Don’t panic! A handy guide to make sense of your baby’s crying

We’ve all been told that we’ll learn to discern the cause behind our baby’s specific cries but everyone needs a bit of help

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A woman’s life is forever transformed at the birth or adoption of her baby. A group of women with diverse aspirations, life experiences, opportunities and cultural identities is at once equalized and unified through the shared experience of entering motherhood. Few factors of motherhood are as informing and formative as the work of interpreting a child’s cries. And this is no small feat, translating the oral declaration of this tiny muse. And thus we must stick together in our determination to understand what they are telling us with their cries.

We have all been told that we’ll learn to discern the cause behind our baby’s specific cries. “You’ll just know...” we’ve been advised by our party-hopping-girlfriend-turned-mystic, as she gazes at her own newborn. We think, “hmm, if she gets it, then I definitely will.” But it may be that sometimes you won’t know what your child’s cry is about. There are a few things you can do to figure it out!

First, start to journal out a brief sketch of your child’s day. Start this as soon as you’re home from the hospital or as soon as your adopted baby enters your care. Look for patterns, not perfection. Simply respond to your newborn’s cry from the point of view of inquiry--does she need a feeding or changing? Watch as your baby begins to unfold. Their eyes open more, and they have a more definitive sleeping and waking time throughout the day.

Every 3-5 days review this journal to notice how things may be developing into a routine. This is child-centered parenting--letting your child’s natural development lead the way.

While each child will have individual preferences that crop up during their first few months of life, most babies will cry when they’re hungry. Starting a routine of feeding every 90 minutes to two hours will waylay a lot of pieces of the puzzle. Establishing support to ensure comfortable and full feedings will go a long way here.

As your baby matures during their first 6 weeks of life, you may note that sudden new patterns of crying and wakefulness appear. This is both a signal and an opportunity to get to know your baby. As we recover from childbirth or adoption, mothers begin to get out of the house more and move about our community and rejoin routines such as grocery shopping. This means that your baby is suddenly also exposed to a lot more sensory input than while at home, and certainly more than she was in the womb.

What should you do if your baby is crying, despite being fed, burped, changed, and dressed comfortably? What is the crying persists? It’s hard not to panic!

As your baby is exposed to new sights, smells and sounds--even if it appears they’re sleeping through these first trips out--their little brain is working overtime to process this information. While this is a learning opportunity for your baby that is necessary for her to build the neuropathways needed to integrate experiences and develop normally, it is exhausting work for a baby! This may cause more crying from your baby and will require you to consider this when it comes to soothing her.

Consider your day. Were you somewhere with lots of noise? If so, take your baby not into a quiet room, but a room with white noise or soft music. Were you somewhere with bright lights? If so, a dim nursery. Perhaps you went to a friend’s house and he was passed from loving arms to loving arms. If so, swaddle him and let him hear and smell you. Some babies will need to discharge excess energy through crying. And this is okay. In fact, they need to do this like you need to vent to a girlfriend. Let it happen. A new baby is not going to develop a habit of it, there is no sad or grieving emotion attached to the crying and they are too new to be experimenting with behavior. Go with your intuition. If you feel that he needs to be held, do so. If that doesn’t make a difference, lay him down. If the belly is more soothing, lay her down on her belly and pat her bottom to let her know you’re near.

Crying pulls us in, as caregivers, and yet sometimes a baby’s cry will push us back out. It’s not always a cry that says they need anything from us. It’s just something they need to do. Letting a baby cry is not cruel, and it’s not neglectful. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your newborn is to let them be human.

This article was first published on, a digital hub for everything mother, father and child.

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