaps too hot. It is important that you hear the "H" sound at the beginning of "Heh!"

- If baby is too cold, she will cry with the "Hey!" sound, as well, but may also have a quivering sound to her voice.

What To Do?

- Babies have the ability regulate their body temperatures quite well, so remove a layer at a time such as the blanket, then a sweater

7) Baby has a dirty diaper

- Baby may not smell the best

Diaper Changing Cries Sound Like:

- baby may make a sound like, "Heh!" which is telling you they may be uncomfortable, perhaps burning and itchy.

- It is important that you listen for that "H" sound at the beginning of "Heh!"

What To Do?

- change your baby - you might

have to change upwards of

10 diapers a day, in the

early weeks and months of life

8) Baby is in Pain!

Could be that your baby has digestive issues. She may be gassy or colicky, constipated, or has infant reflux

- All of these issues can cause baby to have sudden onset of pain



- Baby's body will be tense and rigid; she might be pulling her knees up to her chest; arching her back; - she may be fidgeting uncomfortably. - Colic is usually at its worst around 6 weeks and usually tapers off by

3 to 4 months

What Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology


- If baby has not had a bowel movement for more than 48 hours, they might

start having abdominal cramps or bloating. That said, you will get to know your baby's bowel movement routines. Some babies can go a week without a bowel movement. These babies are often breast-fed and don't seem to be frequent. Formula - fed babies may have more frequent bowel movements.

- If your baby has been crying inconsolably for 3 hours/day, 3 days/week and

3 weeks in a row, it could be colic. (Dr. Micah Resnick, M.D. F.A.A.P. is a board-certified pediatrician at Mount Sinai Doctors Astoria in Astoria, New York.)

NOTE: That said! After 2-hours of crying, even after all obvious needs have been met, you may wish to check in with your family doctor or pediatrician to make sure you haven't missed anything.

What Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

Infant Reflux - Baby may display some of the following behaviors:

- spitting up and vomiting

- refusal to eat and difficulty eating or swallowing

- irritability during feedings

- wet burps or hiccups

- failure to gain weight

- abnormal arching

- frequent coughing or recurrent pneumonia

- gagging or choking

- chest pain or heartburn

- disturbed sleep

What Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

Painful baby crying Sounds like:

- Baby's cry is sudden, high-pitched and screechy and should definitely command your attention.

What To Do?

- Pick up your baby, snuggle her close to you until she settles - Try putting baby on her tummy to help expel the gas - Try lying baby on her back, in her crib or on a blanket. Gently press

her knees in a bicycle fashion, towards her chest. Repeat as needed/tolerated - Swaddle your baby - she will associate the feelings of security and calm

as this is what she experienced in the womb. - Make noise. White noise can be calming to baby. Try the hum of a vacuum

or the whoosh of a blow dryer or the soothing sounds of a homemade playlist.

All of these are soothing and distracting to baby and might help her fall asleep

- Try changing baby's position from a hip hold, to a shoulder hold, to a belly

hold and use movement to soothe, such as swaying, bouncing and patting. - Try massage. With baby lying on her back, using the palms of your hand,

gently massage baby's abdomen from baby's right side, across to her left - If baby is breast-fed, mom may need to adjust her diet - perhaps eliminating

Dairy, and/or drinking fennel tea.

What Else Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

- This may or may not be the last option, but rather it may be the first option you try and when you discover that it works well, you will keep this tool in your toolbox. See how to do this here!.

9) Baby is Teething


All babies are different. So are their teething symptoms. Some will give no signs a new tooth is about to poke through. Others may show one or more of these symptoms:

  • Irritability. Fussy, cranky – whatever you call it, they are simply not themselves. Giggles have been replaced by whines and screams. They’re clingier than usual.

  • Drooling. Is that a happy slobbery dog or your baby? Pack extra bibs!

  • Red and swollen gums. Open baby’s mouth and instead of pretty and pink, those gums are big and red.

  • Decreased appetite. With inflamed gums, eating can be uncomfortable, especially for toddlers who eat solid foods. “They may not eat normally when a tooth is getting ready to erupt.

  • Mouthiness. Not to be confused with talking back (that comes later), this kind of mouthiness refers to when kids gnaw, chew and even bite the things around them — including mom and dad. (Dr. Ye Mon - Pediatrician)

Teething symptoms also shouldn’t last for weeks at a time. If they do, take your baby to the pediatrician to see if something else is to blame. Other symptoms that a doctor should check out include:

  • Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Runny nose.

  • Inconsolable crying.

Baby is Teething Crying Sounds are:

May be sudden, high-pitched and screechy

What To Do?

