Why Do Infants Cry So Much? A Primer for New Parents.

Crying Infants: What Do Your Baby’s Tears Mean?

It’s 4 AM. A piercing wail wakes me from a sound sleep. Well, semi-sound. I’m a new mom, after all. I won’t sleep soundly again for about 18 years. My daughter’s cry is surprising; she doesn’t typically wake up for another few hours. I rush to her crib and notice she’s warm—a slight fever, I think. I cuddle her in my arms and soothe her until I can call the pediatrician.

Is there no sound worse than hearing your baby cry? That crying infants can’t tell you what’s wrong can be frustrating and disheartening. Sometimes, the reason is apparent—a fever or a soiled diaper. But, sometimes, it isn’t. And, while babies can’t yet use their words, there are other ways parents can decipher what’s causing them to be upset.

Why Do Infants Cry So Much?

Perhaps the most important thing new parents should know is that it’s normal for infants to cry. Babies typically cry for 1-3 hours each day in their first three months. Whoa, that’s a lot of tears! But remember, crying is one of the few ways your baby can get your attention to let you know something isn’t quite right. 

There are many reasons infants cry. But, the five most typical include hunger, sleepiness, loneliness, overstimulation, or need for comfort. Knowing the difference between your baby’s cries is invaluable. Parents are better equipped to tend to their baby’s needs when they see the reason for the tears.

New parents are often sleep-deprived. This usually exacerbates fear and panic when their baby cries—especially in the middle of the night. Learning how to calm crying infants is more accessible when parents are calm. Getting to the cry’s source is essential for your peace of mind.

Five Reasons Infants Cry

  1. Hunger: One of the most common reasons infants cry is hunger. Infants have small stomachs and need to eat frequently. Crying when hungry is a fundamental biological instinct to signal they need to be fed. Parents can troubleshoot these cries by recognizing hunger cues. These may include lip smacking, rooting reflex, and sucking on their fists, for example.

  2. Sleepiness: Babies become overtired easily. Crying when tired is their way of letting you know they need to rest. We’ve all experienced the dreaded feeling of exhaustion—crankiness, irritability, and a general sense of unease. Babies are the same. They’re more prone to becoming overtired due to their developing sleep patterns. Early signs of sleepiness include yawning, rubbing eyes, or becoming incredibly fussy. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a soothing sleep environment promotes better sleep quality.

  3. Loneliness: Babies crave comfort and closeness to their parents and caregivers. They may cry when they feel lonely, scared, or need reassurance. Providing cuddles, rocking, or gentle soothing can help calm them down.

  4. Overstimulation: Infants have sensitive nervous systems and can become overwhelmed by too much stimulation. This may be loud noises, bright lights, or too many people hovering around them. Crying is their way of expressing discomfort. Babies are often bombarded with sensory stimuli that can tax their delicate nervous systems. Signs of overstimulation are fussiness, avoiding eye contact, and arching their back. Parents who recognize these cues will be able to intervene before the crying escalates.

Need for Comfort: Infants may cry when they’re uncomfortable. This could be due to wet or soiled diapers. They may be too hot or cold or in an awkward position. Babies crave comfort and security above all else. They search for relief in the arms of their parents. Skin-to-skin contact, gentle swaying, and sweet lullabies can provide the comfort and closeness babies want.

How Else to Comfort a Crying Infant?

There’s no such thing as giving your baby too much attention, so shower them with it. One of the most rewarding parts of being a parent is comforting your infant. Here are some tried and true tactics to help soothe them.

  • Rock or walk with your baby in a snuggly baby carrier.
  • Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket.
  • Sing or hum to your baby.
  • Offer a pacifier for additional comfort.
  • Take a leisurely stroller walk with your baby.
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • Play soothing background music.
  • Gently pat or rub your baby’s back.
  • Place your baby in a swing or vibrating seat.

Understanding Colic and Teething

Babies are complicated little humans. There are many other reasons they may cry, including Colic and teething. According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘Colic is frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Colic can be particularly frustrating for parents because the baby’s distress occurs for no apparent reason, and no amount of consoling seems to bring any relief. These episodes often occur in the evening, when parents are often tired.’

Colic episodes tend to peak when an infant is around six weeks old. It will decline significantly after 3 to 4 months. However, 3 to 4 months to a new parent feels like an eternity. Managing Colic is stressful and overwhelming. Refer to the list above to help soothe your baby during a colic episode. And remember, the exact cause of Colic is unknown. It’s not the result of anything the parent did or didn’t do. 

Parents should manage their well-being to get through this challenging time. Take time for yourself. Go on a long walk or a short run. Meditate. Do Pilates. Rest assured, Colic is something your baby will soon outgrow.

Infants may begin teething as early as four months old. Gaining a new tooth is a painful experience for a baby. They don’t know how to express this pain other than with tears. Some signs of teething include excessive drooling and constant gnawing. Thankfully, there are many ways to provide relief when babies teethe. Chewing on a frozen washcloth or a refrigerated teether has been known to help. Allow your baby a pacifier or to suck on your thumb if need be. 

The American Academy no longer approves some over-the-counter teething aids for Pediatrics. Use natural methods to help teething babies whenever possible. If nothing seems to help, call your pediatrician for advice.

No More Tears

Infants cry. It’s their primary means of communication. Hearing their cries is understandably difficult for parents. From piercing wails at 4 AM to soft whimpers of minor discomfort, each cry carries a different message. Parents can best soothe and support their mini bundles of joy by understanding the common reasons babies cry—hunger, loneliness, sleepiness, overstimulation, and the need for comfort.

Because before you can say, “Where did I put my earplugs?” they’ll be crying about different things—like disastrous prom dates and mean math teachers.



Written by Jamie Edwards

Jamie is an avid traveler, travel writer, and photographer. She launched I am Lost and Found, her adventure/luxury travel website after 25 years of living and traveling around the globe. She has lived in both NYC and Tokyo. Today she resides in Washington DC with her husband, two kids, and two black labs. Jamie’s goal is simple: to inspire travel.

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