It’s often easy to forget your maternal instincts, but understanding why they’re crying should help calm those anxious moments, says Georgina Blaskey
We’ve all been there. You’re four hours into the day after a broken night’s sleep (in fact, it’s week three of broken nights, not that you’re counting…) and your baby has been crying for the last hour. You can feel your heart rate rising, anxiety is knocking on your blood pressure’s door and the best-laid morning plan to brush your hair and teeth and stroll around the corner to buy some milk is rapidly fading. Which is heartbreaking, because all you really want is a cup of tea… with milk.
“Nothing prepares a first-time mother for the distress of hearing her baby crying,” explains baby wellness expert Angela Spencer. “Gone are the days when mothers stayed at home for six weeks and took time to establish a routine according to their baby’s rhythms; now many mothers are expected to get out and about as quickly as possible post-birth.”
But let us not forget the crucial fact at the heart of the issue – babies do cry. In fact, studies show that 10% of babies cry ‘persistently’ (more than three hours a day). Dr Hugh Coyne, father of two and founder partner at Coyne Medical reveals, “On average, it has been found that babies cry for two hours per day with a peak in the evening. It is particularly common in the first three months after birth.” Yet, how many mothers feel under pressure by believing that babies will always be content if they’re doing it right? Dr Coyne adds, “While crying can be distressing, it’s the main form of communication your baby has. And although your baby’s cries can initially make you feel helpless, with time you will learn to understand them.”
Once we view crying as communication, we can learn to tune in to their cries and help solve the mystery of what they need – instead of being afraid of them. While the advice of pushing mothers into forced routines continues to flourish, many babies are more unpredictable in their patterns. “Just as you’ve settled into one routine, things can change again,” says Angela. If your baby’s changing pattern doesn’t fit with your day, this can lead to disturbed sleep times, a cranky baby who isn’t really hungry topping up their last feed and then not sleeping well at a pre-determined nap time, which will lead to cries.
If your little one is crying, you need to run through your trouble-shooting checklist (right), then you can work on addressing your baby’s needs. Soothing your baby isn’t a skill we get beamed down from above the first time we hold them in our arms, we need to acquire it. But successfully soothing a baby is a wonderful feeling. I vividly remember scooping up my firstborn, trying all sort of tricks from Dr Harvey Karp, having skim-read his manual a week before I gave birth. He champions the ‘Five Ss’ – swaddling, side position, shhhing, swinging, sucking. Dr Karp says: “It’s intuitive to want to calm your baby, it’s not intuitive to know how – that’s a skill.”
Distraction can be another option. Just like the water in the womb, babies love baths. “At night, a bath should be quiet with soft lighting, but why not give them a daytime bath during which they can play?” says Angela. Think about their other senses, too. “Perhaps it’s too bright and your baby needs a darker room. Or play some whale music to mimic the womb and fill the silence that babies aren’t used to.”
When a baby is crying and isn’t stopping, your maternal alarm bells will ring. Trust your intuition but seek medical advice if your baby has a temperature. “Children under three months who have a fever above 38 degrees celsius should be seen by a doctor,” says Dr Coyne. A high-pitched, piercing cry shouldn’t be ignored.
All our experts agree, as calm as you are is as calm as they’ll be, so look after yourself. “I am a better parent if I have been fed, watered, rested and not dying to go to the loo. You will be too, so make sure that in your efforts to care for your child you have not neglected yourself,” says Dr Coyne.
And if none of that works, there’s always a few laps of the neighbourhood in the car…
Why is my Baby Crying: A Checklist
Are they hungry? “Try offering breast or bottle,” advises Dr Coyne. “In terms of comfort, for baby there is nothing quite like being cradled and rocked while having some milk.”
Are they tired? “If they’ve had disturbed sleep, they’ll probably need more,” suggests Angela.
Do they have wind? “It’s surprising how often a massive burp instantly relieves a crying baby!” reveals Dr Coyne.
Could they have a dirty nappy? “It may not even be that the nappy is soiled but just adjusting it to a more comfortable position can help,” suggests Dr Coyne.
Are they teething? “Even babies at three months old can start teething,” says Angela. “Massage their gums and you’ll soon know if it’s soothing them, and therefore if that’s the issue.”
Are they too hot or cold? Babies can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults. Or perhaps they just want to be put down and left to self-soothe if they’ve been passed around a lot that day.
Light reading – books to stop tears in their tracks…
- Baby Bliss: Your One-Stop Guide for the First Three Months & Beyond by Dr Harvey Karp (£4.99, amazon.co.uk). Perfect for new parents of fussy and even colicky babies.
- Babyopathy: Baby Care The Natural Way by Angela Spencer (£16.58, amazon.co.uk) explores human connections and sensory development.