One of the most challenging aspects of the first few months of parenting a newborn is infant crying.
Most parents I meet who have just had their first baby say that nothing could have prepared them for how the sound of their own baby crying would make them feel. They describe feelings of helplessness, fear and frustration when their babies cry.
Our babies’ cries are designed by nature to sound distressing to us. This ensures we wake in the night to feed and care for them. But the view we hold about whether crying is normal, and what our role is when responding to crying affects how much the crying distresses us.
For a variety of reasons, well before they even hold their own newborn, parents have often absorbed the message that when a baby cries it’s the parent’s job to work out what’s wrong … and fix it.
This is probably the most unhelpful message we can give parents about crying because it makes parents feel more distressed when they are unable to stop their babies from crying. Babies, in turn, feed off their parents’ emotions so when parents are distressed by infant crying, babies will sense this discomfort and, you guessed it, cry more.
The concept that crying is bad – and ‘happy’ babies are good is incorrect and so unhelpful. To create a secure attachment our children need to know all their feelings are welcome with us, not just the happy, quiet ones.
Sometimes a baby will cry, a need will be met and the baby will settle. But, anyone who’s had a baby knows it’s often not this simple and sometimes babies just cry.
Some babies tend to cry more than others.
Some babies cry to release fear or overwhelm.
Some healthy babies cry A LOT.
Knowing how to swaddle and settle a baby is really important, and learning to read some early cues of tiredness and hunger will absolutely help make life easier in the first three months. But I believe that the other thing we need to be teaching expectant and new parents is this: not every cry can be avoided.
Infant crying is healthy and normal and it’s not always our job to “fix” or “solve”. Sometimes it’s our job just to be there, to hold our babies (and even older children) while they cry, as they adjust to the world, and send a powerful message:
“Let me be here with you while you feel this”.
Obstetric Social Worker and Parent Educator at the Mater hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys Genevieve is passionate about helping families adapt to the modern parenting world and all its challenges and not only survive but thrive.
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