Here's What Your Baby's Cries Can Tell You About Their Health & Needs

As you get to know your baby and live with them outside of the womb for a while, you’ll start to be able to tell a difference between all of their cries. You’ll know when they’re hungry, wet, or just irritated. But what about health issues or if they’re in pain? Are those totally different cries, and if so, how can you tell? What do baby cries mean? I asked a pediatrician what a baby’s cries can tell you about their health, because my baby will be here in only three months (yikes), and I’d like to be prepared as much as possible before he rocks my world.

Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper that in the first 3 to 4 months, it’s difficult to tell why your child is crying. “Especially overlapping crying,” he says, “which looks like your child is in excruciating pain.” And now, experts are even saying that crying is just a “state of being” for newborns, according to a Parents article.

So what are the different types of cries and when should you be concerned? If your baby has colic crying, this will start around six weeks old, according to Ganjian. And unfortunately, he says colic crying typically lasts 3 to 4 months, will be worse at nighttime, and “lasts for at least three hours per day, more than three times per week.”

What about the difference between colic crying and crying when your child is actually in pain? Unfortunately, it’s very hard to tell the difference, according to Ganjian. “However, if your child starts to have a high-pitched, very loud cry after 4 months, and your child is not tired, hungry, or dirty, then speak with your pediatrician,” he advises.

As far as a prolonged cry and when you should begin to worry, Ganjian says, “Again, many colicky babies do cry for more than three hours per day. If the crying gets close to two to three hours, make sure the child has nothing else wrong with him by having your pediatrician examine the baby.

“A cry is abnormal if it is accompanied by other abnormalities, such as weight loss, recurrent and projectile vomiting, bloody stools, or seizures,” Ganjian explains. As far as how you can be sure your baby’s cry is indeed just because they’re hungry, he says, “If your child slept well, has a clean diaper, and has not eaten for two to three hours, then your child's cry is most likely a hungry cry, which usually starts as a whimpering.” You can double check by tickling the upper and lower lips on the sides of your baby’s mouth. If they turn their head to the side you’re tickling, they’re probably hungry.

Ganjian provided other types of cries to look out for, too, which would indicate health issues your baby may be experiencing. A cry from a baby with acid reflux would cause a “loud, high-pitch cough, often accompanied by an arching of the baby’s back shortly after feeding." Additionally, if your child has laryngitis, their crying would be potentially silent because their vocal cords would be affected, Ganjian says. “The child looks like he is crying, but you can only hear air moving.”

Though the worst cry of all that scares parents the most, according to Ganjian, is the overtired cry. “To see if this is the cause of the crying, soothe your child to sleep for at least one to two hours, after which your baby should be all smiles again.” According to Parents, this cry will sound breathy and helpless.

All babies cry — that’s their only way of communication for a long time once they’re born. As a mother, you’ll probably be able to differentiate most of the cries, but if you can’t, don’t fret. Some schools of thought believe that being able to tell the differences is a myth. Just do the best you can, and if all else fails, it never hurts to call your pediatrician to have them check your baby out. Peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.