Why Do Babies Cry? 

16 Crying Issues and Fixes

Why do babies cry? They literally don’t know the words to tell us what they want and need until they’re a year old. A baby that learns a few words like mama or dada still lacks the words for pain, hunger and boredom. And they know that crying will get your attention, while that along will eventually lead to their problems being solved. This is why children cry so often, even when they do have the ability to say my stomach hurts. They can’t fix it, but they assume you can and will.

However, young children can cry for a wide variety of reasons, and this makes it hard for parents to know exactly why the child is crying. Let’s learn why babies cry so much so you can zero in on the reason your child is crying at that moment.

01. What age do babies cry the most?

They cry the most in the first six months of life, especially the first three months. One reason is because newborns are unfamiliar with the world. They may cry at strange noises, and almost everything is a strange noise.

Our babies cry when they’re hungry, and they want to eat every two to four hours. They’ll wake up every two to four hours to eat, as well, so you don’t get a respite at night.

The Insatiable Newborn

This is why newborns cry in hunger the most. Older infants can drink a larger bottle of formula and slowly digest it over several hours. Babies old enough to eat solid food supplemented with milk or formula might sleep six to eight hours.

The Preverbal Months

Babies will continue to cry once they learn to use a few words. By age 9 months, you’ll hear them say owie or similar terms while crying in pain. You may hear them say no when receiving a shot or being take away from something they want to play with.

You can understand their desires, but that doesn’t mean you can and should give in to them. Now you know why they’re crying, but you cannot yet reason with them. And the child will still wake up crying when scared, hungry or cold.

02. Why do babies cry when born?

The baby just spent several hours being squeezed through the birth canal. That’s unpleasant if not painful.

Then the child is expelled from the mother’s body and exposed to the cold air.That’s uncomfortable.

The child gets cleaned up before being handed to the mother. The skin-to-skin contact typically calms the child down, and breastfeeding or bottle feeding will settle the child down.

The Immature Nervous System

It will seem like the newborn cries for no reason for the first few weeks of life. This is partially due to the fact that their nervous system has not yet developed. (The first three months of life is sometimes called the fourth trimester.)

They will react intensely to any loud noise, bright light or sudden change in the environment because any change is seen as a potential threat. The solution is keeping the child swaddled, rocked, carried and otherwise soothed. Don’t worry. You can’t hold a baby too much at this age.

03. Why do babies cry so much?

Your child lacks the words to tell you that they are hungry, scared, cold, cranky, bored or frustrated. The only thing they can do is cry. The tone and timing of the cry can vary based on their mood, though not everyone can read these cues. For example, a child in severe pain will have a high pitched, urgent cry. 

A child that’s bored or lonely may start with a soft, low cry before ramping up. The child’s emotions may ramp up at that time, too, because they start to get afraid because they didn’t see you come in response to the initial cry.

They May Not Know What To Do or Say

Suppose your child has learned a few words like “mama”, “bottle” and “ball”. Your child is still prone to crying. This is because they lack the ability to tell you that their stomach hurts. They may say owie or boo-boo but can’t tell you where the pain is or how bad it is, much less what caused it.

Crying is their only certain method of communication, informing you that they’re unhappy. And it is up to you to determine why they’re crying. If the child is too emotional to use their limited vocabulary, they’ll resort to simple tears, too.This is similar to an adult breaking down in tears when at a loss for words or screaming in pain.

04. Why do babies cry in their sleep?

Babies do not really cry in their sleep. However, they may wake up crying. Parents can see this in a sleeping child as their normal feeding time approaches.

The child makes faces as the body wars between a desire to sleep and a desire to eat.Eventually, the child begins to cry out of hunger, and this wakes them up. 

Pick up the child, feed them, and they’ll almost immediately fall asleep.

The disturbances caused by burping and changing them may partially wake them, but a calm, soothing environment can help them get back to sleep.

The Crying Before They Go to Sleep

On the other hand, a distressed or cranky baby will eventually stop crying when they fall asleep. However, you want to avoid this, because the child is prone to waking up at every disturbance or sleeping fitfully.

This is like an adult struggling to fall asleep due to anxiety only to suffer poor quality sleep the rest of the night.

