My baby cries: what does it mean? what should I do?

By (embryologist) and (embryologist).
Last Update: 05/20/2024

The only way babies can communicate until they are able to speak is by crying. Even if the baby cries, it does not always mean that something is wrong, for example, hunger, sleepiness, dirty diaper, etc.

Babies sometimes cry to relieve stress. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with letting the baby cry if it needs to, even if it does not need anything from an adult.

However, if the frequency of the baby's crying is quite high, it is possible that the baby may have a medical problem that requires attention.

Why do babies cry?

The main reason for infant crying is communication. When the baby cries, it does so to express discomfort. Perhaps the baby is cold, hot, hungry, uncomfortable with some of the clothes on, or feels pain in the tummy area, for example.

Other physical discomforts that may cause the baby to cry include the following:

  • Thirst.
  • Dream.
  • To be suffering from colic.
  • Dirty diaper.
  • Tooth eruption (teething).
  • Gases

However, the baby does not only cry to communicate physical discomfort, but the baby's crying may also indicate emotional discomfort. Perhaps the baby needs to be cuddled, is afraid or lonely and therefore cries.

In addition to communicating physical and/or emotional discomfort, crying also eliminates cortisol, a hormone that is secreted in times of stress and tension. For this reason, when the baby cries it may be to relieve excess stress rather than to communicate discomfort. Therefore, it is always necessary to pay attention to the characteristics of the crying in order to try to comfort it.

Types of infant crying

If the baby cries, it is essential not to lose your temper and to be patient in responding to the crying. There are different types of baby cries and each one has different characteristics and meaning:

  • Persistent crying: usually indicates hunger. This cry is low, regular and quite rhythmic.
  • Disconsolate crying: when the baby is cold or hot.
  • Lazy crying: sleep. In addition, if the baby is sleepy, he or she often rubs his or her eyes and yawns frequently.
  • Strident crying: needs diaper change for pee-pee or poop. It is a weak but continuous cry.
  • Acute crying: discomfort or colic. In these cases, the baby will not stop crying and the expression on the baby's face indicates pain or discomfort.
  • Crying with hiccups: anger. It is usually a cry similar to that produced when the baby is hungry, but drier.

In addition, some babies may cry during the breastfeeding period. When the baby is hungry, he will cry for his mother to feed him. However, if the baby has a full stomach, he will start to cry and let go of the nipple. Likewise, if during feeding, the baby tends to lean backwards, he may have gastric reflux and this may be the cause of crying between feedings.

And what can parents do?

If the baby cries for any of the reasons mentioned above, mothers and fathers can take different actions to stop the baby's crying. For example, you can change the diaper for a clean one, wrap the baby if he is cold, give him water if he is thirsty, etc. and obviously, the baby will stop crying if that is what happens to him.

On the other hand, if the baby cries without any apparent cause, then moms and dads should accept that their baby may need to cry to release pent-up tension. Some of the techniques for comforting an infant's crying for no apparent reason are as follows:

  • Place the pacifier in the baby's mouth.
  • Holding the baby in your arms.
  • Rocking the baby.
  • Massage the abdomen of the child.
  • Going for a walk with the baby.

In any case, it is important not to lose calm when the baby cries and try, when possible, to attend to its needs. In this way, the baby will stop crying.

FAQs from users

If we always pay attention to the baby's cries, won't it become a capricious baby?

By Neus Ferrando Gilabert B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Experience tells me that no, he will become a baby, and later a self-confident child, with confidence in others, because what he has needed has been solved by the people who could help him at the time.

If, on the other hand, we ignore his cries, he is likely to become an insecure person, who will not know who to trust and who will think that his problems have no validity because no one has taken care of him when he was most helpless.

Is crying like an alarm, something that tells us that the baby needs us?

By Neus Ferrando Gilabert B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Exactly. Whenever a baby cries it is because he/she needs us. The idea that babies cry for attention and that if we respond, we spoil them is too widespread... What I believe is that if a baby (or a child, which is the same case) asks for attention, it is because he doesn't have it, and if we respond, we do not spoil him, on the contrary, we raise him with love and respect for his feelings.

Does the baby cry when he/she has a fever?

By Marta Barranquero Gómez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Yes, when the baby cries quite intensely and is very irritable, a possible cause may be fever. This is often accompanied by a change in activity and it is common for the baby to be more lethargic than usual.

Suggested for you

Another possible reason that may cause a baby to cry is hunger. If you are interested in learning more about what baby feeding should be like, you can visit this article: Baby feeding: breast milk or bottle?

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I St James-Roberts. Persistent infant crying. Arch Dis Child. 1991 May;66(5):653-5. doi: 10.1136/adc.66.5.653 (View)

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FAQs from users: 'If we always pay attention to the baby's cries, won't it become a capricious baby?', 'Is crying like an alarm, something that tells us that the baby needs us?' and 'Does the baby cry when he/she has a fever?'.

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Authors and contributors

 Marta Barranquero Gómez
Marta Barranquero Gómez
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Graduated in Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences by the University of Valencia (UV) and specialized in Assisted Reproduction by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH) in collaboration with Ginefiv and in Clinical Genetics by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH). More information about Marta Barranquero Gómez
License: 3316-CV
 Neus Ferrando Gilabert
Neus Ferrando Gilabert
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH). Experience managing Embryology and Andrology Labs at Centro Médico Manzanera (Logroño, Spain). More information about Neus Ferrando Gilabert

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