The Causes of Crying: A Simple Guide

For new parents, it might be challenging to figure out what their baby wants and needs at any given moment. But every parent will certainly encounter moments when they wonder, “Why is my baby crying?” There can be many reasons and they are very specific, but there are a few general categories that we can group the causes of crying into.

First, a baby may cry because of unmet basic physical needs, and generally the baby won’t stop crying until the need has been met. Basic physical needs include food, sleep, and warmth. When babies cry for these reasons it is sometimes called “needs crying.”

In addition to unmet physical needs, physical irritation could be causing your baby to cry. One major cause of physical discomfort in babies is digestive issues. Babies frequently experience discomfort as a result of trapped air in their digestive system, gas, or simply a body that isn’t quite ready to handle breast milk or formula. Some babies have regular, recurring digestive pain, known as colic, and some may simply be sensitive to certain additives in formula or traces of certain substances in breast milk. Outside of digestive irritation, babies may be bothered by little things that are tricky for adults to spot, like a hair or thread wrapped around a finger or toe, or the unpleasant texture of a new crib mattress cover.

Babies also cry because of emotional and psychological reasons. In addition to their physical needs, babies need comfort, a sense of safety, and caregivers who they trust. Babies experience stress, just like humans of all ages, and sometimes this can come from causes that might not immediately be obvious to adults: a room where there is too much activity, for example, or too many changes in a routine that feels safe, or the absence of some person or object that they are attached to.

The final broad reason why babies cry is illness or injury. Crying is the only way babies have to express when something is wrong, whether it is major or minor. Many parents, however, state that their baby’s cry sounds different when there is an actual illness than when there is a less serious discomfort.

In fact, many parents find that certain reasons lead to certain cries, and they can figure out some of that “language.” But if you are unsure of why your baby is crying, it can help to review each category one by one: physical needs, discomfort or irritation, emotional needs, and sickness—and see if you can find any immediate reason. Remember, however, that sometimes we can’t be sure why our babies cry, and sometimes we can try everything we know how to get a baby to stop crying, and it still doesn’t work. However, that does not make you a bad parent!

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