Cry Baby, Cry: Learning a Baby’s Language

From a whisper, to a sing-song call, to a stern command, adults enjoy a wide range of communication strategies. Babies have only one most powerful strategy for communicating all their needs and feelings to you—crying. Meanwhile, parents are hard-wired to be highly sensitized to a baby’s cries so that we’ll come a-running.

First, accepting that newborn babies cry every day is important for new parents. You are not failing when your baby cries. Let’s repeat that: You are not failing when your baby cries. Parents grow to recognize their babies’ differing cries—for pain, boredom, or sleep—through experience. However, most parents also report that they can’t figure out why their baby cries at fairly regular intervals. We want to show our love. But incessant crying can work our nerves raw. Here are a few strategies for deciphering cries and sparing your sanity.

First, ask what’s the need. If your baby is crying, it’s time to run through the checklist of what he’s trying to communicate to you. Consider the fact that, at times, your baby may have a physical need, such as food or a diaper change. Does he need to move? Get fresh air? Consider that your baby also has social and emotional needs. Does he need to be held or swaddled to feel safer and more secure?

Second, work on your own calm. If you have fed, diapered, swaddled, rocked, and managed to meet every need you can imagine and your baby is still wailing, then what? Keep in mind that your baby’s cries may be fueled by your anxiety. Be sure that you take breaks when you need them. Yes, being responsive to crying is important. But if you are losing patience, it’s critical to step away. Make sure your baby is in a safe, secure place. You need not leave the room. Work on your mindfulness strategies to help restore your calm.   

10 Ways to Soothe a Baby

  1. Mimic womb conditions: Offer skin-to-skin contact, hold against chest to hear heartbeat, swaddle (or tightly wrap your baby in a blanket like a burrito with head sticking out), make shhhh-ing noises (like bodily noises in the womb), blow fan or hair dryer, turn on white noise machine, deeply breathe loudly.
  2. Sing: calmly, slowly (no talent needed)
  3. Hold on side or stomach: can help with gas pains if hand is splayed on tummy
  4. Rock or rhythmically sway
  5. Offer pacifier or finger to suck on
  6. Massage: touch stimulates calming brain receptors
  7. Talk: babies love the sound of their parents’ quiet voices
  8. Drive: the rhythm and sounds of driving are calming
  9. Bath: warm water can be soothing
  10. Distract: examine a new toy or book

Don’t switch strategies too quickly. Stay with one or two to give them time to work.  

10 Ways to Soothe a Nerve-Wracked Parent

  1. Baby meditation: Place baby on your chest, ear oriented to hear your heartbeat. Rest your head on the top of baby’s head. Slowly smell the baby scent. Hold for a count of four. And then, blow out your air and with it all tension and worries.
  2. Parent meditation: Secure baby and then sit, close eyes, and breathe deeply. Picture your breath circling through and reaching every inch of your body. Don’t leave your position until your body feels more spacious and lighter.
  3. Walk outside: Secure baby in safe location. Walk just outside your door, smell the fresh air, and notice and listen to all of the distinct sounds.
  4. Listen to inspirational music on headphones. Focus on the meaning of the lyrics or try to isolate instruments and focus on one at a time.
  5. Read a wise passage: You know what readings inspire you. Read one page and reflect on how the lesson might apply to you.
  6. Write grateful thoughts: Grab a notebook, piece of paper, or whiteboard. What are your grateful for at this moment?
  7. Connect with a friend: Call and talk, make a plan, or write an email that offers how you are feeling and attempts to make a genuine connection.
  8. Get out of the house: Go to the library or a coffee shop with baby. Make a point of showing kindness to strangers.
  9. Arrange for your own time: Enlist a partner, grandparent, sitter, or friend. Set up a time (even if short) to leave the house on your own. Go to a bookshop to peruse, savor a coffee, or slowly walk the neighborhood. Do something renewing in your time away.
  10. Connect with an animal: Visit your local shelter and pet a sweet kitten or stop by your local pet store and say hello to a puppy. Even brief interactions can fuel you.

Edited and extracted with permission from Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence In Ourselves and Our Kids, by Jennifer S Miller (Fair Winds RRP$32.99)

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