It’s been a while (about 5 years..) since I had a newborn. With the nature of what I do, obviously I’m around babies.

Usually I can tell by the cry what the baby might need. Or there’s usually a smell that helps with the reason why they’re uncomfortable lol. As a new parent, every cry feels like a stressful puzzle – is my baby hungry, tired, or just needing a diaper change?

It's a universally shared challenge among parents – trying to understand the language of a newborn's cries. So, in this blog post, we'll explore:

  • The various types of newborn cries and their meanings
  • Effective techniques to soothe your baby
  • Tips to remain calm and composed when things get overwhelming/over-stimulating/noisy
Mom and dad holding newborn baby for lifestyle newborn session.
Newborn toes lifestyle newborn session in ME.
Mom and dad hold newborn baby for their lifestyle newborn session.
Mom holding newborn baby by the window for her lifestyle newborn session.

What are They Trying to Tell Us?

Think about your baby’s cry and their way of communicating! When you do, you'll start to notice that not all their little cries are the same.

“I’m Hungry”

A newborn's hungry cry is a low-pitched, rhythmic, and repetitive cry that sounds like "wah wah wah". The cry is often accompanied by other signals, such as: 

  • Rooting for the breast
  • Sucking motions with the tongue
  • Lip-smacking
  • Putting fingers into the mouth 

The sound "neh" is created when a baby's tongue touches the roof of their mouth, which creates a sucking reflex. The sound is similar to a lamb bleating (did you just try bleating like a lamb?). 

Other signs that a baby is hungry include: 

  • Moving fists to the mouth
  • Turning the head to look for the breast
  • Becoming more alert and active
  • Sucking on hands or lip smacking 

It's important to respond to hunger cries immediately.

“I’m Sleepy”

A newborn's sleep cry sounds like, "owh". This sound is created when the baby yawns and exhales.

“I’m in Pain”

A newborn's pain cry is high-pitched, piercing, and grating. It can start without warning and be long, loud, and shrill. The cry may be followed by a big pause, as if the baby is holding their breath.

“I’m Overstimulated”

A newborn's overstimulated cry sounds similar to a tired cry, which is long and hard. The cry is usually not as loud as other cries and rhythmic. Overstimulation can escalate to shrieking.

Other signs of overstimulation include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Constant head turning
  • Flailing arms and legs
  • Turning their head away from you or other stimuli
  • Batting angrily at objects

To soothe an overstimulated baby, you can try:

  • Dimming the lights
  • Rocking the baby
  • Shushing
  • Singing softly to them
  • Have your spouse try

If your baby is crying in a way that sounds different from their normal cry, and/or their crying is continuous, it may be a signal that they are in some sort of pain or discomfort.

“I am gassy.”

Often accompanied by the baby pulling up their legs or arching their back. This cry can sound grunty or strained.

If you're more of a visual person like me, here's a YouTube video to watch that explains the newborn cries!

Tips for Calming a Crying Newborn

Once you've identified the reason for your baby's cry, you can start addressing their needs. 

Here are some tried and tested methods:

Skin-to-Skin Contact: Babies often find comfort in the familiar smell and warmth of their parents. Holding your baby close can offer them reassurance.

Shushing Sounds: Mimic the noise of the womb by whispering a repetitive 'shush' close to your baby's ear.

Swinging and Rocking: Gentle movement can be comforting for babies. Make sure their head and neck are supported.

Pacifiers: For some babies, sucking is soothing. If breastfeeding, it's recommended to introduce a pacifier after breastfeeding is well-established.

Changing the Environment: Sometimes, a change of scene, like a dimly lit room or some fresh air, can make a difference.

Humming or Singing: Your voice is a familiar comfort to your baby. Softly singing or humming can be soothing.

Changing the environment, skin-to-skin, & shushing were the top ones that worked for my children when they were babies. Remember, each baby is unique. What works for one might not work for another. It's a process of trial and error.

Attending to a constantly crying baby can be stressful.

Remember to breathe deeply and take short breaks if needed. Sometimes, just stepping out for a few minutes to compose yourself can do wonders. Your calm will also help soothe your baby.

It takes time to understand your baby's cries fully. With love, patience, and practice, you'll soon be fluent in your baby's unique language!

Mom holding newborn baby looking at toddler during lifestyle newborn session.