What babies are saying when they cry What babies are saying when they cry

Identifying the reason why a newborn is crying can help prevent unnecessary suffering. The following are some signals to be aware of.

Medical advisor: Beatriz Ospina González – Pediatrician
Practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare

The image of parents who have not slept holding a crying baby in the wee hours of the morning is all too familiar, as crying is how newborns communicate. Crying is the first form of communication infants have when they do not like something; whether they are hungry, their clothes feel tight or uncomfortable, they need a diaper change, or even if they are cold or hot. Crying is often their way to get their parents’ attention.

Many times, they can cry when they want something, and that is how they communicate it. They may cry when they want to be lulled or cradled, which reminds them of the feeling they had when they were in the womb. As pediatrician Beatriz Ospina explains, “This makes them feel more at ease because they can then feel their mother breathing or listen to her heart as they did for nine months in the womb. This calms them down.”

More than just attention

Remember that it is not always about irrational tantrums, getting attention or wanting to relieve themselves; it is important to identify the signals that indicate expressions of pain or more serious forms of discomfort. The following are some signals that it is time to see a care provider:

  • If the crying is uncontrollable and lasts for over thirty minutes, and if the baby’s facial expressions suggest they are in pain.
  • If their crying prevents them from eating.
  • Babies generally calm down after feeding, but if they do not, or if they refuse to eat, it is best to check with your doctor.
  • Fever.
  • Behavioral changes, such as irritability and restlessness that does not let them sleep.

There are other causes that are less serious such as teething, which is when the baby’s teeth start to come in around six months. Vaccinations can often make them irritable and make them cry for up to two days, as well as inguinal hernias (bulges in the groin area). According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine website, children can develop hernias when their abdominal walls are weak. Inguinal hernias (or groin hernias) are common among children; however, some have no symptoms until they are adults.

Before getting an appointment, our pediatrician suggests going through a checklist to rule out causes such as: hunger, a dirty diaper, being too cold or hot, or having a fever. This can help answer any questions before making a hasty decision.


As Dr. Ospina explains, between the third and the twelfth weeks of life, babies go through a period of crying called colic. It is unique because it occurs for about three hours (from 5:00 in the afternoon to 8:00 at night), three days a week, for three weeks. Before and after this period, the child’s behavior is normal. “It is unknown whether this is due to an overload of stimuli or because they are still developing, but they cry,” says the pediatrician. To calm them it is ok to lull or rock them. Another idea is to go on a short trip with them in the car, as the car’s vibration calms them down. “Many parents turn back home when they are on their way to the emergency room just because of the effect of this drive,” adds the doctor. Another option is to give them a bath, a downwards massage on their stomach, play soft music, or to rock them in a rocker or in the car.

You also have to be careful with how you comfort infants. Out of despair, some parents shake them when they cry, which can cause what is referred to as shaken baby syndrome. This damages children’s brains, which is unstable and fragile at this age, and can cause intracranial hemorrhaging.

The terrible twos

That is the name people often give to this stage. As the Mayo Clinic website explains, parents often observe rapid changes in a child’s mood and behavior during this stage, making it difficult to handle them. As Dr. Ospina explains, frustration is the most frequent trigger for crying at this age. “They cry because they can think faster than they can speak and are unable to express what they want to say.” This is the famous tantrum phase. The recommendation for caregivers is to have patience and to practice positive discipline, which consists of being there for them when they cry, and explaining that if they want to cry, they can, so they can comfort themselves.

 Related: Precaution with sugar in baby feeding