The Physical Discomfort that Triggers Crying and Wakefulness

The question for many parents is whether the child is waking up crying or crying because they woke up. Go through a checklist of basic physical needs. Is the child hungry, cold, hot, ill or injured? If not, start dealing with the emotional reasons they woke up.

Were they frightened by a loud noise? Are they lonely or scared? You might want to give them more toys or stuffed animals in the crib to keep them company so they will stay quiet in the crib while falling asleep.

A good sleep routine can help, too, so the child learns how to fall asleep at night without having to be held in the parent’s arms in the process.

Babies cry at night for a number of reasons.

Hunger is one of the most common, though you can make the time they wake up for their next feeding predictable by having a feeding and sleep schedule. Then you’ll know that the baby is due to wake up for a feeding at 2 AM but probably woke up for some other reason at midnight.

05. Why do babies cry at night?

They Digest Food Faster than You Do. Liquids are more readily absorbed than food.This is why newborns may feed every two to three hours to fuel their growing bodies.

Adults sometimes add rice cereal to the infant’s formula to slow down the digestion rate and create a sense of fullness.

However, that is dangerous if the child is less than six months old, because their body is not ready to digest solid foods. Yet hunger is not the only reason babies cry at night.

They're Startled Awake

Infants don’t know what is normal and what isn’t. They will cry when disturbed because they don’t have any means of protecting themselves. This is why they’ll cry if there is a horn honking outside or the cat got into the crib. They’re calling for help in the only language they know.

Furthermore, children will continue to cry and scream in response to anything that’s painful or terrifying, because that historically was necessary to save their lives. This is why toddlers have an instinctive fear of predators and monsters in the shadows, though modern parents can solve this by going through a show of checking the closet and under the bed.

This also explains why even a three year old will wake up crying from nightmares and half-awake visions of predators in the shadows. Two million years of human evolution honed these responses. Night-time and treetop predators preyed on young children.

And the cost of false alarms was nothing compared to the death of the child. Modern parents need to take steps to alleviate these instinctive fears. It can take the form of nightlights, stuffed animals, a baby monitor or bedtime rituals.

They Don't Want to Be Alone as They Fall Asleep

If the child is used to falling asleep in the crib at 8 PM, they may softly cry out of boredom or frustration but not anxiety or fear because you put them down like you always do. The cries may ramp up if they hit their head or pinch their fingers in the crib joints. But you’ll know the difference because you know what the normal routine is like.

06. Why do babies cry when they wake up?

Discomfort/Hunger Woke Them Up. First, babies often wake up crying because of things like hunger that woke them up. If they weren’t hungry, they probably wouldn’t have woken up.

Discomfort from the cold or pain from illness can cause a child to wake up crying, as well.

Infants may wake up because they are no longer comfortable. The most obvious case is a child crying because they’re too hot or cold. 

They lack the ability to regulate their temperature by throwing off a blanket and can’t regulate their body temperature well in general. You can tuck the child back in on a cold night.Or you may want to get a sleep sack or other solution so that the child can’t wake up because they kicked away the sheets by accident.

Something Startled Them Awake

Second, babies often cry when woken up because they are scared or startled by the events that woke them up. The child only woke up because of the bright lights or loud noise. The jolt from comfortable sleep to disorienting wakefulness is why they are crying.

If you soothe them, they may start crying when they realize they are hungry, or they may be quiet. This is why a child that wakes up crying scared by a loud noise may start to cry a few minutes later.

They Don't Know How to Self-Entertain

You may think that your child wakes up crying because you don’t notice when they wake up happy. For example, a seven or eight month old child might wake up and start playing with toys for a few minutes.

You may not realize they are awake until they eventually start crying for company or food. These cases are more obvious when you wake up to the sound of your child playing with an activity set.

07. Why do babies cry for no reason?

Instinct Says "Hold Me". Why do babies cry so much, so often that it seems like it is for no reason at all?Babies instinctively know that they are safer if they’re being held by others.

They want to be held and played with by others, because it shows that others care for them and will likely take care of them.

