• Sara Silvestri, MD FAAP

Why Do Babies Cry?

Updated: Dec 21, 2019

We've all watched TV shows and movies that mark the delivery of a baby with a lustful cry from the baby and tears of joy from the parents. That cry that at first brought so much joy can become a source of stress and anxiety days later. So the question is: Why Do Babies Cry?

In general, the reasons babies cry fall into three categories:

-something is bothering them

-a need is not being met

-they are learning their voice. 

Babies will cry if something is wrong, such as gas or if something is painful. Crying can be a sign that they are sick or have an infection. Babies can be sneaky though and sometimes the sickest babies will be the quietest. Determining what is bothering a baby can be tricky. I recall a day when my generally pleasant then 2 month old son cried for hours and was very difficult to console. I could not figure out what was upsetting him. As we were getting ready for bed that evening, I removed his onesie to put on his pjs. He immediately stopped fussing and became smiling and happy. I still have no idea what about the onesie was bothering him, but something with it was obviously causing some distress.

Babies will also cry when they have a need that isn’t met. This may be hunger, the need for a diaper change or just the need for a cuddle. Babies are also great at crying and yelling when they are tired and need a nap but can't figure out how to settle themselves.

Crying is also one of the first ways that babies learn to use their voice. It begins as a reflex but will become a learned action over time.  This is a newborn's first means of communication.

Lastly, outside of these categories, we can't talk about crying without talking about the dreaded colic. Most define colic as crying for three or more hours a day, at least three days a week, during the first three months in an otherwise healthy baby. The truth is that we don't know yet what causes colic though there are many guesses and many products hoping to cure it. The most important thing to remember about colic is that it is self limited and not harmful to the child - though can cause significant anxiety and stress for the parents.

Thankfully as babies grow older they begin to develop different cries for different needs. This greatly helps to reduce of the anxiety or stress of a baby's cries as the parents and caregivers can now have a better sense as to the cause and do less troubleshooting to provide comfort.

It's also important to remember that infancy is really a very brief period of time. While the middle of the night screaming is stressful and only worsens a parent's exhaustion, this is a good time to remember that your child is doing what they can to speak to you and all too quickly these moments will pass. And then you will having a crying toddler 🤣

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