Language & Communication


Why is my baby crying?

Language & Communication

May start as early as


May peak around

4 weeks

Related skills

Smiling, Talking

If you’re a first-time parent, you may be surprised by just how much your baby cries. For at least the first few months, crying is the primary way that babies communicate with their caregivers—which means they cry a lot.

It can be really hard when your baby’s crying and you don’t understand what they’re trying to communicate. But in time, you’ll learn to decipher your baby’s cries in order to respond with the type of comfort they need, whether they’re crying from hunger, discomfort, or overstimulation. In the meantime, hang in there—your loving care is exactly what your baby needs right now ❤️ 

In this article:

Why is my baby crying?

Babies cry for a variety of reasons: Hunger, fatigue, and discomfort are all communicated through your baby’s cry. Over time, you may learn to distinguish between different types of cries. Your baby may cry differently depending on if they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or overstimulated. These differentiated cries tend to begin at about 3 months, but understanding your baby’s cues will likely take some time and patience.

New parents may be comforted—at least a little—to know that as babies grow, their crying tends to reach a peak and then levels off considerably. Researchers have identified a consistent pattern in how much babies cry during the first few months of life: Your baby may cry frequently until around 8 weeks of age, peaking around 4 weeks of age. During this peak time, babies can cry up to 86 minutes per day on average.

So if it feels like your baby cries all the time and it’s just breaking your heart, know that it won’t always be this way. Your baby will learn other ways to communicate. And you will learn to read and interpret their verbal and nonverbal cues and know how to soothe them. 

When your baby cries, it’s understandable to feel stressed or worried, but know that your presence and love are what matters most. Responding to your baby’s cries lets them know their communication has meaning and importance. The act of cuddling your baby helps regulate their emotions and calms their bodies, while building the foundation of their ability to self-soothe. That’s why it’s impossible to “spoil” a newborn baby with love or attention: Your response helps them learn that they matter, and your comfort helps them learn how to calm down.

Lovevery child development expert Rachel Coley demonstrates how gentle interaction and face-to-face time can help soothe and calm your baby:

Explore more tips tailored to your baby’s exact developmental stage with the Lovevery app. In video: Wooden Book from The Looker Play Kit

Read on to understand common reasons babies cry, how to distinguish different types of crying sounds, and what to do to comfort your baby when they cry.

Hunger crying

Hunger is perhaps the most common reason your baby may cry. This cry is sometimes described as a “Neh” sound. Even before crying, however, they may show nonverbal signs of hunger you can watch for: 

  • Chewing fists
  • Rooting, or moving their head from side to side as though looking for the nipple
  • Lip smacking, or opening and closing their mouth
  • Alert and watchful, with their body active
When your baby is hungry, their cries may have an “eh” or “neh” sound. They may also root for the nipple or put their hand into their mouth.

If your baby cries and shows any signs of hunger, it’s best to feed them on demand, especially in the early months. Newborns need to eat every 2 to 4 hours, whether they are breastfed or formula-fed.

Sleepy or tired crying

Since your baby can’t tell you when they’re tired, they’ll cry when they get overly fatigued. Sometimes the sound of a sleepy cry can be an “Owh” sound. Before the sleepy crying kicks in, though, you can watch for other nonverbal signs that your baby is tired, such as:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing their eyes (in older babies)
  • Pulling their ears (in older babies)
  • “Zoning out” and not focusing on you or objects
When your baby is sleepy, their cry may sound like “owh.” They may also rub their eyes or seem a bit zoned out.

Newborns can stay awake for about 60 to 75 minutes at a time before needing a nap, although as your baby matures, their wake windows will lengthen. Watch your baby closely for signs of fatigue and you’ll begin to understand their signals.  

You may find it easier to get your baby to sleep if you start the soothing process as soon as you see signs of fatigue. Babies that become overtired may find it more difficult to go to sleep. Have a brief routine before sleep to help your baby relax. 

RELATED: Establishing a baby bedtime routine

Discomfort or fussy crying

Feelings of discomfort such as gas pain, needing a diaper change, or needing to be burped can elicit fussiness and crying. Your baby’s cry may sound like an “Eh” when they need to be burped or an “Eairh” when they’re gassy. 