This is why a baby that is happy and fed may start to cry if left alone on a play mat. Their physical needs are met, but they crave social interaction.

The child may cry out of boredom, loneliness or fear because they don’t see you. This is why peekaboo is a thrilling game to the child.

If they don’t see you, they think you’ve literally gone away, even though you’re on the other side of the blanket or couch. From the child’s perspective, there is a valid reason to cry – they’re afraid they are alone, and a vulnerable young child is at risk if alone.

They're Crying for a Legitimate Reason, but You Don't Know It Yet

Sometimes the child cries for reasons that aren’t apparent to you. For example, the child may be crying because an inner ear infection or sore throat is painful. They may be crying because of the discomfort caused by an internal gas buildup. That may be solved by burping or when the gas is passed.

Or the child is crying because they don’t feel well, though they don’t yet have an obvious cough for fever. Another common problem is diaper rash. The child is dealing with itching and irritation, but it isn’t obvious to you until you change their diaper.

Children often cry out of anxiety, fear and worry. A child that’s comfortable in their bed may instinctively interpret shadows and noises as a potential predator and cry out of fear. This is a survival instinct. One solution is having the child sleep near you.

Another is giving them comfort objects, though you may need to go through rituals to relieve the anxiety. Bedtime stories with toddlers will fill their heads with pleasant visions, helping them to sleep soundly.

Children may cry because they see things you don’t. For example, a child may be afraid of an animal outside the window or something that fell off a shelf. You didn’t notice what they are reacting to.

Or your child may cry because they didn’t see you walk into the kitchen. You don’t see what the fuss is all about because you can still see them. They’re crying because it looks like Mommy went away. Or they may cry because the person in front of them seems like a stranger. This could be caused by anything from putting sunglasses on to changing clothes.

08. Why do babies cry with certain people?

Stranger Danger. Parents are generally thrilled when their children recognize them.

Children then prefer their parents and other familiar caregivers.On the flipside, they may start to cry when picked up by strangers out of stranger anxiety.

This is because of the risk that comes with being with a stranger, whether it is someone who may not care for them or might harm them. (The person most likely to abuse a child is not the parents but Mom’s boyfriend or Dad’s girlfriend.)

How to Get Your Over Stranger Danger

A child can get over this fear by regular exposure. But it means they may need time to get used to and then come to like grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and baby sitters. You can speed up this process by being present while the child gets used to the person and acting warmly toward the person.

If the child sees you smiling and talking in a friendly manner to the other adult, this reduces their stranger danger instincts. Play games with the stranger so that your child sees that they are not a threat.

Note that children may cry around certain types of people due to their existing preferences. A child who spends most of their time with Mom, Grandma and female caregivers may be afraid of adult men, even if that man is Daddy or Grandpa. The solution is to spend more time around male relatives in general.

9. Why do breastfed babies cry more?

Breastmilk is the ideal food for babies. Unfortunately for parents, it is digested much faster than cow’s milk or formula. This means that newborn babies may need to be fed every two hours while formula fed babies may go three hours between feedings.

Breastfed babies will generally fall asleep much faster than formula fed infants due to the hormonal release that accompanies breastfeeding. Parents need to take care to make sure they don’t use Mom as a pacifier, causing them to “snack” every hour or two instead of getting a stomach full of milk.

Breastfed babies may seem to cry more because they are more likely to be sleeping in a bassinet next to the parents’ bed instead of in a crib in the next room.

10. Why do babies cry in the womb?

Sonograms have shown unborn children four months before birth crying and sucking their thumbs. This shows that crying is an instinctive reflex independent of many physical triggers. The unborn child may cry in the womb due to discomfort, though they cannot be hungry or cold. 

This is similar to a startle reflex in unborn children that causes kicking, punching and other tantrum-like motions when the mother-to-be is exposed to a loud noise or jolt.

11. Why do babies cry before sleeping?

This is the bane of many parents’ existence. The child cries before going to sleep and may cry throughout the night until they finally go to sleep.

It may be due to hunger and cold at a given moment, but the child will tend to cry and complain throughout the process of putting them to bed. This is because they don’t want to be alone in bed.

They may be afraid of de facto separation from the parent, because they think that the person leaving the room is gone forever.

