Health Notes

“What’s that cry?” Learning Baby’s Language

by Dr. Elizabeth Walenz on July 11, 2017

It’s a learning process for parents and babies.

Some of it can come naturally, however, bringing that new baby home can be a learning process for both baby and parents. We have to learn baby’s cues and decipher what each cry means.

With a new baby, the doorbell will ring. Relatives, friends and neighbors want to meet the new bundle of joy. The new baby smell, holding a new baby, feeling that soft baby skin…

However, with that first whimper or beginning cry, our first response is often, “The baby must be hungry,” and the holder will often hand the baby off to the parent.

Babies cry. It is their main form of communication. Our job as parents is to determine why.

Our job as the parent is to interpret what each cry may mean, and if you are sleep deprived, it can be even more difficult. A baby’s cry can mean many things:

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m tired.”

“I’m cold.”

“I’m hot.”

“I’m wet.”

“I’m dirty.”

“I don’t feel well.”

Most babies will calm down if given a sweet liquid, such as breast milk or formula. In general, babies will feed every 2-3 hours during the day and every 3-4 hours overnight. Once a baby has surpassed their birth weight (which is close to two weeks of age) they may start to stretch to longer intervals overnight. On average, newborn babies will sleep 18-20 hours per day. A two week old infant will sleep 16-18 hours per day having more awake time during the day. Babies will have a wet diaper with almost every feed. Babies should stool once per day or up to 7-8 times per day.

If your baby is crying and has just fed within the last hour and fed an appropriate volume, (2-3 oz. in the newborn period) he or she should not be hungry. If you offer more formula or breastmilk, the baby may overfeed, causing him to spit up or feel too full. If your baby has just fed, there are a few strategies to try first:

Dr. Elizabeth Walenz, Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician
Elizabeth Walenz, MD
  • Burp your baby. Hold your baby upright over your shoulder and gently pat his back. If no burps come out, you can hold the baby over your lap and burp to see if you can liberate some of those gas bubbles.
  • Check the diaper. If your baby is wet or has pooped, that may be the issue.
  • Is your baby gassy? If your baby is passing a lot of gas or his tummy seems a bit rounder, try to help to relieve gas pain, bicycle his legs or help him to move through hip circles.
  • Is your baby tired or over-tired? He may need to be consoled and it is time to rest.

Dr. Harvey Karp of the Happiest Baby on the Block recommends 5 S’s to soothe a baby:

  • Side or stomach position. Do not let your baby sleep on his stomach or side. Babies should always sleep on their backs. However, holding a baby on his side can help to soothe him.
  • Shushing or white noise. Complete silence may be jarring to the infant who was used to hearing all of the goings on, heartbeat, stomach noises inside mom for nine months. Static on the radio or a fan in the room, can help to provide some white noise.
  • Sucking on a pacifier. Infants are soothed by sucking. Inside of his mother, an infant could find his hands or toes easily to suck on. Outside of his mother, those hands are hard to find. A pacifier may help to soothe the baby.
  • Swinging. When your baby was inside of mom, he was used to movement throughout the day as mom walked. Repetitive motion can help to calm a baby.
  • Swaddling. A nice swaddle blanket with Velcro can help your baby to feel secure and help to avoid any loose bedding in the crib.

If you have tried a number of interventions to help to calm your baby, yet he is still fussy or crying, he may not feel well. If your baby has a temperature over 100.4 call your physician. If you cannot get your baby to stop crying, call your physician or have your baby evaluated.

A crying baby can be stressful. Never shake your baby. If your stress level is building, put your baby in his crib, and take a time out in your room or the kitchen to take a few deep breaths and remember this is a learning process and you will figure this out.

If you have any further questions about what’s happening with baby and how to interpret his cries, talk with your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician.

Dr. Elizabeth Walenz is a pediatrician now seeing patients at
Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency.
Contact Dr. Walenz at
Dr. Elizabeth Walenz, Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician


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