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Communication and Your Newborn

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

Do you remember your baby's very first cry? From the moment of birth, babies begin to communicate.

At first, your newborn's cries may seem like a foreign language. But before you know it, you'll learn your baby's "language" and be able to answer your little one's needs.

How Do Babies Communicate?

Babies are born with the ability to cry, which is how they communicate for a while. Your baby's cries generally tell you that something is wrong: an empty belly, a wet bottom, cold feet, being tired, or a need to be held and cuddled.

Sometimes what a baby needs can be identified by the type of cry — for example, the "I'm hungry" cry may be short and low-pitched, while "I'm upset" may sound choppy. Before you know it, you'll probably be able to recognize which need your baby is expressing and respond accordingly.

But babies also can cry when feeling overwhelmed by all of the sights and sounds of the world — or for no clear reason at all. So if your baby cries and can't be calmed right away, remember that crying is one way babies react when they're overloaded.

Babies also use other sounds, facial expressions, and body movements to connect with you. Learning to recognize them is rewarding and strengthens the bond with your baby.

Pay attention to how your little one responds to your voice. The sound of your voice means food, warmth, touch, and comfort. If your baby is crying, see how quickly your approaching voice quiets them. See how closely your baby listens when you talk in loving tones. Even when staring into the distance, your baby will be paying close attention to your voice as you speak. Your baby may subtly adjust body position or facial expression, or even move their arms and legs in time with your speech.

What Should I Do?

As soon as you hold your baby after birth, you'll begin to communicate with each other by exchanging your first glances, sounds, and touches. Babies quickly learn about the world through their senses. Be sure to:

  • Talk to your baby whenever you have the chance. Even though your baby doesn't understand what you're saying, your calm, reassuring voice conveys safety. Your newborn is learning about life with almost every touch, so provide lots of tender kisses and your little one will find the world a soothing place.
  • Always respond to your newborn's cries. Babies cannot be spoiled with too much attention. Quick responses to their cries let them know that they're safe and cared for. There will probably be times when you have met all needs, yet your baby continues to cry. Don't worry — your little one might be overstimulated, tired, or just need a good cry for no apparent reason.
  • Try to soothe your baby. When upset, some babies are comforted by motion, such as rocking or being walked back and forth across the room. Others respond to sounds, like soft music or the hum of a vacuum cleaner. It may take some time to find out what best comforts your baby during these stressful periods.

Is My Baby Crying Too Much?

Most babies have a fussy period about the same time every day, which usually begins in early evening. Though all newborns cry and can be fussy, when an infant who is otherwise healthy cries for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week for at least 3 weeks, it is a condition known as colic.

This can be upsetting, but the good news is that most babies outgrow it at around 3 or 4 months of age.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call the doctor if:

  • Your baby is crying for a long time.
  • The cries sound odd to you.
  • Your crying baby has other symptoms, like decreased activity, poor feeding, a fever, trouble breathing, or pain.

Call with any other concerns, especially if you're worried that your newborn might have trouble hearing or seeing. Newborns can be tested, if needed. The sooner a problem is caught, the better it can be treated.

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2022