Why do babies cry?

Our child psychologist helps you analyse your little one’s tears, soothe any upsets and cope with the crying game

Is your baby hungry or just bored?

You’ve probably been in a situation where you found it hard to express yourself, or even had tears falling because you were frustrated or just plain tired. Usually when this happens, you can speak to someone, or get yourself what you need to make things better.


For your baby, though, there’s only one way to get his point across, and that’s by crying. So it’s no wonder that during the first three months of his life, a baby typically cries for about two hours in total every day.

Between asking for milk, cuddles, changing, or just getting your attention, he has a lot to say. The key for you is to try and understand what he’s trying to tell you, and then respond in a way you know will soothe him as quickly as possible.

Learning his language

Your baby cries for lots of different reasons, and sometimes it can seem like he’s just doing it for fun. But listen carefully, and you’ll find that each cry has its own distinctive sound. You can usually split the types of cry up into physical and emotional needs.

When your baby’s hungry, he lets you know by crying loudly. The hungry cry is often a repetitive sequence in which he cries urgently, pauses to catch his breath, then cries urgently again. This is a popular reason for crying so consider it first and foremost. However, if your baby’s got a full tummy and isn’t hungry, the next thing to consider is whether he’s in pain or physical discomfort. The pain cry is usually sharp, almost like a shriek, then he gasps as he draws in breath.

Conveying his emotions

If his tummy is full and he’s not in pain, your baby may simply be asking for attention. He likes it when you’re concentrating solely on him, so if that’s not happening, he’ll demand it. The attention cry is typically pitiful rather than loud because your baby feels sorry for himself, so it can actually sound more like he’s sad than angry.

Finally, it could just be that he’s tired or bored. The tired cry is usually more of an irritable whine, whereas the boredom cry is designed to grab your attention, so it’s a shout rather than a tearful scream. Bear in mind that he’ll use body language alongside his cries to communicate with you, including hand, arm, foot and leg movements. Watching out for these and mastering the cries will soon have you on top of his every need, and feeling calmer for it.

Try this…  

The next time your baby cries, have a range of strategies in mind to help soothe him, rather than sticking to the same one and being frustrated when it doesn’t work. Include rocking him gently, cuddling him, carrying him, massaging him gently, swaddling him in a blanket, giving an extra feed, singing a lullaby, offering him a comforter, or giving him a warm bath.

5 ways to stay calm through the crying:

1. Be patient. It’ll take time to get to grips with all his cries.

2. Wait a moment. Be prepared to ignore your baby’s cries for a few minutes sometimes, to see if he settles by himself.

3. Remember that crying is normal during the first year – his tears don’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.

4. Learn from experience. If you find your baby always stops crying when you pick him up, consider the possibility that he’s just crying for attention.

5. Manage your expectations. One day you might have his needs sussed, the next it might take longer to work out what’s up.


Did you know…

In the first three months, most babies do the bulk of their daily quota of crying (almost 40%) during the hours of early evening.

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