Different Types of Baby Cries and What They Mean

Moms can get a bit upset at hearing their infant cry. For new moms, in particular, it can be unnerving. You are your baby’s caretaker, and it is normal to feel responsible for keeping them happy and preventing crying. When your baby cries, and you can’t figure out why, you may start to feel inadequate, even though you are not.

Until your baby can learn to talk, crying is their only means of communicating with you. For infants and babies who cannot talk yet, crying can mean many different things. How are you supposed to know what their cries mean? On one hand, the more time you spend with your baby, the easier it will be to tell the difference in the way they cry. You’ll soon learn what they are trying to communicate by the various types of crying sounds they make.

Discerning How to Respond to Your Baby’s Cry

Hungry Cries

A hungry cry, for most newborns, will be a long, low-pitched cry that is repetitive and filled with long pauses. As your baby becomes hungrier, their cry will build up and get longer and louder. The pauses will get shorter. You may notice a few other signs that they are hungry, before they even start to work up to crying. Babies who are less than 5 months of age may show these signs of hunger, even before they cry.

  • Smacking their lips.
  • Clenching their fists.
  • Turning their head toward anything that might touch their face.
  • Put their hands in their mouths.

What to Do? Newborns usually want to eat every two to four hours, at least for the first few weeks. Once you learn to recognize their “hungry” cry, you know it’s time to feed them. They will usually stop when they have had enough. If you feed them soon after they begin to cry, they will be easier to settle down and eat. If they get all worked up, it’s more difficult to settle them down, even though their food is right there.

Painful Cries

A baby who is in pain will let out a sudden shriek. It’s a long, high-pitched cry. They may continue to cry if the pain continues. Babies may have pain due to an ear infection, diaper rash, or gas. If they seem to have painful cries that begin suddenly and occur about the same time each day, it may be colic.  They may stiffen their arms and legs, clench fists, or arch their backs too. Newborns often have colic or gas as they adjust to formula or breastmilk.

What to Do? There isn’t a lot to do if your baby has colic. Talk to your pediatrician to develop strategies that might work for your little one. Burping them after feedings can help prevent painful gas or colic. Your baby’s doctor may suggest trying different formulas to find one that is agreeable to your baby’s digestive system.

Overstimulated or Tired Cries

Babies can become overstimulated if there are too many lights, experiences, or sounds that occur all at one time. Your baby may try to turn their head or body away from the lights or sounds that are annoying them. These cries may rise and fall in intensity. It may also be similar to cries from pain or colic.

What to Do? Swaddle your baby to help calm them down and change their environment. You may want to dim the lights, close curtains, and place your swaddled baby in a quiet location. White noise may be useful for helping calm some babies.

Fussy or Uncomfortable Cries

 A baby’s fussy cry is usually mild and intermittent. Of course, the longer the discomfort continues, the crying may increase in intensity. A baby becomes fussy when they become tired or uncomfortable. It may be something as simple as a dirty diaper or feeling too hot or cold. Most of the time, this type of fussiness occurs during the late afternoon or early evening hours.

What to Do? It may just be that your baby needs a nap. A newborn sleeps a lot, as much as 16 hours a day! If it’s not time for a nap, check other causes of discomfort. Make sure their diaper is dry. See if they seem too hot or too cold. Bamboo clothing can help a baby’s body monitor their temperature so they don’t get too hot or too cold. It’s also helpful for wicking moisture away, so their skin doesn’t become irritated. You may want to swaddle your baby and walk around the house, sit them in a swing, or take them out for a walk in a stroller.


It can take some time to learn what your baby is trying to communicate with their different cries. Take heart, you will learn to tell the difference. Also remember, that sometimes babies are just fussy, for no apparent reason. Swaddling your baby in a Little Biscuit bamboo sleep sac or blanket can help them feel safe and calm. As they get older, you can help them learn to calm themselves with a lovey.