How to Recognize the Types of Cries in Babies


Crying is the main tool a baby has for communication. Newborn babies have a variety of cries to express their needs. The baby may need a diaper change, be sleepy or hungry. Though it may all sound like screaming to a sleep-deprived mother, listening carefully for nuances in a cry will help her to decipher its meaning. Respond promptly to a small baby’s cries, as the longer they’re left to cry, the harder their cries become to interpret.

  • Learn the three basic types of cries. These are: the "basic" cry, the "pain" cry and the "anger" cry. Hunger stimulates a basic cry. The anger cry is like the basic cry, but sudden. More air is forced through the vocal chords, so it’s louder. The pain cry is sharp and loud and the infant holds his breath between cries. Variations on these produce a range of communication.

  • Listen for the sounds. The basic cry is rhythmic, and repetitive. It will intensify over time. The anger cry is louder. The baby will hold her breath after a pain cry.

  • Look for visual cues. The hunger cry includes the baby “rooting” around for a nipple and sucking his fingers. The tired cry may include yawning. If the pain cry is due to injury or sickness, inspect the child or take his temperature.

  • Match the sound of the cry to a reason for crying. Run through a checklist and eliminate possibilities: hunger, soiled diaper, apparent injury, over stimulation and tiredness.

  • Meet the identified need. If over-stimulated, take the baby to a quiet location. If she is wet, change her. If she is hungry, feed her.

  • Take action. Sometimes, a baby’s cries are not due to an easily identifiable source. If he is bored or lonely, the cry will stop when the baby is picked up. Take the baby for a walk or sing a song. A cry that seems unusual and distressed but for which you can find no cause may be a sign that the baby is unwell.


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