Why is My Baby Crying at Night? Different Baby Cries and What They Mean

baby cries and what they mean

father feeding baby after baby cries at night

As babies make a lot of different noises (some cute and some bizarre!), it can be challenging for new parents to understand what their children want and need, especially when it comes to them crying. Incredibly, however, surveys indicate that all babies, regardless of race or location, use the same types of crying sounds to indicate how they’re feeling during their first few months.

In theory, if you’re able to crack the code of this universal language, you’ll be much better equipped to manage your little one’s needs and determine things like specific baby sleeping problems when you find your baby crying at night. In this blog, we explore how you can understand different baby cries and what they mean.

The Basics

The key to determining which cry is which is to listen for the initial sound, not the way it ends. If you imagine the cry as an actual word, you can start to hear more subtle distinctions in the first letters. You can diagnose what’s wrong by examining how the initial sound is made (have a listen the next time your baby cries and you’ll understand).

Keep in mind that if your baby is really upset, you won’t be able to determine much information at all. Hysterical crying is raw, unchecked emotion. Ideally, you want to avoid getting to that point whenever you can. Your baby will attempt to communicate their needs before they start wailing, so take advantage of this phase.

Also, try to remember that babies don’t cry to make you upset or for the heck of it. They cry because they have a need they want you to meet. Identifying this is the best way to stop them from crying, whether they’re hungry, tired, or suffering from baby sleep problems because of their bedroom environment.


How to stop baby crying at night - baby sleep problems infographic


There will always be some variation between different babies and the noises they make, so you’ll also have to spend some time getting to know the individual way your baby communicates by watching (and listening) closely. Eventually, you should be able to quickly meet their needs upon finding your baby crying at night, before there’s a huge fuss.

Babies don’t cry to make you upset or for the heck of it. They cry because they have a need they want you to meet.

The “neh”

When a baby becomes hungry, the sucking reflex begins to kick in. While your baby will begin to make noises to get your attention, their tongue will be pushed to the roof of their mouth. What comes out is a kind of “neh” sound, which means “I’m hungry.”

The “heh”

This one is similar to the “neh” sound, so be careful you don’t confuse the two. The “heh” is an open-mouth cry pushed out with a short breath. It usually means your baby is uncomfortable. They could be itchy, wet, cold, or in need of a different position.

To determine the problem, you could try things like the swaddle position or swaddle transition products like the Zipadee-Zip to add some extra comfort, or moving them into a different room that is more suitable for relaxation and sleeping.

Try things like the swaddle position to add some extra comfort or moving them into a different room that is more suitable for relaxation and sleeping.

The “eair”

“Eair” is a sound that comes from the lower abdomen. It’s a difficult sound to distinguish from the rest, but you will often see it accompanied by your child pulling their knees up or pushing out with their legs. This is a sign that they are experiencing some discomfort due to gas and are looking for a way to maneuver it out.

Tips For Managing Gas with Your Crying Baby

  • Apply pressure gently to your baby’s stomach
  • Help your baby burp after feeding them
  • Massage your baby’s belly
  • Track which foods cause gas and reduce them
  • Be patient!



The “ehh”

This one is also a signal your child has gas. When your baby is experiencing gas in the upper part of their digestive tract, they’ll push their breath out like they’re trying to burp. The accompanying sound is a sharp “ehhh!” as though they are trying to lift a heavy weight. “Ehh” sounds like some of the other cries, but if you focus on the very start of the sound, you should be able to distinguish it.

The “owh”

The “owh” sound is made when your baby makes a noise during a long, slow exhale. It’s a longer cry that you’ll notice while your child is yawning, which means “I’m sleepy.” However, you should more accurately translate this as “Get me to my sleeping place and do the things you do before I fall asleep!”

This is also a great opportunity to promote better sleep routines. If you’re able to read the signs early, you can get your little one ready for bed with all the right evening relaxation activities, which should significantly reduce the frequency of your baby crying at night as a cause of overtiredness or other baby sleep problems. 


Baby Crying at Night? Apply the Right Solutions

Understanding why your child is crying is half the challenge. The other half is applying the necessary solutions to give your child what they need. There are some simple methods you can use, like feeding your baby when they’re hungry, or wrapping up your child in their favorite swaddle when they’re tired, but other needs will be harder to meet.


If you have a baby or toddler waking in the middle of the night, Sleeping Baby’s blog on how to create the perfect evening routine is a great place for tips on how you can make your little one as comfortable as possible at night.


Common Reasons for Baby Discomfort and Crying


  • Teething pains
  • Overstimulation from bright lights or loud sounds
  • Suffering from an illness
  • They’re too hot or too cold
  • Itchiness
  • They want to be held and comforted
  • They’re covered in too many layers (watch for your baby kicking off blankets)


For some added comfort and flexibility while your child sleeps, consider investing in some smart baby gear like swaddle transition products. Sometimes a simple change to their sleeping outfit can set them up well for a good night’s rest.


Check Out Sleeping Baby’s Full Zipadee-Zip Swaddle Collection.

Understanding why your child is crying is half the challenge. The other half is applying the necessary solutions to give your child what they need.


Train Your Ears to Distinguish Baby Sleep Problems

Looking for Ways to Stop Your Baby Crying?

It might not be an easy challenge at first, but training your ears to better understand why your baby is crying can seriously help you to manage your little one's important wants and needs, and reduce unnecessary baby sleep problems cropping up where they don’t have to, as a result of your baby’s needs not being met.


Studies suggest that on average, newborns tend to cry for around two hours a day, so you should have plenty of practice to train your ears. Good luck!



Written by Stephanie Parker from Sleepingbaby.com, inventors of the Zipadee-Zip

The motto for Sleeping Baby, makers of the Zipadee-Zip, is: "Inspiring Dreams One Night at A time," and that, in a nutshell, is how it all started…with one little dream that has since become the Parker family's reality. When Brett and Stephanie Parker's daughter, Charlotte, was born, the feeling that welled up inside of them was indescribable; they never realized until first looking into those baby blues of hers that they were even capable of that kind of love.

When it was time to transition their baby from swaddling, the Parkers tried every sleep sack on the market and every swaddle weaning trick they could find for nearly two weeks and nothing worked to get baby Charlotte to fall and stay asleep.

Stephanie became determined to restore sleep and sanity to their household and set out to find a solution that would soothe Charlotte's startle reflex and provide her the cozy womb-like environment she loved so much but still give her the freedom to roll over and wiggle around in her crib safely. Out of sheer desperation and exhaustion, the Zipadee-Zip was born. The first Zipadee-Zip(R) Stephanie put together on her little sewing machine worked like magic!


To date, tens of thousands of Zipadee-Zips have been sold and all from word-of-mouth marketing. It is so rewarding for the Parkers to see other parents and babies getting the sleep they both need and deserve!


For more information, visit sleepingbaby.com.


Interested in writing a guest blog for Sleeping Baby? Send your topic idea to pr@sleepingbaby.com.


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