Do Different Baby Cry Sounds Mean Different Things?

Do Different Baby Cry Sounds Mean Different Things?

Of all the things on your to-do list today, Decode Baby’s Cry Sound may feel like the most pressing.
What exactly is this little being trying to tell you with their wordless communication?

And is there a universal pattern that can help here?

We’ll take you through the details.

But before we do, know that you didn’t miss the day in school where they explained baby cries.

his is tough, and we’re all figuring it out as we go along.

And no matter how many books on mamahood you read, the real deal 3D version is always its own experience filled with a unique set of challenges.

So be kind to yourself. You’ll get through this.

And you don’t have to do it alone.

With that in mind, let’s dive in.

In this article 📝

  • What do baby cry sounds mean?
  • What are the 4 basic baby cries?
  • Deciphering the baby cry sound meaning
  • How will I know what my baby’s cry sound means?

What do baby cry sounds mean?

Babies often cry to communicate some sort of need — hunger, fatigue, pain, or a wet diaper, for example.

But while there’s general agreement that babies cry to communicate something, what that something is is not always that simple to identify.

So what’s the scoop here? Are there specific baby cries for specific purposes that you should be watching out for? Here’s what we know.

What are the 4 basic baby cries?

Dating back to the 1960s, researchers have come up with a number of theories to understand baby cries.

The general idea was that babies cry for a defined set of reasons, and all hunger cries, for example, sound alike.

Unfortunately, more recent research has debunked these theories.

But that doesn’t mean investigation into types of baby cries doesn’t still hold a lot of promise.

What researchers call “atypical crying,” for example, could be associated with certain conditions, like Down’s syndrome and being born prematurely.

So, in an effort to help new mamas and caregivers, research continues into different baby cries and what they might mean.

The findings are inconclusive but have given us more insight — mainly into how very hard it is for us to differentiate cries!

This study showed that only about a third of people trained to identify different baby cries would be able to do so accurately.

And those are trained professionals, like pediatricians and pediatric nurses, in professional settings.

And even then, it appears to be more based on their individual perception than it is on a “baby cry meaning” formula that works across the board for all babies.

The bottom line is, you don’t have to be hard on yourself if you’re not able to expertly translate your baby’s cries.

There’s no textbook out there that can teach you exactly what your particular baby’s cries mean.

The best you can do is pay attention to your baby and try to learn as you go – and know that there will be a lot of cries you can’t figure out no matter how hard you try, and that’s okay.

Deciphering the baby cry sound meaning

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your baby might be crying because they are trying to call for help, shut out external stimuli, and/or release tension.

That could mean they are trying to tell you that they are:


Their cries may indicate that they’re calling for room service.

Hunger cries often come with some other signs.

These include sucking on their hands, smacking their lips, and searching for the breast or bottle.

Newborns eat about every one to three hours.

That’s because those tiny bellies only hold so much.

As the months go on, these intervals will get longer. And crying is often their best way of telling you that it’s time to munch.

(Looking for feeding tips? Try our guide to breastfeeding here, and formula feeding here.)

The other thing to note is that feeding and crying have a complicated relationship with one another.

Your baby could be crying because they are hungry, or because they are overfed.

If they’re crying after a feed, they might need help burping or passing gas.

Luckily, babies are pretty good at taking the food they need and stopping when they’re full.

So if they’re crying but food doesn’t seem like the answer, it might be worth continuing the search for other possibilities.


Look, we all get a little cranky when we’re tired, and babies are no different.

Sometimes, they’ll turn on the water works to let you know that it’s time for bed, or that they need to get into a more comfortable sleeping position.

If they’re crying in their sleep, it may not mean that you need to wake them up. It might just mean that they’re learning how this whole sleep thing works.

Learn more about your baby’s sleep cycle here.


When there’s too much going on, it’s easy to get overstimulated — especially if you’re a baby.

The whole world is new, and having to be introduced to all of these sights and sounds in one go can be a lot to deal with.

Too much stimulus and/or too many new experiences may be enough to get them sobbing.


Too hot? Too cold? Diaper need to be changed?

Yep, babies can be fussy customers. (Don’t worry, they’ll pay you back in smiles and cuddles. All worth it.)


If your baby is crying for more than three hours a day and is difficult to soothe, they may have colic.

It’s most common in their first few weeks of life.

And while colic is generally not serious, it can be very stressful for you.

It’s a good idea to see your doctor so that you can get support and check that nothing more serious is going on.


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.

Recent research has looked into whether understanding cry signals may help us respond promptly to signs of medical conditions in babies.

But the research here is young, and we’re certainly not at a point where we can identify a one-to-one relationship between particular medical conditions and types of cries.

So for now, the best thing is to check in with your healthcare provider if your baby:

  • Cries in a way that sounds different from their usual cry.
  • Cries when you touch, hold or move them.
  • Shows other symptoms, like a fever, vomiting, or any noticeable injuries.
  • Seems sick or very fatigued.
  • Has other health conditions.

Or if you just have a gut feeling that they need a doctor’s attention. That’s enough reason right there.

How will I know what my baby’s cry sound means?

Other important things to consider are that different cries may overlap (sick + hungry + tired) or (overwhelmed + tired).

And you may find that the longer you take to respond, the more dramatic the wail.

As your baby gets older, you may notice more of a difference between their cries, which will help you tune into their needs.

It’s like learning to dance together. Nobody is born knowing the steps.

And while there’s certainly no one how-to guide that will work for everyone, here’s some help when it comes to calming your crying baby.

All the best, mama. You’ve got this.

👶 More from The 411:
Why Do Babies Cry? 12 Possible Reasons
All You Need to Know About Strep Throat in Babies
What to Do When Your Baby Cries in Their Sleep
Baby Cries When Put Down? 10 Useful Tips
6 Signs of a Concussion in Babies
Baby Bumped Head: What to Do

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