New parents often wish they had a magic baby cry decoder—especially to figure out what’s behind a baby crying at night. Learn how to stop a crying baby today. These clues can help.

Newborns cry a lot—but they sleep even more. Most newborns sleep about eight to nine hours during the day and another eight hours at night, though not all at once. Your baby probably won’t sleep through the night (6 to 8 hours) until she’s at least 3 months old. Some babies don’t sleep through the night until 6 months or older. So it stands to reason that lots of crying starts up when you thought she was sleeping peacefully—or when you're trying to sleep.

Crying is your baby’s primary way of sending you a message. Babies cry at night to signal that they are in need of your help. What’s she trying to tell you when she wakes up wailing or cries in her sleep? Here are the main reasons that newborns cry at night, and what to try when you're wondering how to stop a crying baby.

How to Stop a Crying Baby: Why Babies Cry at Night

Sheer Hunger

Your newborn needs to eat every few hours because her stomach is so tiny. Most babies cry at night because they are hungry.

What helps: Check the clock, and if it’s been two or three hours since the last feeding, your baby is probably waking up to tell you she needs to be fed.

Hunger-Gas-Crying Cycle

If your baby cries at night from hunger for some time, she may work herself into a frenzy and find it difficult to calm down when nourishment arrives. When a baby is frantic to eat, sometimes she then gulps air with the milk, causing gas. This can create a cycle of discomfort that makes your baby fuss and cry instead of settling back into sleep once her hunger has been satisfied.

What helps: Feed your baby before she becomes frantically hungry. Crying is actually a late sign of hunger, after things like smacking lips or sucking on fist. Taking a break to burp her during a feeding, as well as after, can also help. If you’re formula-feeding your baby, talk to your doctor about changing to a different type. Enfamil® Gentlease® is designed to ease fussiness, gas, and crying in 24 hours, while providing nutrition for healthy development. It has easy-to-digest proteins for sensitive tummies and is often recommended for gassy and fussy babies.

Other Discomfort

Although the stomach is your newborn’s main alarm clock right now, other things can cause baby crying at night. Check for:

  • A diaper that needs changing
  • A finger tangled uncomfortably in a swaddle
  • A room that’s grown too hot or too cold
  • Any signs of sickness (A baby who has a cold or ear infection might waken more often than usual.)

What helps: Especially if you’ve just fed your baby and she’s still fussy, check out these other possibilities to learn how to stop a crying baby. A quick diaper change before feedings can make her feel calmer while eating. If you suspect sickness, check her temperature; a rectal temperature over 100.4°F (38°C) warrants a call to your pediatrician.

Unexplained Baby Crying at Night

Still can’t seem to find a cause for baby crying at night? Research suggests that up to 40 percent of all infants have colic—bouts of unexplained crying, fussiness, and sometimes gassiness for up to several hours a day, including evenings. Experts believe the crying may be related to digestive issues, which babies tend to outgrow in three or four months.

What helps: To soothe a baby crying at night, try cuddling, swaddling, and walking with your baby, all of which provide motion and body contact. A white-noise machine or fan in the room can help, too. To make sure there are no underlying digestive issues, share all behaviors with your doctor. Sometimes a simple formula change can help.