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This is NOT a post on how to help your baby to stop crying. This is for YOU – the moms – on how to deal with a crying baby.
Moms know. Most of the time we can figure out what it is that baby needs or wants and keep them happy. But baby world is ever changing and baby will have days where you try everything under the sun and they still won’t stop screaming at the top of their lungs. No mom likes hearing their baby cry but it is especially bad for moms of extremely fussy or inconsolable babies.
You might hear people say that “babies cry for no reason”. I think that is the easy way of saying that despite our best efforts, sometimes we can’t find or understand the reason baby is crying and sometimes our best attempts don’t make them feel better.
This is not a place for mom guilt.
It happens to all of us. Especially moms of newborns whose babies haven’t figured out life outside the womb yet. No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, your kid(s) will cry for reasons you can’t help. You are not a bad mom.
Lets repeat that.
YOU ARE NOT A BAD MOM.
When you are exposed to crying, it affects your brain and how you feel. This in turn affects your ability to soothe baby. It can turn into a vicious cycle so its important to know the best ways to deal with a crying baby.
What happens to your brain?
When you hear your own baby cry, certain parts of your brain activate. One study (Musser, 2012) used fMRI scans to look at moms’ brains while the moms were listening to their own baby cry. The parts of the brain that activate are associated with four main things: “approach motivation, decision making, emotion recognition and regulation, and social cognition”. Basically, mom hears her baby cry and her brain automatically thinks to go to baby, recognize baby’s emotions, decide how to help baby and socially engage with baby.
This is why moms around the world go to, pick up and talk with their babies. Our brains are programmed to do so.
But then what? What if baby doesn’t stop crying?
Different parts of our mom brains don’t suddenly activate after babies continue to cry. After we do everything we are able to think of and do, we start to feel some type of way.
How can it make you feel?
After baby starts crying, one of two things happen. When a mom responds to her baby’s signals and cries, mom will either gain confidence in her own ability to mother OR mom will loose confidence and start to focus on feeling inadequate. Frustrated. Useless. Irritated. Helpless. Angry. Not one good feeling.
In one study they found proof of what any mom would think is obvious.
Infants who cry for more than 60 min per day have mothers who report decreased well-being, increased stress, and increased frustration when compared to infants who cry for fewer than 60 min per day. (Riem et all, 2012)
Any mom could have told you that, but thanks for confirming.
What might not be obvious is how much you think you have control over baby’s cries affects how you feel too. Moms who think they have a high amount of control over their baby’s cries have a harder time processing baby’s cries after hearing the crying for long periods of time. Moms who think they have less control over their baby’s cries are more tolerant of the cries and can withstand them longer with less frustration. (Donovon, Leavitt, & Taylor, 2005)
What Happens to You Next?
Sometimes moms spend a substantial amount of time trying to soothe their baby and in doing so ignore their own needs to an extreme extent. They start feeling inadequate and build up bad feelings.
Ignoring your own needs makes you exhausted, distressed, and less able to care for baby in supportive ways.
This creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
What can you do?
The number one thing you can do to deal with a crying baby is to not ignore your own needs. (If you haven’t read my happiness theory, now would be a great time to read about your basic needs)
If you don’t feel like you can meet your basic needs, get help. Enlist someone – hubby, grandma, sister, friend, etc. – to take over. Maybe all you need is five minutes to refresh yourself. Maybe you need a lot longer. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, I’ve put together a great list of over 80 positive interventions tailored to moms.
Don’t have help and need a break? If you have done everything possible to soothe baby and you know they are fed, clean, and healthy and they still just keep crying you might be starting to loose it. Take a break. Put baby in a place they can stay safely like a crib or play pen. Set baby down or walk away for even just five minutes.
This is harder to do if you have post-partum anxiety about baby’s safety (like me) but that is what they invented baby monitors for.
Here are some of my favorite things to put baby in for a few minutes while I take a quick breather:
- The Boppy Newborn Lounger: Cute, soft, washable, and super portable. My favorite to set on the floor for when I want to shower or use the bathroom and can have baby right there in sight. This worked great when my baby was a newborn and we used it to set him next to us for everything. When baby starts to be able to roll and wiggle it is no longer safe.
- Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Portable Bassinet: Safe, portable, washable, and just the right height for me. I use this to contain baby in the same room as me if he is very wiggly. My baby loves the mirror that comes attached to it. I do find it very difficult to snap into place while holding baby so set it up before hand.
- Graco Baby Swing: We got this as a gift and I can’t say enough how much this swing has saved me. My baby loves the vibrate /swinging combination and using this swing is the only way I am ever able to cook dinner.
Another preventative measure is having positive interactions with your baby when they aren’t crying. Musser’s 2012 study found that moms who had more pleasant interactions with their baby were better at remembering things to do that baby liked and were better at managing their own stress after being exposed to their baby’s cries. Its a pretty cool way to increase your and baby’s well-being.
When Should I seek Professional Help?
Reminder: postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are real and can be overwhelming. Crying babies can make it worse. If your feelings/thoughts are preventing you from functioning on a daily basis, get help. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, baby, or someone else, call 9-1-1 or visit your local emergency room immediately.
Remember: You are a Good Mom
Its important to remind yourself that baby’s cries are not a reflection of your parenting skills. They will cry for reasons you cannot control or understand and you have to remind yourself that you are a good mom. This can be hard to remember in public when you have a lot of eyes on you. When that happens to me I repeat “This is not a reflection of my parenting skills” to myself over and over and it helps me feel better and more focused on baby.
Do you have any special tips or tricks to help yourself stay calm when your baby is crying? What did you think of the studys and their results? I’d love to hear from you -Let me know in comments below!
As always, wishing you happy momming!
de Cock, E. S., Henrichs, J., Rijk, C. H., & van Bakel, H. J. (2015). Baby please stop crying: an experimental approach to infant crying, affect, and expected parenting self-efficacy. Journal Of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, 33(4), 414-425. doi:10.1080/02646838.2015.1024212
Donovan, W., Leavitt, L., & Taylor, N. (2005). Maternal self-efficacy and experimentally manipulated infant difficulty effects on maternal sensory sensitivity: a signal detection analysis. Developmental Psychology, 41(5), 784-798.
Musser, Erica D (2012). “The neural correlates of maternal sensitivity: An fMRI study.”. Developmental cognitive neuroscience (1878-9293), 2 (4), p. 428.
Riem, M. M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., Out, D., & Rombouts, S. A. (2012). Attachment in the brain: adult attachment representations predict amygdala and behavioral responses to infant crying. Attachment & Human Development, 14(6), 533-551. doi:10.1080/14616734.2012.727252