Let me be honest, it’s hard not to feel stressed when your infant is crying. That stress response you have is natural. A crying baby is often outside of our control which can be very triggering for many people. The fact that you want to help your baby stop crying tells me that you are such a loving parent who wants what is best for your little one. I know how helpless and isolating those moments can feel when you can’t seem to soothe your little one.
If this describes you, you are not alone. However, I want to offer you a new perspective on infant crying.
What we know about infant crying
We can expect that infants will cry to get their needs met. They will cry for sleep, food, milk, and comfort. They will also cry for other reasons that we don’t always understand. There will be many people who try to sell products or courses or material that may make us feel like infant crying is not ok, and that if we aren’t able to soothe our babies we are doing something wrong. This causes many parents that I support anxiety. We can shush and swing our babies all day, but sometimes they will still cry.
What can be helpful is recognizing that crying is a very normal part of infant development, and it is how they make sense of the world. When they are crying they aren’t saying you are a bad parent or that you are failing them, in fact they are saying I trust you, and need you to get curious about what is going on for me. To follow the mindset of “I don’t want my baby to cry” is exhausting and unattainable because babies will cry! They also will be unpredictable at times, may sleep on various schedules, and have their own unique needs.
Here is a few helpful things to remember in the moment when your infant is crying:
Think of crying as a call to tune in
When your baby cries, think about it as a call for you to tune into what they need, and not necessarily a call to soothe them as quickly as possible. When we rush into our impulse to stop the crying as quickly as possible, we aren’t taking a minute to really tune in and get curious about what our infants need. Try to take a breath, calm your own emotional reaction to the crying (because believe me I get it, crying is TOUGH to listen to!), and then get curious about what your baby is trying to tell you.
Are they hungry, do they need to be changed, are they cold, are they in pain? Or are they simply frustrated and letting us know they aren’t happy about the way they are feeling? Release yourself from the pressure of instantly soothing any crying, and instead try to slow down your own body in response to the crying.
Communicate with your baby
Even though babies may not understand the words we are saying, starting authentic communication with them helps set the stage for emotional regulation and helps them with their big feelings as they get older. If all of their needs are met and your baby is still crying, you can hold them, provide comfort, and communicate with them what you are saying. You may say something like “I see you crying right now, you are feeling upset. I am not sure how to help you, so I am going to hold you.” Again, releasing yourself from the pressure to rush to a solution, while at the same time letting your baby know that you got this, and that even now their emotions are safe with you.
Take care of yourself
As a therapist who also works in mental health in the postpartum period, I have to throw in this point. Your mental health during this time period is so important. If you are struggling with your mental health please don’t hesitate to reach out for support for yourself. Feeling anxious or depressed can cause the sound of your baby crying to send your body into high alert. It’s important to take care of yourself and care for your mental health. When parents do well, babies can really do well as well!
Finally, try to remember this:
“Just like my baby is learning the world for the first time, I am learning their world for the first time too. It is ok if we don’t have it all figured out. I can give myself and my baby grace as we learn from each other and learn how to figure out this new world.”