Hearing your baby cry can be incredibly stressful.
You may notice that your heart races, you feel a little anxious, and if you're breastfeeding, your breasts start to ache, as you urgently try to soothe your crying child.
If those first few sobs turn into full on wailing, you may feel pretty desperate as you try everything you can think of to try and ease his woes.
What Your Crying Baby Wants You To Know
Your crying baby can't yet explain to you what is wrong, or tell you exactly what he needs, but there are a few things he really wants you to know.
#1: “I'm Not Crying For No Reason Or To Manipulate You”
Contrary to what your in-laws might be telling you, babies don't just cry for no reason, or in an attempt to manipulate you. It's just not what they do.
Your baby simply cannot speak your language, so when he cries, your baby is doing his hardest to communicate his needs to you. Crying out for his mama or dada ensures his survival. It could be that he's hungry (even if he only just finished a feed), tired, has gas, is too warm, or simply wants to be close enough to smell your reassuring scent.
Your baby has just transitioned from a very comfortable world and into a big, new world – it's a huge transition called, the fourth trimester. So when your baby cries, try to figure out what he's trying to tell you. You can read about learning baby's cues here.
Some babies are said to be suffering from colic, a condition characterised by excessive and frequent crying in an otherwise healthy baby. You might like to read BellyBelly's article on colic for more information.
If you are at all concerned about your baby's crying, please speak to your healthcare provider.
#2: “You're Doing A Really Great Job!”
It may not feel like it right now, but you are doing a great job. Please don't take your baby's tears as a personal attack on your parenting. You haven't failed, you're not a terrible parent, and your baby certainly isn't crying out for a new parent!
You are a fantastic parent, and the fact that you are trying to soothe your crying child proves that. Don't let this period of crying shake your confidence, and know that so many people are going through exactly what you are – right now in fact!
Focus on all the time your baby was contented and happy today, even if it only seems like it was for a short time.
#3: “I'm Not Old Enough To Self Soothe”
Young babies simply do not have the ability to self-soothe – it's not a skill that babies are born with. It must be learnt over time, with love and patience.
Some people believe the best way to teach a baby to self-soothe is to leave them crying, but studies have found this to be false. In fact, leaving a baby to cry not only makes him panic and feel anxious, but it teaches him not to depend on others – why bother when no-one will answer his cries of help anyway?
While these babies may have learnt not to cry, sadly it comes at a cost. Science has shown us that high levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) can flood a baby's brain, indicating that the babies have not learnt to self-soothe, but simply to give up calling for help.
The best way to teach your baby to self-soothe is to always respond to his cries. By being there and reassuring your baby as he cries, you show him that emotions are manageable, and he will learn to self-soothe in time.
Read our article about a recent controlled crying study and why babies actually need comfort, not isolation.
#4: “I Feel Safer When I'm With You”
His nappy is dry. He isn't hungry. His room isn't too warm or too cold. He doesn't have a fever or any other symptoms associated with illness. What could be causing your baby's cries?
Sometimes your baby may simply want the security of being with his mamma. He feels safe when you are nearby. Your smell, the sound of your voice and your touch all help him to feel safe and secure.
Sometimes all your baby wants is a cuddle, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, you are the most important person in his world right now – someone that he knows he can depend on.
#5: “I Feel So Much Better In Your Arms”
There are few situations that are more panic inducing than being unable to soothe your crying child. As his face grows redder and he looks more miserable by the minute, you may start to wonder what you're doing wrong.
You have tried everything, and nothing is working. Even being in your arms isn't helping him this time. Rest assured though, while he may still be crying, he does feel better being in your arms (or in a good baby carrier). You help him to feel safe and secure, even when he is inconsolable.
If, however, you are struggling to cope with the crying, don't beat yourself up for taking a breather. If you feel like your nerves are in tatters, and you really need to get away from the sound of the crying, take five minutes to yourself.
If you don't have a friend or family member who can take over, leave your baby in a safe place like his cot, and go and take five minutes to calm your nerves. Have a cup of tea, listen to the radio, or just have five minutes to focus on something other than your baby.
When the five minutes is up, go back into your baby, pick him up and try to soothe his tears.
Being mindful can help – when our babies cry we tend to take in all of their unhappy energy and it builds up like a ball inside of us. But if you can be present and mindful, quietening your mind, you may be surprised how much better you cope with crying.
#6: “I Know It's Hard Sometimes, But When You're Calm, I Feel More Secure”
Being confronted by a screaming baby is not pleasant. Especially at 3am when you're exhausted and half asleep. Being unable to soothe your baby can be scary, and you may start to panic about whether something is wrong.
Remember though, your baby can read your emotions. Staying calm will help to reassure your baby. If you are panicked and screaming yourself, your baby will quickly pick up on your emotions and may end up feeling even worse. When we're stressed, we also make worse decisions.
Focus on your breathing or whatever helps to calm you down if you find yourself getting anxious. Be sure to take a good quality fish oil supplement (e.g. krill oil) and eat foods rich in omegas and magnesium, both of which are great for your brain.
#7: “It's Ok To Call In Backup”
Shout for daddy, ring nanna, put out an emergency to auntie Jo or hire a post-natal doula – do whatever you need to find respite care. Looking after a screaming baby can be hard work and emotionally draining, and you will need help to get you through it. Call in favours from friends and family. Ask someone to come round and look after the baby for a while so you can get some fresh air, or stick a load of washing into the machine while you take care of the baby.
There's no shame in asking for help. Motherhood can be tough at times, and you don't need to do it alone.
#8: “Please Take Care Of Yourself”
Put your own oxygen mask on first. You need to look after yourself in order to look after your baby. If you are exhausted, drained and feeling stressed, you won't be as capable of responding properly to your baby's needs.
Make sure that you spend some time each day looking after yourself. Have a soak in the bath with some epsom salts to help you relax and de-stress, read a book, catch up with a friend on the phone, or just spend a bit of time doing whatever it is that makes you feel like ‘you'.
#9: “This Too Shall Pass – I Promise”
It might feel like it at the moment, but your baby won't cry forever. The tears will stop, and soon your baby will be back to the happy baby you know and love.
In the meantime, be there for him, and it can help to repeat the mantra of parenthood – ‘this too shall pass'.
#10: “I Love You, Mama/Dada”
Your baby can't yet form the words to tell you he loves you. He may not be old enough to reach his arms around your neck and give you a squeeze to let you know he cares. He may not even be able to flash one of his beautiful smiles to reassure you that you're doing a good job.
One day he will, but until then, remember that he loves you.