Knowing what’s normal about your baby’s tears can help you better meet her needs. This week, learn the why’s of Baby’s cries.
Baby’s Brain in Week 5
Newborns don’t talk, and they’re not very good at gesturing and body language, but they’re really good at crying. Those wails are Baby’s way of telling you he needs you now: At some primal level, your infant knows that he can’t survive without your care, so nature equipped him with this sure-fire means of having you provide for his needs.
The cycle happens like this:
- Baby cries.
- You’re so disconcerted that you reflexively work to determine exactly what it is that Baby requires,
- and then you solve the puzzle and bring him to contentment. Success!
- Now, Baby is reaffirmed that you’re to be trusted to meet his needs, which cement your relationship with him.
The upside of crying is that it fast-tracks you into caregiving mode, which in turn secures his survival. The downside is that sometimes it’s difficult to figure out just which form of caregiving your baby is seeking because, as you likely know by now, your baby may go through frustrating periods of fussiness that occur for no apparent reason.
Knowing what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to crying can make this trust-through-crying cycle that much easier on you, as a parent.
What the Research Shows
Researchers studying typically developing infants have discovered these facts about crying:
How much is normal? Newborns cry between 2 and 11 percent of every 24 hours; this percentage frequently increases during the first few weeks of life. At six weeks, babies’ crying peaks at two to three hours a day, but drops off to less than one hour a day by three months. Infants cry most in the evening, and this pattern of crying occurs in all cultures.
Why is Baby crying? Research shows that babies’ cries take on different pitches and patterns depending on their immediate need. Soon, you may be able to decipher those needs. For example, whether he’s…
- Hungry, a need that provokes mild distress, whimpering, and moaning.
- In pain, a sensation that causes an abrupt onset of sudden crying.
- Angry, an emotion that provokes a louder and more intense cry.
Why does it all matter? As you interpret and respond to your baby’s cries, she’ll in turn become efficient in her crying. She’ll cry for food and you’ll feed her. Soon she’ll learn to cry in that exact way when she’s hungry again. Prompt attention to your crying baby in the first three months actually leads to less crying later in infancy! So it’s definitely worth it to spend some time sleuthing your child’s shrieks.
If your baby deviates drastically from these norms, be sure to talk to your baby’s doctor.
Week 5 Brain Booster
Since you now know that your baby will likely cry anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours a day, prepare yourself for it. Remind yourself (or your partner) that there’s no need to be alarmed; that crying is what babies do, and that most parents—with time, patience, and practice—are usually able to determine what their baby needs to end the bouts of crying.
Most cries signify hungry or a need for comfort, through holding, gentle caressing, and sitting and rocking. If this doesn’t do the trick, lift Baby to your shoulder and gently bounce or rock her or walk around. Next, try swaddling, and have the pacifier handy. Then talk softly, play rhythmic sounds, or sing. Another option? Massage your infant, head to toe. Sometimes you’ll need to multitask, so try out different combinations until you find which works today.
It’s important to watch your own emotions, stress level, hunger, and fatigue. When feeling overwhelmed, you’re less able to determine and attend to your child’s needs. If you’re feeling this way, call your partner, mother, sister, or trusted friend or neighbor who can hold the baby, while you have a snack and take a rest. (Don’t call on anyone who will bombard you with advice or make you feel even guiltier.) If you don’t have someone available to help out, make sure your baby is well fed, then put her in her bed, feed yourself, and lie down for a few minutes. Then, return to your baby. Most likely the crying will have stopped, and you’ll both feel calmer.