- The best remedies are cold and pressure: Cold slightly numbs the area, and pressure provides a counter sensation that feels good. - Wet a clean washcloth, stick it in the freezer for 30 to 60 minutes, and let your child chew on it." - Or you can chill some teething rings.

- If baby is taking solids, feed them cold foods like apple sauce, yogurt and frozen fruit - Teething biscuits can be helpful

What Else Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

10) Baby may have a cold, a runny, or a stuffy nose

Behaviors? Appearance? - Baby's nose is running. Baby may have sinus pain. Believe it or not, a

runny nose can be a good thing. It's the body's way of getting rid of germs.

However, when your baby has too much mucus, it can give them a stuffy head.

It can also make it tricky to eat or breathe. A few home treatments can

make your little one comfortable again.

Type of Crying

- baby may make a sound like, "Heh!" which is telling you they may be uncomfortable, perhaps experiencing stuffiness or runny nose.

- It is important that you hear the "H" sound at the beginning of "Heh!"

What To Do?

- Try Saline (Saltwater) Drops - You can buy this at the store. Put a few drops into each nostril, and then use a bulb syringe to remove some mucus. It's safe to repeat this as often as you need. And if you do it right before your baby eats, it will make mealtime easier. There's one catch, though. It works best if your kid is under 6 months. Older babies may get fussy when you use the bulb. If that happens, it's OK to skip that part. The saline drops thin the mucus, so you can let it work itself out of their nose on its own.

Here's how to use the bulb the right way:

  1. Squeeze the syringe first.

  2. Place the tip gently into your baby's nostril.

  3. Release the bulb slowly.

  4. Wash it with soap and water after each use.

- Remove the Sticky Stuff - Sometimes mucus hardens into a crusty or sticky mess around your baby's nose. To clean it safely, wet a cotton swab with warm water and gently wipe the area.

- Vaporize - Place a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier in your baby's room to add moisture to the air. It helps clear their stuffy nose. Clean the machine regularly so mold doesn't grow inside it. You can get the same soothing effect if you and your baby sit in a steamy bathroom. - Give Love Pats - Gentle taps on your baby's back can help ease chest congestion. Lay them down across your knees and gently pat their back with your cupped hand. Or do it while they sit on your lap with their body leading forward about 30 degrees. It loosens mucus in the chest and makes it easier for them to cough it up.

- Know When to Wait It Out - Not every stuffy, runny nose needs treatment. If it's not bothering your baby, you don't have to do anything. As long as

What Else Can you Try? - Try Foot Reflexology

WARNING! Never give cough and cold medicines to children under age 4. If your child is between 4 and 6, talk to your doctor about which drugs are appropriate and which ones are contraindicated.

11) Baby just wants to be cuddled


- all other needs are met. Baby's diapers are fresh; baby is fed; baby is

not frightened or in pain; baby is otherwise healthy and comfortable

but she is still not soothed.

Type of Crying

- Crying is slow and in a low tone

What To Do?

- Baby needs to hear her momma's voice as it was momma's voice that she heard

from inside the womb, throughout the pregnancy

- Pick up your baby and gently rock, cuddle, and jiggle her. Talk in a low volume

voice, almost a whisper, or quietly hum a tune

- Our mothers and grandmothers will warn that you should not pick up a child

every time they cry, because you will spoil them! Not true. It is not possible to

spoil a baby at this early phase in their life.

There are other reasons your baby may be crying such as, food/milk allergies, boredom and scared.

What are the benefits of Baby-Wearing?

If you have decided to try Baby-Wearing, they can be very beneficial.

The obvious benefit of baby wearing is convenience. If baby is in a carrier you can accomplish daily chores while knowing baby is safe and happy. Also, wearing a baby can allow you to go places strollers can’t ( hiking, stairs, etc.). But the benefits go way beyond this:

  • Baby-wearing supports breastfeeding. When baby is held close mom can recognize early signs of hunger more easily and can begin to nurse (right in the carrier sometimes) without baby needing to cry. This awareness of baby’s needs makes for more confident parents and a closer bond as well.

  • Carried babies cry less. According to one study infants who received supplemental carrying (not only in reaction to fussiness) cried and fussed 43% less overall, and 51% less during the evening hours. (1).

  • May help avoid spinal and cranial deformities. Babies who spend a significant amount of time in car seats and baby swings or other equipment can develop squaring of the cranium or spinal deformities. Properly carrying baby allows for natural development of cranium, spine, and postural muscles. (2)

  • Babies who are held close are more able to regulate their own physiological functions (breathing, heart rate, temperature) in response to their caregiver. (3)

If you are interested in more information about the recommended slings and carriers and about which ones are safe, you can find plenty of information and testimonials from moms and dads at this website: https://www.mamanatural.com/babywearing/

Baby Wearing Information Contributor

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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