Your baby knows how to cry from the moment of birth. In fact, crying is their only way to communicate with you.

But when you’ve been listening to them cry for a few hours, the one thing you long for is a break in communication. Before you start crying yourself, take a deep breath to calm down, and we’ll solve the puzzle of why your baby might be upset.

It might be helpful to consider that, really, your baby is just talking to you. In fact, research shows that baby cries are influenced by their family’s native language. For instance, French and German babies cry with different melodies.

So the question becomes: What, exactly, is your baby trying to say? Here are some of the common issues your little one may be trying to communicate.

Digestive issues

Your baby’s digestive system is developing and there’s a lot of learning involved in this. Until things run smoothly, every step can be a reason to cry.

Hunger

Hunger is the most common reason that babies cry. Thankfully, it’s easy to take care of. Once your baby starts eating, they’ll settle down. Unless the next thing in our list kicks in.

Gas

Learning how to coordinate breathing with eating takes some time, and your baby is likely to swallow air. You can help your baby get rid of the gas by making sure to burp them during the feeding and after.

You can put them over your shoulder, lay them across your arm, or hold them upright under the arms while supporting the head. Be armed with a burp cloth to catch any spit-up.

Dirty diaper

Check that your baby’s diaper is clean. Poop will irritate their sensitive skin, especially if they already have a rash. Preempt trouble by smearing a layer of diaper cream over the diaper area every time you change them.

Too late? A milk bath can help clear diaper rash. A 2013 study showed that treating diaper rash with breast milk was as effective as using hydrocortisone 1% ointment alone.

Food sensitivities and allergies

If you’re breastfeeding know that whatever you eat passes on to your baby through your milk. Gluten, eggs, and dairy products can all be difficult for your baby to digest.

True food allergies among young children are rare. Still, if you’re breastfeeding, you may want to modify your diet. If your baby is formula fed, talk to your healthcare provider about switching formulas.

Typically solid foods are introduced at 6 months. You’ll want to talk to your healthcare provider about when to introduce common allergens like cow’s milk, peanuts, fish, wheat, and eggs. This timeline may vary, depending on whether your child is at high risk for developing a food allergy — your doctor knows your family best!

Other causes

Besides food and digestive issues, there are other reasons your baby might cry, including:

Fatigue

Babies can become overtired if they are awake for too long or if they’re overstimulated. Your baby will signal you that they’re getting tired by crying, yawning, touching their face or tugging their ears, clinging to you, or spacing out. Your job at this point is to get them to sleep.

Try swaddling, feeding, rocking, offering a pacifier, and darkening the room. When your baby gets drowsy, lay them on their back in their crib or bassinet.

Body temperature

Like us, babies don’t enjoy being too hot or too cold. Slip a finger down the back of your baby’s onesie to see if they’re damp with sweat. Touch your baby’s ears to feel if they’re too cold. And then clothe them appropriately.

The first cry of triumph that you hear when your baby takes their first breath may well be the highlight of giving birth.

Although most babies are born head first, they cannot take a breath as soon as their heads emerge because there is still too much pressure on their chest. Once you deliver the baby and the pressure eases, your baby’s breathing reflex kicks in.

Your little one will cough or sputter as they expel the fluid that is blocking their airway and fill their lungs with air. As the air speeds past their vocal cords, voila, that first cry rings out.

Recent research shows that studying these initial crying patterns could serve as markers between healthy infants and those with respiratory distress syndrome.

Enjoy these first wondrous cries — they signal that your baby’s respiratory and circulatory systems are making a successful transition from life inside your womb to life outside it.

Newborns may continue to cry because they’re shocked by the transition to the outside world. Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding will offer them the comfort they’re asking for.

There sure are. The hours when your baby is more likely to cry are called the “witching hour” for good reason. You’ll probably notice the hours between 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. are most difficult for your baby.

These trying hours begin when your baby approaches 2 to 3 weeks of age. But, thankfully, they peter out when your baby reaches about 3 months old.

There’s no definitive answer as to why these predictable fussy periods happen, but most experts agree that a full day’s stimulation and lower maternal milk supply at night are big contributors.