It may due to boredom or frustration, because they don’t know how to entertain themselves. The solution is a solid bedtime routine and schedule. Have quality time with your child while you give them a bath, read them stories and then put them to bed. Put them in bed as they fall asleep but not when they are completely asleep.

This helps them associate the bed with sleep. Furthermore, they remember falling asleep in bed. This reduces the disorientation and panic caused by falling asleep in your arms and waking up alone in the crib. If the child associates the crib with sleep, they are less likely to cry when put in the crib for naptime or bedtime.

A good bedtime routine will allow you to put the child to bed and leave the room without a lot of fuss, because the baby knows that crying won’t make you come back and read two more books.

12. Why do babies cry when they are tired?

If you’ve stayed up late, you’ve probably noticed the bad mood you’re in because you’re so tired. Waking up early and trying to get on with your routine can leave you cranky, too.The same is true for your child, but they lack the same understanding.

The child may thus cry because they’re tired, simply because it doesn’t feel good.This is separate from the potential separation anxiety they may feel if they know they’ll be put in a crib and left there until morning.

Babies may cry when they find themselves in an unfamiliar location at nap or bed time, because they lack the soothing rituals normally associated with sleep. Children may cry when they try to stay awake to keep up with all the action, too, though they’re tired.

13. Why do babies cry on planes?

One of the most common reasons is due to the discomfort associated with air pressure changes. The plane’s air pressure shifts during takeoff.This causes air pressure to build up in the ears.

You know to yawn or swallow to equalize the internal air pressure.Your children don’t know this.You can facilitate this by giving them a bottle to drink from.

Or you can give them a pacifier to suck on. The sucking motion is accompanied by swallowing. 

This will cause the pressure inside the ears to equalize. Note that you need to do the same thing when you land.Babies may cry for the classic reasons, too, such as hunger, boredom and frustration.

Imagine a child who sees all these people but isn’t allowed to crawl around the cabin. The solution here is to bring plenty of entertainment for your child. This is a great time to introduce them to a new stuffed animal or small activity board.

Take two or three board books, so that you can read to your child on the plane. This will keep them calm as they sit in the seat. On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect your child to sleep through the flight. Have bottles of formula, juice, and snacks available for them so that they don’t have to wait for a stewardess to bring a baby-friendly snack.

14. Why do babies cry all the time?

Crying is your child’s only method of communicating with you for the first six months of life. They can’t even point until roughly that age. 

Once your child learns a few worlds like Mama and dog, that doesn’t mean they can yet tell you that they are in pain or scared.

Parents can try to read the child’s facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, while others have to go through a checklist to figure out what is wrong. 

Through all of this, your child learns that crying is the most effective form of communication. As your child hits the toddler years, you need to stop responding to most crying and require your child to use their words to communicate. 

They may cry in pain, fear or upset, but they should tell you what is wrong and what they want done. Then you can talk to them about coping mechanisms or how to work through the conflict.

15. Why do babies cry when they poop?

Babies do not necessarily cry when they poop. They may grunt as they pass the mass. Many then cry because it is uncomfortable to sit in a diaper full of poop. If the child already has diaper rash, pee or poop sitting against the skin is a source of pain.

Some children cry when they are passing gas because that is an uncomfortable sensation in its own right. For them, they may cry shortly before and during passing the poop but will actually feel better afterward.

16. Why do babies cry while eating?

One of the more frustrating sights for parents is having the baby cry while you put a bottle nipple in their mouth. They may need to be calmed down in order to start feeding, or they may not stop whining until they’ve had several mouthfuls of milk.

This is more of a problem when the infant is very upset or been crying out of hunger for several minutes. They don’t yet recognize that the bottle is food, so they continue crying until their hunger is partially sated or their mouth is full of liquid. Babies may cry when you give them food that tastes bad. 

Older infants will push the bowl away, while younger ones may simply let it fall out of their mouth. Infants may cry if they have an allergic reaction to the food.Parents need to be on the lookout for this when giving their children new foods.

Telltale signs include a rash around the mouth, swelling inside the mouth and digestive upset after eating particular foods.