When your baby is uncomfortable or fussy, their cries may have an “eh” or “eairh” sound.

Your baby may sometimes cry as a way of processing sensory input during a diaper change, during a bath, or when their clothes are changed. Some babies also cry in response to transitions—for example, if long walks and drives in the car soothe your newborn, they may start crying as soon as the movement stops. 

Figuring out how to decipher and respond to your baby’s discomfort may involve a bit of trial and error. When in doubt, check their diaper 🙃 If your baby is gassy, you can try burping them or laying them on their tummy to help relieve their discomfort. Tummy time on The Play Gym with one or two playthings placed in front of them might distract or soothe your baby. Some babies enjoy motion like rocking, swinging, or bouncing to calm down when they’re uncomfortable and crying.

Overstimulated crying

Babies have limited ability to filter out sensory information, so they can easily become overstimulated. After all, everything your baby is experiencing and learning about in the world is new to them. As much as you adore kissing and playing with your baby, their capacity to enjoy these interactions is limited. Aim for a series of brief, precious moments rather than sustained periods of play or interaction.

Other than crying, signs of overstimulation can be quite subtle. Common nonverbal signs of overstimulation in babies include: 

  • Hyper-flexing their fingers (this looks like open palms with fingers stiff and angled backwards)
  • Jerky motions
  • Averting their eyes or turning their heads away
  • Falling asleep in the midst of excitement
Your baby may turn their head away and cry when they’ve had enough of a plaything or activity.

If you see signs of your baby becoming overstimulated and fussy, it’s time to bring calm back to your baby’s environment. Consider taking your baby to a quiet, dark room and soothing them with your calming voice and movement such as swaying or rocking. Sometimes the calming sounds of nature and the outdoors can help an overstimulated baby calm down.

Bored crying

Babies’ attention spans are limited, and your baby may only be able to sustain engagement with a plaything or interaction for a minute or two before turning away or getting fussy. Your baby might cry or fuss when they become uninterested in a plaything or activity, which may simply be a sign that they need a break. 

Evidence suggests that by 7 or 8 months of age, babies learn to seek out information that is “just right” in terms of their cognitive needs. In other words, they’re naturally attracted to activities that aren’t too “easy” (too predictable) or too complex to understand. This might be what you see when your baby cries or turns away from an activity or plaything: The activity might fall outside of your baby’s “just right” stimulation zone.

While you don’t need to entertain your baby constantly, rotating their playthings every week or so can help ensure variety and keep your baby at the “just right” level of stimulation. You can also keep playthings like The Soft Book or The Sensory Links in places where your baby might benefit from some engagement or distraction—one on the changing table and another in the stroller, for instance. 

Keep in mind, too, that some nonverbal signs that signal boredom in an adult are, for a newborn, actually signs of peaceful alertness, such as lying still, looking around, or staring. If your newborn is quietly taking in their environment, that’s a valuable experience for them.

Colic crying

The cry associated with colic may sound different from your baby’s other cries. It can be similar to the cry they make when in pain, but may come on quickly without any apparent reason. Colic cries can also last for hours, despite your best efforts to soothe your baby.

The main factor that distinguishes colic from normal crying is not the sound but the length and frequency of your baby’s crying. Colic is defined by the “rule of three”: three hours or more of inconsolable crying for three or more days per week, for three or more weeks. 

Unfortunately, the causes of colic are still largely a mystery to the medical community. Some theories suggest that colic can be caused by factors like:

  • Heightened awareness of surroundings, leading to overstimulation
  • Developing digestive system causing gassiness and discomfort
  • Growth spurts, which may result in irritability or trouble sleeping
  • Being overtired

If you suspect your baby has colic, reach out to your pediatrician. An estimated 10% to 30% of babies suffer from colic, and colic rates are identical across genders, socioeconomic status, gestational age, and feeding methods (formula vs. breast milk). Colic tends to peak around the 6-week mark, and most babies outgrow it between 3 and 6 months. 

