Adapted from Book 1, My Baby Compass

Let’s face it – it’s hard for a parent to listen to a baby crying. You wonder, “What does he want? Have I forgotten something? Is he hungry? Wet? Cold? Hot? Tired? Lonely?”

Sometimes it helps to consider a few things to figure out what your baby wants. You can narrow down the possibilities by watching your baby’s body language, knowing the time of day and paying attention to the particular situation. Here are a few examples.

Situation 1: It’s been about 2½ to 3½ hours since your baby ate, and you hear a “coughing” like cry that gets louder and louder. You pick up your baby, and there is rooting behavior as he hunts for the nipple. His mouth opens when touched, and/or he is sucking on hands or fingers. It’s a good bet your baby is hungry. (NOTE: This can happen as soon as 45 minutes after eating if your baby is in a growth spurt, which happens periodically.)

Situation 2: Your health care provider has just administered your baby’s first shot, and you hear a piercing wail. You guessed it – your baby is in pain or at least extreme discomfort. This piercing cry can also occur when a baby has severe colic.

Situation 3: Your baby is not hungry, but you hear grunting and you see his knees drawing to his chest. He might be making faces and crying intermittently. There is a good chance he has gas or is making a bowel movement – your nose will give this one away. There is a possibility of colic or esophageal reflux which causes your baby to have “sour burps” or a minor burning feel in the pharynx. Your health care provider will have to address this issue if it is occurring.

Situation 4: Your baby is not hungry and is sitting in his play seat or lying in his crib and lightly fussing with a whimpering cry that gets louder. It could be that he has a dirty diaper, or he might be too cold or too warm.

Situation 5: It’s the end of a busy day, and your baby has had a lot of stimulation. He’s not hungry, and his diaper is clean. He doesn’t seem to be tired, but he’s fussing, tossing his head from side to side, and when you try holding him, he doesn’t want to settle down. He’s most likely feeling over stimulated – too much has been going on for him. This is the time for soft music, walking or slowly dancing with your baby. Try putting him in a baby carrier or going for a walk in the fresh air. A warm bath also can be soothing. Also, your baby might want to be left alone in his crib or playpen for a while.

Situation 6: Your baby has a weak and whimpering cry that intermittently gets louder and/or softer. His head is still, and his eyes may appear to be in a blank stare, lids half closing. He might even be rubbing his eyes. Yep – he’s sleepy and wants to nap.

If none of these suggestions meet your baby’s needs, he probably just wants some attention. Take some time to hold him, play with him, whatever he likes. You can’t spoil a baby this young. He doesn’t know how to manipulate you – he just wants his needs to be met. Often, he’ll be happy with you holding him even if he is wet, gassy, hungry, in pain or tired. To him, nothing is better than a warm hug.


babyKathy has 35 years of child development experience and is the author of the My Baby Compass series. She is certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), holding both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech and language pathology. She gained her clinical expertise working with children and adults with a full spectrum of communication disorders.

Working for United Cerebral Palsy in an inclusive child development center, Kathy provided therapy in the classroom and facilitated educational, nurturing relationships between parents and their children, which inspired her ideas for My Baby Compass. Her down-to-earth, approachable style makes this program accessible for all parents and caregivers.  Kathy and her husband live on a farm in Weddington, North Carolina, where she is completing the last book of the My Baby Compass series. These books can be purchased on