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"What Does My Baby Want?"

Decoding Your Infant's Cries

Until he has words, crying is the only language your baby can use to convey all kinds of important needs. Check out this cheat sheet on the top five reasons babies cry, and the signs you can look for to figure out what the heck the little guy wants.

I'm hungry!

To babies with tiny stomachs that are empty just two to three hours after they last ate, they aren't just hungry, they're ravenous! If you can, start jotting down the times you begin feeding your baby. Soon his pattern will become clear (some kids get hungry more quickly than others).

Hunger clues: Babies give clear signals that they want to eat. They start sticking out their tongues, making sucking noises, or trying to put their fists into their mouths. Feed your baby as soon as you see these signs, and you won't have to deal with an infant so wrought up that he can't calm—or chow—down.

I'm tired!

Most new babies sleep, wake up howling to eat, and soon drift off again. Slowly their periods of wakefulness grow longer, and this is when they need your help getting to dreamland. Here's an important truth: Most newborns can't stay up for more than two hours at a time. So keep an eye on the clock, try nursing or giving him a bottle and then settle him down (rock him, sing lullabies) before two hours are up.

Fatigue clues: Babies yawn and rub their eyes just like grownups do. But by the time your teeny sweetie does these things, he is already overtired, which can trigger a major meltdown. Remember the two-hour rule: Babies need to eat and sleep about every two hours.

I'm wet!

You know how annoying it feels when your clothes get soaked from the rain. But you have control over how fast you can ditch your soggy duds. Your baby doesn't.

Dirty diaper clues: If your wee one doesn't seem hungry or tired and it's two hours since you last changed him (yep, there's that two-hour rule again!) head straight to the changing table. Of course, once your child starts solid foods, certain clues will be painfully odorous—oops, we mean obvious.

I'm uncomfortable!

Babies are born with different personalities, and some are just more sensitive than others—to bright lights, noise, or itchy clothes. And all babies will let you know if they're too hot or cold (by exercising their lungs).

Comfort-me clues: Notice when your baby cries for what seems to be no reason. When the gang comes over to watch football, is the sound turned up much louder than usual? Is the Mommy & Me class lit with fluorescent lights and full of screeching children? Your little one may be slow to warm to people and parties; he'll probably outgrow it, but if not, talk to your doctor about how to deal. Lots of babies have sensitive skin, so use fragrance- and dye-free detergent and soap formulated for babies. As for how to tell if your little peanut may be too hot or cold: Babies generally need to wear just one more layer than we big people do.

I'm bored.

Finally, babies sometimes squawk just because they're bored. They crave stimulation, so talk and play with your cutie as you go about your day. When he's several months old, you may hear him cough even when he isn't one bit sick. That's right: That pint-sized person who can't even sit up yet is faking a cough just to score a little extra loving from you! Was being swindled ever so sweet?

This article was written by the publishers of Parents and American Baby magazines.

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