Babies with colic may cry for extended periods, and may not be soothed by the usual comfort techniques. These soothing techniques are known to help some colicky babies:

  • Walking while holding your baby (or carrying them in a baby carrier)
  • Bouncing, swaying or rocking your baby
  • White noise
  • Using a pacifier
  • Give your baby a warm bath
  • Try different holding positions (facing your baby toward your or away from you)

Unfortunately, colic crying may continue even with all the soothing you try. If your baby has colic, don’t hesitate to seek out support from family or friends. Having a baby that cries uncontrollably can be stressful. Allow other trusted caregivers to care for your baby at times so you can get a break. If you need to, it’s okay to place your baby in a safe location (such as their crib) and step away. Let your baby cry while you compose yourself. If possible, give your baby to someone else for a bit. Remember you’re doing the best you can, and your best is more than enough. 

Why is my baby crying in their sleep?

Your baby may cry often in their sleep, especially in the early months of life. Newborns are neurologically and physically immature, so they have limited ability to self-regulate and rely on their caregivers to help them. Here are just a few reasons why babies may cry in their sleep:

Hunger: Initially, your baby crying in their sleep is most likely due to hunger. Newborn babies have very small stomachs and need to be fed every 2 to 3 hours. At 6 months, your baby may be physically ready to sleep through the night without feeding, assuming their weight gain has been steady. Before you drop nighttime feedings, check with your pediatrician to ensure they’re not medically necessary. While sleep is a biological need, habits around sleep also form early on. If your baby has always been fed back to sleep, you may need to support your baby to establish different habits so that they can go to sleep without feeding first.

Sleep cycles: Your baby’s sleep cycle is very different from an adult’s. Newborns spend almost the same amount of time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, also called “active sleep,” as they do non-REM sleep. This means that during this active sleep phase, your baby may make noises, move or cry out briefly in their sleep. 

Developmental leaps: As your baby grows, you may notice that big developmental leaps, like learning to roll over or sit up, can contribute to periods of sleep disruption, sometimes called “sleep regressions.” Your baby may experience more night wakings, restlessness, and periods of nighttime crying right around the time that they conquer a new skill. 

If you notice your baby is working on a new skill such as crawling or pulling to stand, make sure they get lots of time to practice during the day. Sleep disturbances due to leaps usually resolve on their own within a week or so, until the next one pops up 🙂 There’s no need to make any changes to your baby’s sleep schedule, but you may want to compensate with a slightly earlier bedtime so your baby doesn’t get too overtired to sleep. 

How to calm a crying baby

It’s so heart-wrenching to hear your baby cry. Parents typically have a strong physiological and emotional response to the sound of their baby’s cry. All you really want to know is how to stop your baby from crying, and quickly. Babies can pick up on your emotions, so trying to stay calm can be a good first step. 

RELATED: 5 co-regulation tips for calming your baby

Every baby is unique, and you’ll learn over time which soothing techniques work best for your baby. They may prefer movement or singing, while another baby finds massage more soothing. Here are some soothing techniques to try when your baby is crying:

Skin-to-skin contact: Feeling your skin, your heartbeat, and the rhythm of your breathing relaxes your baby and makes them feel safe. ❤️ Skin-to-skin contact also helps maintain your baby’s body temperature and lowers their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Rocking or other gentle movements: The gentle back-and-forth sway of rocking mimics the motion your baby experienced in the womb. To soothe them, try varying the speed and direction of the movement. Some babies also enjoy gentle bouncing while being held to your chest.

Your gentle touch, eye contact, and care are exactly what your baby needs.

Shushing sounds: Mimicking the constant rhythmic noise that your baby heard in the womb can calm and reassure them. It may also do the same for you. In addition to making shushing sounds with your voice, you can also try white noise from a machine or app.

Walking: Babies sometimes cry because they’re understimulated, too. Try a walk outside–or even around your home–to spark their interest and engage their senses. The motion of walking can help your baby calm down as well. Research has shown that babies’ crying and heart rate decreased somewhat when their mothers sat down and held them, but decreased much more dramatically when the mother walked around while holding them. 

