Understanding your newborns cries

**This post is written in collaboration with Care**

Baby’s cry – FACT

It’s their way of communicating to us in the only way there are able, this could be because they are wet, tired, hungry, ill etc. and as parents we do eventually work out what they are trying to tell us.

I remember being in the hospital when Emmy was first born and she started to cry, the nurse handed her to me and said “Oh, she’ll be hungry” to which I replied “No, that’s not it at all. She’ll want a clean nappy, can you pass me my bag please?” – I’d had a C-Section and couldn’t bend down to reach it. At that moment Emmy did indeed fill her nappy rather loudly. The nurse commented that I’d learnt her cries very quickly indeed and I had to admit that it was mainly a lucky guess that time as I knew she wasn’t hungry as had been latched on for a feed only 15 minutes previously for about 40 minutes and I could see her face turning a little red as she began to fill her nappy.

We were rather lucky with Emmy, she was such a laid back baby who very rarely cried, slept through the night from 10 weeks and was happy most of the time. Of course, no two babies are the same so when Harry came along he really did throw our lives upside down and cried almost constantly non-stop for hours at a time.

We spent so long trying lots of different things from feeding, changing him, walking him around, rocking him, winding and driving ourselves crazy trying to work out what was wrong.

You’ll notice this latest Top Tips from a Former Nanny post is a little different to my usual ones, in that this is actually tips from Care, the number one healthcare brand sold into UK pharmacy and Penny Lazell, a qualified midwife and independent health visitor.

Here they are with some advice to help you comfort your little one and to help understand what their cries could mean:

Babies are genetically programmed to call out for comfort when distressed”, says Penny. “Crying is your baby’s way of getting you to understand what they need as their brain isn’t developed enough to manage this on its own. Babies DO NOT cry to exercise their lungs or to annoy you! They cry when they need to alert you to something that is bothering them, either physically or emotionally, and require you to meet their needs. The more these needs are met and understood over time, the less your baby will cry as you will learn to understand what they want before they become upset.

Top 9 reasons why your baby might cry and what to do



“Young babies’ brains are not developed enough to anticipate hunger”, says Penny. “Therefore when they realise they’re hungry, a message goes directly to the brain to alert the baby to let their carer know they need feeding. This can happen very quickly and the force and escalation of the cry often catches parents out and can be quite worrying.”

What to do: “If your baby has not been fed for 2- 4 hours then they may be hungry. If they are soothed immediately by a breast or bottle then that’s probably what they were trying to tell you. Over time, babies will learn to regulate their feeds and often manage to have longer gaps in between, which will help you anticipate when the feed is due and reduce crying.”

Wet or dirty nappy

“All babies are different so some don’t mind a slightly dirty nappy while others will cry as soon as it has been filled”, explains Penny. “Often babies will open their bowels straight after feeding so if they start to cry after a feed, it may be that they have a dirty nappy.”

What to do: “A cry for a wet or dirty nappy is often mistaken for them still being hungry. Try to change your baby’s nappy frequently to avoid distress.”


“Your baby yawning, rubbing their eyes, becoming fidgety, or disengaging are all signs of tiredness”, reveals Penny. “Once a baby becomes overtired, they find it really difficult to calm down again. This often causes anxiety for the parent and in turn the baby picks up on this and is even less likely to calm down.”

What to do: “A change of environment or someone different soothing the baby may help”, recommends Penny. “Or sometimes just allowing your baby to start using their own self-regulation; placing them in their cot with you nearby may actually give them permission to fall asleep.”


“Cries from pain can be quite frightening and are often very different to those of hunger or tiredness”, says Penny. “They tend to be more high pitched and have quite a sudden onset.”

What to do: “Trust your gut instinct. If you think your baby’s cry is one of pain, take their temperature and check them over. It may just be that a piece of clothing is tight or they are in an uncomfortable position. If the cry continues seek medical advice.”


“The brains of young babies are wired to crave attention so they can start to learn about the world. For this reason they become bored very quickly and will often alert you on a regular basis that they want you”, explains Penny. “Although this can mean you find little time to get things done, it is very important to respond to these cries to ensure your baby’s brain develops.”

What to do: “Babies learn from you so try to set aside time to provide short periods of stimulating activities. This could just be talking to them or singing. They love your voice and eye contact. Try to avoid putting them in front of a TV. Even watching you hang the washing out is fun for them even if not for you!”

Over stimulation


“This can be as hard to deal with as boredom. Babies’ brains are like sponges but can only take so much at a time. An over stimulated baby will become very fretful and can be difficult to settle which may be mistaken for many other things.”

What to do: “If your baby appears to be fretful and isn’t settling with rocking or cuddling, try taking them to a quiet low lit room and just hold them still, gently sshshhing and talking to them. It may take a little while to settle them but stick with it.”

Wanting a cuddle

“Babies have emotional needs and having spent nine months tucked up in a nice cosy womb feeling secure, they can often feel a little lost when out in the big wide world”, adds Penny. “Cuddling babies is important for their emotional development and for growing their ability to self-regulate themselves.”

What to do: “Don’t be afraid to cuddle your baby. It will not make them clingy, in fact, it will help them become more independent.”

Being too hot or too cold

“Babies have immature temperature regulation which means parents have to regulate it for them”, recommends Penny. “Babies lose heat from their heads so you should leave this uncovered. If a baby looks red with their crying it may be that they are too hot.”

What to do: “Start by removing a layer of clothing from your baby. You may also need to check their temperature to see if they are hot due to a fever. Equally babies may alert you to being cold by crying. Try to remember to always be aware that this may be a reason for their crying.”

Transient Lactase Deficiency

The available evidence states that the immature digestive system of babies can struggle making enough lactase to digest the lactose (a natural milk sugar found in breast and formula milk) in their feed, which can induce colicky symptoms. This is called Transient Lactase Deficiency. Guidelines from both the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the NHS Choices website suggest that Transient Lactase Deficiency could be an underlying cause of infantile colic, and that a one week trial of a Lactase Enzyme Drop is worth a try in colicky infants.

“Transient Lactase Deficiency is a common occurrence in young babies”, says Penny. “It can make them very uncomfortable and difficult to settle, which can lead to increased stress for both baby and parent.”

What to do: “Introducing a lactase enzyme drop with feeds can often resolve the problem without having to move to or change formula.”


With Harry we tried everything and it was thought it could have been a lactose problem or even colic for a while. I had to cut dairy from my diet as he was solely breast-fed (and expressing) at the time and we used drops to help. Something like Care’s Co-Lactose Infants Drops could have helped up in those early days as they are designed to reduce lactose content in milk, making digesting lactose easier for the baby without delaying the feeding process.

These drops can be used from birth and can be added to breast milk (if expressed) or infant formula prior to feeding. I was already expressing a little with Harry so that Paul and Emmy could help feed him.

Unlike other products, Care Co-Lactase Infant Drops allow the baby to be fed immediately – rather than having to wait half an hour for the drops to take effect – that half an hour can often feel like such a long time when you have a baby who is crying inconsolably due to hunger.

Care Co-Lactase Infant Drops are priced at £9.99 for 60 feeds and are available from Asda. You can find out more about the drops on their website.

Harry actually went on to be diagnosed with Silent Reflux but not before months of to-ing and fro-ing to the doctors and months of sleepless nights where he would only sleep while upright on my chest, which resulted in me having to move into Emmy’s bedroom with him and moving her into my room until he was 9 months old and finally able to be put down.


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