Crying is your newborn baby's primary means of communication. Babies do not cry, as your grandmother might say, "just to exercise their lungs." Whenever your baby is not crying, you can generally assume that he doesn't need anything. Whether he is asleep or awake, silence usually signals contentment. But when he needs something, your baby lets you know in the only way he can: He cries.
Different cries, as you will soon recognize, mean different things. A steady, rhythmic cry that rises to a peak every second or so may signal hunger. By contrast, a louder and more intense cry that lasts up to four or five seconds per cry, punctuated with silences as he desperately refills his lungs, probably indicates pain or hurt of some kind.
It's up to you to find out what your baby needs when he cries. Fortunately, with young babies, the possibilities are not endless. When your baby cries, he's probably telling you that he feels:
- Uncomfortable or hurt because of gas, a full diaper, diaper rash, injury, cold, overheating, and so on
- Lonely or bored
- Frustrated or angry
Some babies appear to cry for no reason at all, but this apparent meaninglessness may be due to their limited ability to communicate and our limited ability to understand them. But just because we don't understand what they're saying doesn't mean that our babies aren't trying to tell us something.
Until your baby is about three months old, she cannot anticipate her needs. So when she cries, she's not saying, "I'm getting hungry," or "I'm getting tired." She's shouting, "I'm starving!" or "I'm exhausted!" Your baby is trying to alert you to immediate and pressing needs, so don't ignore her when she cries.
If your baby won't stop crying and you feel as if you may harm her if she doesn't shut up, seek help right away. Get your partner, a family member, or a friend to help you care for the baby. Then consult your pediatrician, a psychologist, a social worker, or another professional who can help you through this rough time.
Some parents fear that they will spoil their babies if they respond "too quickly" to crying. You may think that if you give her what she wants, she'll just want more. But your baby doesn't merely want you, she desperately needs you-and the nourishment, love, care, and attention you can provide. How can you spoil her by giving her what she needs?
If you respond quickly and effectively to your baby's cries, then she'll know that her attempts to communicate were successful. This knowledge has immediate and long-term benefits. As she grows to trust that you will take care of what ails her, your baby will cry less often and for shorter periods. And later in life, your baby will likely be more outgoing and develop good communication skills.
By contrast, if you ignore your baby's cries and deny or delay gratification of her needs for attention and care, she may become withdrawn and shy throughout her life. In addition, studies suggest that she will probably cry more often and for longer periods during her first year.
So pick her up right away, look for the cause of her crying, and try to comfort her. The sooner you figure out what your baby needs and take care of the problem, the sooner she'll become quiet and happy.
Try to stay calm. If your baby won't stop crying, that's her way of saying, "No, that's not it." Panic, frustration, tension, or anger won't bring you any closer to understanding what your baby needs. What's more, your baby will sense your negative emotions and respond to them. How? By crying, of course. So remain calm, if possible, and try everything in your repertoire.