The researchers determined that the babies’ parasympathetic nervous system activity—the part of the nervous system that brings the body back to a state of calm—was higher when they were carried.

Infant massage: Facial caresses are both stimulating and calming for infants. You can stroke your baby’s face as you hold them or while they lie in their crib. Sweet spots tend to be the eyebrows and the area from the eyebrow to the nose.

PODCAST: How and why human touch is important for kids

When to call your doctor about your crying baby

If your baby is crying in a way that is different from their typical cries, or if they won’t stop crying after meeting all their usual needs—feeding, diaper change, sleep—it might be a sign that your baby is sick. Although young babies tend to cry a lot, it’s good to be watchful of signs that may indicate illness along with crying. Signs of illness can include:

  • Fever (above 100.4℉) 
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • A cry that is unusual for your baby
  • Drinking or eating less than normal
  • Changes in breathing patterns
  • Rash

If you see any of these signs in your baby, as well as persistent crying, call your pediatrician. 

Posted in: 0 - 12 Weeks, 3 - 4 Months, 5 - 6 Months, 7 - 8 Months, Language & Communication, Social Emotional, Skills & Stages

Meet the Experts

Learn more about the Lovevery child development experts who created this story.

Sarah Piel, MSEd
Sarah Piel is a certified special education teacher and child development expert. For over 15 years she has worked with children from birth to age 5 to support social, emotional, cognitive, and language learning.
Rachel Coley, MS, OT/L
Rachel Coley is a pediatric occupational therapist and child development expert, and founder of CanDo Kiddo.
Gabrielle Felman, MSEd, LCSW
Gabrielle Felman, founder of Felman Early Childhood Consulting, works with children from birth to age 7 to support social, emotional, and cognitive learning.
Amy Webb, PhD
Amy Webb, Associate Writer at Lovevery, is a child development scholar and researcher who holds a Doctorate in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Emily Newton, PhD
Emily Newton is a writer at Lovevery with over 20 years of experience as a researcher, professor, early childhood educator, and parent. She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology and an MA in Child Development, with expertise in infant and toddler social, emotional, and socio-cognitive development.
Zachary Stuckleman, PhD
Zachary Stuckleman is a researcher and child development expert who holds a Doctorate in Developmental Psychology and is the Lead Content Researcher at Lovevery.

Research & Resources

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Blinick, G., Tavolga, W. N., & Antopol, W. (1971). Variations in birth cries of newborn infants from narcotic-addicted and normal mothersAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology110(7), 948-958.

Del Vecchio, T., Walter, A., & O’Leary, S. G. (2009). Affective and physiological factors predicting maternal response to infant cryingInfant Behavior and Development32(1), 117-122.

Esposito, G., Yoshida, S., Ohnishi, R., Tsuneoka, Y., del Carmen Rostagno, M., Yokota, S., … & Kuroda, K. O. (2013). Infant calming responses during maternal carrying in humans and miceCurrent Biology23(9), 739-745.

Grigg-Damberger, M. M. (2016). The visual scoring of sleep in infants 0 to 2 months of ageJournal of Clinical Sleep Medicine12(3), 429-445.

Kidd, C., Piantadosi, S. T., & Aslin, R. N. (2012). The Goldilocks effect: Human infants allocate attention to visual sequences that are neither too simple nor too complexPLoS One7(5), e36399.

Parga, J. J., Lewin, S., Lewis, J., Montoya-Williams, D., Alwan, A., Shaul, B., … & Anderson, A. E. (2020). Defining and distinguishing infant behavioral states using acoustic cry analysis: is colic painful?Pediatric Research87(3), 576-580.

Savino, F. (2007). Focus on infantile colicActa paediatrica96(9), 1259-1264.

Vermillet, A. Q., Tølbøll, K., Litsis Mizan, S., C Skewes, J., & Parsons, C. E. (2022). Crying in the first 12 months of life: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of cross‐country parent‐reported data and modeling of the “cry curve”Child Development93(4), 1201-1222.

Zeifman, D. M., & St James-Roberts, I. (2017). Parenting the crying infantCurrent Opinion in Psychology15, 149-154.

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