Decoding Newborn Cries: A Pediatrician’s Advice on Understanding and Soothing Your Baby

A father rocking his newborn child to help soothe the baby's discomfort.

Hearing your newborn cry can be very stressful because it’s not always easy to understand why they’re crying. If they’ve eaten, are clean, and have napped, you can be left with the fear that the baby isn’t feeling well or there’s something else wrong.

Learning to identify your baby’s cries is crucial so you know how to console them. At Newport Children’s Medical Group, our newborn doctor offers some tips on understanding and soothing your baby.

Hunger Cries

A hungry baby usually has a high-pitched cry that sounds desperate. It can be an unrelenting noise. Think about how much time has passed since they were breastfed. Have two or three hours passed? If so, they could be hungry. If your baby drinks formula, they could be hungry after two to four hours have passed.

You may also notice that your baby starts to act frantic, wiggles, or roots around with their mouth. They may also suck on their hands.

It’s helpful to assume that when your baby cries, they’re likely hungry. It’s equally important, however, to not give a bottle to a bottle-fed baby too soon after their last meal since that can cause them to become uncomfortable. They have to be able to digest the formula for at least two hours.

For many parents, this type of cry reminds them of a siren, so it can be easier to identify.

Cries From Overstimulation or Boredom

This type of cry is not usually as loud as other cries, and it can be a lightly detached sound. If your baby is overstimulated, the cry can turn into shrieking, and if your baby is bored, it can turn into laughter.

Some babies get overstimulated if they’re around too much activity or noise. You may notice that the baby looks tired and is irritable. They may clench their fists and move their arms and legs in a jerky or frantic manner.

Newborn doctors will point out that some babies engage in self-soothing methods — one of the most common is sucking on their fists. Additionally, if you see your baby turning away from you, it can be a sign of overstimulation.

For this issue, the best thing you can do is to take them someplace quieter and darker. White noise can be helpful, as well.

A bored baby can be restless and can attempt to grasp at you or nearby objects. Their movements can also be jerky.

Tired Cries

If you hear your baby crying in a breathless and intermittent manner, this can mean they are tired. The baby may have their eyes closed, but they’ll still be restless. If their eyes are open, you may notice they’re puffy or red, and the baby may even rub at them.

One of the best things that you can do for a tired baby is to swaddle them. If you have your baby in your arms and think they’re tired, you may want to put them in their crib or other sleeping area because they may be overstimulated if you’re holding them.

Cries From Pain

If your baby feels pain, their cries can be piercing and relentless. You may notice that they arch their backs or move around a lot. If they’re experiencing gas pain, they may bring their knees up to their chest with a grunting sound. Some babies even hold their breath when they’re in pain.

Some facial expressions you may see include:

  • Frowning
  • Angry appearance
  • Clenched eyes

Newborn doctors also suggest you watch for clenched hands and a pale or flushed face. Some babies can also have larger than normal pupils if they’re in pain.

Many times, giving your baby a pacifier can help with issues like teething pain. You also want to offer to breastfeed them, since that can soothe them. Skin-to-skin contact is also a good option, as is tactile soothing. Tactile soothing refers to gently stroking your baby’s back and head.

Cries From Discomfort or Annoyance

A baby who is uncomfortable or annoyed will usually have a whiny cry with short repetitions and a forced sound. You may also see them scrunching up their faces or even batting with their hands.

Look for any reason they may be experiencing discomfort or annoyance. Maybe it’s an uncomfortable piece of clothing, a noise that bothers them, or feeling a breeze that makes them uncomfortable. Once you find the source of the discomfort, you can help your baby.

Colic Cries

Colic refers to extended periods of crying that can last for three or more hours for at least three nights a week. The sound is very high-pitched and seems more like a screech than a regular cry. Your baby can appear inconsolable.

To help with colic, swaddle your baby to provide a sense of security. You may also want to hold your baby on their side or stomach. Something else that can help is swinging your baby in your arms, but make sure to support their head.

Some babies can also benefit from a shushing noise in their ear or a white noise device. This reminds them of their time in the womb. Once your baby calms down, offer them your finger to suck on, your breast, or a pacifier.

What if You Can’t Stop Their Crying?

It can happen that no matter what you do, your baby will continue to cry. If it happens often, you may want to reach out to your newborn doctor for help. This is especially important if the crying is acute and not chronic.

You also want to monitor your own reactions to the cries. Your blood pressure will likely rise, as will your heart rate. Your baby can sense your frustration, and this can only make the crying worse. You may want to think about removing yourself from the situation for a few minutes.

Turning to Experts for Guidance

If you’re struggling to understand your baby’s cries or you have worries about colic or other similar issues, we can help at Newport Children’s Medical Group. Our team of newborn doctors is ready to offer tips and reassure you about your baby’s health. Reach out to us today.