To learn, it is essential to understand what they want. If there is one sound in the world that is designed to make parents take action, it is a baby’s crying. As this is the main way in which an infant can communicate his needs, it is just as well it is a compelling sound. Advice such as it is better to leave a baby to cry rather than spoil him, or that a baby needs to cry to exercise his lungs, is unworthy of consideration. Babies never cry for nothing-and will go on crying until their needs are understood.
Hunger is the most common reason for crying, but what is often overlooked is that a baby also gets thirsty. If this need is misinterpreted, he may accept food in an attempt to quench his thirst, but, having failed to do so, will often begin to cry again. Misinterpretation is, in fact, a common cause of prolonged crying. A baby, for example, who begins to cry because he is tired or overstimulated, is often jogged up and down or handed even more toys. What he really needs is peace and moments of being held lovingly close.
Likewise, a baby who is left unoccupied for too long in hisor pram will express his boredom by crying. He will soon cheer up if he is placed so that he can watch his mother or other members of the family, or even just leaves wafting in a breeze. Baby-carrying slings are certainly a useful way of including a baby who is feeling excluded or deprived of bodily contact. Rhythmical movements, such as those supplied by baby slings, rocking cradles or a pair of arms, are very soothing when a baby is distressed. So are rhythmical sounds, such as a
soothing voice, lullaby or musical box.
Being over-dressed and, therefore, over-heated -or under-dressed and cold-are common causes of crying. Likewise, some babies have sensitive skins and will react to the scratchiness of a woollen garment or the suffocating cling of nylon and other man-made fibres. Many babies also dislike being undressed. The sudden lack of contact with the clothing, and the sense of air playing on the skin, distresses them. If this is the case, the baby will appreciate a soft towel or shawl draped
around his body whilst mother sorts out the various garments.
Other babies startle easily and will protest at a sudden sound or react to the unexpected especially if it is a stranger’s face. Others rightly object to sudden movements, such as being jerked into a sitting up position without the warning of a gentle voice or touch. Babies also protest at being handled inattentively or hurriedly. They all are sensitive to their parents’ moods and will respond with tears to their parents’ agitation, whether this is expressed or unexpressed. None of this is surprising when it is remembered that a young baby has been used to the total security and instant service of life in the uterus. After this, any delay between expressing a need and having it answered can seem like an eternity.
Whether a baby is ‘saying’ I am tired, hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, lonely, bored, frightened, uncomfortable or in pain, is not always easy for a mother or father to interpret. What matters is that the baby should be allowed to know, by the parent’s loving and reassuring presence, that whilst all may not be well now, it soon will be. Crying is a baby’s first language. Like all languages, it is spoken in a very individual way. It takes time, patience and perseverance before one can truly say one has
mastered the steps and can understand precisely what is being said.
Sometimes nothing seems to stop your baby crying. The noise and strain are intolerable, especially as this always happens on a very busy day or when you are already under the weather. Anyone, however calm normally, can suddenly feel real anger and resentment at her baby’s apparently perverse behaviour. Get in touch with a neighbour or friend who can come immediately and look after the baby while you go out or keep you company to help things into perspective. If no-one is available, put the baby in his pram and go for a long walk. The fresh air will calm you down and the noise will immediately seem less. When you are feeling better, don’t feel guilty.