There are not many noises that have the ability to send you flying into action more quickly than the sound of a baby crying. To come to the aid of a crying child is so deeply rooted in our genetic code that it is virtually impossible to ignore. I have worked with babies for a little over ten years now and have not yet developed the smallest amount of immunity to it…and that’s exactly what nature intended.
So what is infant crying? Is it just air moving out of the mouth from the lungs that rattles the vocal chords? Is it a signal? A social behavior? Or perhaps the first steps your baby takes in communicating with you? It is all these things, and more.
Above all, crying is an opportunity for you and your baby to begin to develop a lifelong bond with each other. When your baby cries and you respond appropriately by meeting her needs, the crying cycle is broken and that leaves you both with a hormonal rush which makes you feel amazing and connected. You have helped your baby and your baby places you in her life as her caregiver.
How do babies cry?
Newborns are basically shipwrecked. They have just been removed from the land of milk and honey only to find themselves washed up in a harsh environment in which they have to sing for their supper. The problem is they now have to take in food through their mouths, which could lead to choking. So nature has placed their larynx (organ of speech) high up in the nasal cavity so that it acts like a snorkel allowing them to drink and breathe at the same time! That’s brilliant, but it also means that babies are incapable of making many sounds other than crying. (The larynx does descend at around three months and so starts all the babbling and coo’ing.)
Why do babies cry?
Human babies aren’t able to move around, they need an effective way of attracting attention. Newborns develop a vague idea that something needs to change for them to be comfortable but don’t have the context or experience to know what it might be or what needs to be done about it. So they need to ‘Borrow your Brain’ (Hijack is probably a more apt description) to be able to get their needs met. Apart from telling you that your baby needs you, crying also has internal effects on your baby. It increases her lung capacity, kick starts her metabolism and because of all the muscle contraction that happens during crying, it keeps babies warm. How clever is that, by crying your baby generates heat and calls you over to give her a warm cuddle!
Why is crying so effective?
Research shows that parents are hardwired to respond to baby’s cries. When we become parents we have an increase in a hormone called Prolactin which makes us more sensitive to baby’s cries. Men and women even respond differently to different cries. Woman respond more to hunger cries, which makes sense seeing that they are generally the providers , whilst men respond more to pain cries, which rings true seeing that our job is to protect and keep safe. You may even find that your response to your child’s crying is so strong that it becomes overwhelming and you find it hard to interact positively with your baby. This is when you need to seek help for the benefit of your future relationship with your child.
Next week Dr Marinus explains how to deal with a crying baby.