You’re rocking a crying baby (again) and wishing you were anywhere else but here. What can you do to cope? Bury your nose in that soft spot in the nape of your baby’s neck and breathe in that heavenly scent. Then try these tricks:

  • Calm down. Okay, this is easier said than done. But it’s worth the effort. Promise. Why does it work? It’s something called entrainment: We’re programmed to fall in synch with an external rhythm. That means that your baby’s breathing and heartbeat will naturally follow yours. So keep them slow.
  • Cluster feed. During the witching hour, your baby may want to nurse every 30 minutes or more. That’s perfectly okay. Hopefully, by filling up their belly with cluster feeding, they’ll sleep for a longer stretch at night.
  • Use a pacifier. All babies have a strong sucking reflex. You can try using a pacifier to calm your baby instead of offering your breast or a bottle. Not only will the sucking soothe your baby, but all that saliva that they swallow will help to break down the milk that’s already in their stomach.
  • Offer skin-to-skin time. You can soothe your baby by holding your baby naked against your chest (red alert: keep the diaper on) so they can listen to your heartbeat.
  • Check for tourniquet syndrome. Check that a hair hasn’t wrapped itself round your baby’s fingers, toes or genitals. The hair could constrict the blood flow and cause redness and swelling. It’s pretty rare, but keep your eyes open.

Never shake a baby

A crying baby can make you feel extreme stress. In fact, mothers are biologically wired to feel this stress, so when the crying seems unstoppable, stress builds up in your body.

Even so, make sure that you never, ever shake your baby. Intense shaking can cause the blood capillaries in your baby’s brain to burst. Shaken baby syndrome can result in death.

If you are feeling extreme stress when your baby is crying, it’s perfectly OK to put your child safely in their crib and step away to take some deep breaths. You might also ask your partner or a friend to take over caregiving duties for a bit.

Healthline

If your baby seems to cry uncontrollably often, here are a couple of things that you can investigate:

Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can make your baby cry uncontrollably. If, during or after a feeding, your baby arches their back or is extremely wiggly; frequently spits up large amounts; or gets predictably fussy when lying on their back, you could be dealing with reflux.

Reflux happens when irritating stomach acids are regurgitated into the esophagus. You can sympathize with your baby by remembering what heartburn feels like.

Often babies with reflux will have the urge to suck, in order to self-soothe and wash down the heartburn. But beware: If reflux is the culprit of their fussiness, and they eat more, it can make the reflux worse. If you suspect reflux is causing your baby’s discomfort, offer a pacifier first before overfeeding.

Colic

Colic cries aren’t your average baby cry. Your pediatrician will diagnose your baby with colic if your baby cries for 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, for 3 weeks.

Colic usually starts when your baby reaches 6 weeks and ends by month 3 or 4. Your best bet to get through this oh-so-challenging stage is to master pediatrician Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s: swaddle, side-stomach position, shush, swing, and suck. We’ve got you covered in this comforting article.

Pain

As you learn to interpret your baby’s cry, you’ll be able to pick up a cry of pain. A cry that signals pain is usually high-pitched and insistent.

An earache, mouth ulcers, or diaper rash will all cause pain. Reach out to your doctor for a diagnosis. If your baby is less than 3 months old and has a fever, call your doctor.

We’ve all heard that crying is good for a baby’s lungs. Like all myths, it’s pretty entrenched in our consciousness. But is it true?

Nope. In fact, there’s no research to back this claim. But there’s plenty of research that shows that mothers who respond quickly and consistently to their babies crying are teaching their babies, “Yes, you matter, and what you want is important to me.”

Well-meaning family and friends may advise you to ignore your baby’s crying to make sure that they don’t get spoiled and demand to be picked up all the time. Ignore them. Experts agree that it’s not possible to spoil a baby.

Being a parent is probably one of the most fulfilling jobs you’ll ever have. It’s also one of the most demanding. Add to that a good few hours of crying and you’ll agree that you’re entitled to a break sometimes.

Try to have someone else (your partner, a family member, a friend) take over occasionally. Use the time to go for a walk or take shower. You can even curl up in bed, scroll through the baby pictures you’ve taken and remind yourself that you’re the best parent for your child.