Why do babies cry?


Also see 'newborn crying'

Babies cry to communicate. Don’t fall for it when you hear people say, ‘Babies cry for no reason,’ or ‘Babies just need to cry’.

Imagine if you couldn’t talk or move to express yourself. You’d come up with some interesting sounds to ensure you were heard when you needed something. Just like us, babies communicate when they need something, and one way they do that is to cry.

Your baby might cry because they need:

  • food
  • cuddling while a bubble of wind passes
  • cuddling when in pain
  • comforting when they’re bored
  • reassurance when they feel overwhelmed
  • calming when they’re overstimulated
  • or company when alone.

And often the hardest one of all? They’ll cry when they’re tired and need sleep.

What about all the different cries?

It can take months to decipher your baby’s different cries. And just when you think you’ve got it sorted, it turns out you’re completely wrong! That’s very normal. What matters most is that you try to offer your baby an experience that helps.

Some of the most divine babies may be really hard to read because the variation in their cries is so subtle that it’s almost impossible to judge. If that’s your baby then the most important thing to remember is that babies NEED your help when they communicate through crying.

You will not spoil them or create bad habits by soothing your baby when they’re too young to communicate any other way, or when they don’t know how to calm themselves.

How to tell them apart

Use these tips to differentiate between cries. Remember all babies need care when they cry. Tales of ‘spoiling’ and ‘creating rods for backs’ are very unhelpful.

Getting tired

  • Tired babies cry, or grizzle then cry, because they need sleep. If you don’t know your baby’s tired signs yet, try keeping an eye on the clock to see when they may begin to be tired.
  • Tiny babies can often be tired immediately after a feed.
  • Some babies by around four months can be awake for around 1 ½ hours (including the feed) before you see their tired signs.
  • If a baby is overtired, crying is far more common than grizzling.


  • Pain is a very intense cry, more like a scream. It often begins quite suddenly. This is a time for lots of cuddles and not a time to be left alone to work it out.


  • Hunger tends to be a more rhythmical pattern and babies tend to use their entire body to tell you by:
    • curling their body in towards your body
    • making sucking motions
    • poking out their tongue
    • clenching their fists.


  • A sick baby my just grizzle for long periods and it is hard to tell what exactly is the need. These babies just need cuddles and close monitoring. 
  • Sleep may be fragmented and they may need to be seen by your doctor if they develop a temperature, are feeding poorly, becoming dehydrated or just not improving.

Don’t despair if you can’t work out your baby’s cries, just offer comfort and cuddles until your baby’s needs become more apparent.

Find out more about very young babies and why they cry.


Author: Helen Stevens. RN. RM. MCHN. Manager of Clinical Services, Education and Research. Parent Infant Consultants. 0411880720.