Denver Parents’ Guide to Interpreting Newborn Cries

My twin’s are three years old, but I can still remember the sounds of their cries as newborns.

As a new parent, every cry feels like a stressful puzzle – is my baby hungry, tired, or just needing a diaper change?

It’s a universally shared challenge among parents – trying to understand the language of a newborn’s cries. So, in this blog post, we’ll explore:

  • The various types of newborn cries and their meanings
  • Effective techniques to soothe your baby
  • Tips to remain calm and composed when things get noisy

Knowing the research behind various newborn cries helped me during my newborn days, and now I use that same information to help me navigate fussy babies during my newborn shoots.

The Language of Newborn Cries: What are They Trying to Tell Us?


Think about your baby’s cry and their way of communicating! When you do, you’ll start to notice that not all their little cries are the same.

“I’m Hungry”

A newborn’s hungry cry is a low-pitched, rhythmic, and repetitive cry that sounds like “wah wah wah”. The cry is often accompanied by other signals, such as:

  • Rooting for the breast
  • Sucking motions with the tongue
  • Lip-smacking
  • Putting fingers into the mouth

The sound “neh” is created when a baby’s tongue touches the roof of their mouth, which creates a sucking reflex. The sound is similar to a lamb bleating.

Other signs that a baby is hungry include:

  • Moving fists to the mouth
  • Turning the head to look for the breast
  • Becoming more alert and active
  • Sucking on hands or lip smacking

Knowing these other cues that precede hungry cries can help you avoid them.

“I’m Sleepy”

A newborn’s sleep cry sounds like, “owh”. This sound is created when the baby yawns and exhales. You’ll often see many sleep cues from your baby before this cry begins, if you’re watching closely.

“I’m in Pain”

A newborn’s pain cry is high-pitched, piercing, and grating. It can start without warning and be long, loud, and shrill. The cry may be followed by a big pause, as if the baby is holding their breath.

“I’m Overstimulated”

A newborn’s overstimulated cry sounds similar to a tired cry, which is long and hard. The cry is usually not as loud as other cries and often staccato. Overstimulation can escalate to shrieking. Remember, it doesn’t take much to overstimulate a baby. If your baby is being handled more than usual, lights are being turned on and off, or there are new voices in the room, these can all lead to overstimulation.

Other signs of overstimulation include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Constant head turning
  • Flailing arms and legs
  • Turning their head away from you or other stimuli
  • Batting angrily at objects

To soothe an overstimulated baby, you can try:

  • Removing yourself from the environment
  • Dimming the lights
  • Rocking the baby
  • Shushing
  • Singing softly to them

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.

“I am gassy.”

Often accompanied by the baby pulling up their legs or arching their back. This cry can sound grunty or strained. There are many gas projects for baby’s that you can have on hand to help relieve gas, like the Fridababy “Windi” device or gripe water drops. It can also be helpful to gently bend baby’s legs or rub their stomach in a clockwise motion.

Tips for Calming a Crying Newborn

Once you’ve identified the reason for your baby’s cry, you can start addressing their needs.

Here are some tried and true methods:

Skin-to-Skin Contact: Babies often find comfort in the familiar smell and warmth of their parents. Holding your baby close can offer them reassurance.

Shushing Sounds: Mimic the noise of the womb by whispering a repetitive ‘shush’ close to your baby’s ear. There’s a great product out there called the “Baby Shusher” that will make this noise for you if you get tired.

Swinging and Rocking: Gentle movement can be comforting for babies. Make sure their head and neck are supported.

Pacifiers: For some babies, sucking is soothing. If breastfeeding, it’s recommended to introduce a pacifier after breastfeeding is well-established.

Changing the Environment: Sometimes, a change of scene, like a dimly lit room or some fresh air, can make a difference. You can also try a warm bth.

Humming or Singing: Your voice is a familiar comfort to your baby. Softly singing or humming can be soothing.

Remember, each baby is unique. As a mom of twins, I can tell you that works for one might not work for another. While my daughter responded to being held close and hummed to, my son preferred a change in environment. It’s a process of trial and error.

Attending to a constantly crying baby can be stressful. Remember to breathe deeply and take short breaks if needed. Sometimes, just stepping out for a few minutes to compose yourself can do wonders. Your calm will also help soothe your baby, because they can sense if you are feeling overwhelmed yourself.

It takes time to understand your baby’s cries fully. With love, patience, and practice, you’ll soon be fluent in your baby’s unique language!

Newborn Photography, photo of the photographer holding her camera and smiling


Hey, Mama. I’m so glad you found me. Whether you’re newly pregnant, anxiously awaiting Baby’s arrival, or navigating that postpartum daze, I’ve been where you are now… and guess what? As much as I try to hold on to it, it’s slowly slipping from my memory.

When you’re in the thick of motherhood, it’s difficult to find time to pause and soak it in. I’m here to help you savor and preserve your story of motherhood- to give you a keepsake of moments that you can hold onto forever.