Having a new baby is a huge milestone, whether it’s your first baby or your fourth! Each child is so different, and brings new joys, and new challenges. One of the most difficult things that many parents face is dealing with a crying newborn, and often one of the parents will find it more difficult to hear than the other. This can often bring tension into their relationship as a couple, as each parent may have different ideas about how to settle the baby and how to react when it cries. One parent may react to crying very emotionally, and one hardly at all. Perhaps the father has a hard time hearing a crying baby, and then the mother tries to somehow stop the baby’s cries at all costs, and this may lead to feelings of frustration, stress and even anger when baby is inconsolable. So, what to do if you find yourself in this situation?
Get on the same page with your partner
One of the first steps I recommend is to get on the same page with your partner. Your baby will sense if there is conflict and stress between you, and this will make it even harder for baby to settle well. Try to create some down time where you can really talk together, and express how you are both feeling. Maybe even organise someone to look after your baby for a couple of hours so that you and your partner can have some uninterrupted time to talk and listen to each other. Ask each other open questions, and allow your partner to fully finish expressing themselves before responding. It may be helpful to practice active listening, and asking responsive questions such as; “So, what I hear you saying is…..is that right?”, “Do I understand you correctly when I feel you mean…?”
What is crying?
In your discussion, it may be helpful to dive into what you each think a crying baby actually mean and what feelings it brings out in you. Here are a few little thoughts to contribute to your conversation. A newborn baby that has just arrived has a lot to process. There are suddenly new sounds and new smells, it is no longer squished up in the fetal position but can stretch completely out, and it’s stomach has to suddenly start working and digesting. This can create a lot of stress and overstimulation for a new little one. This stress may then be expressed in crying, the main method of communication of your newborn baby.
Did you know that crying actually helps to release that stress and bring the body back to a healthy equilibrium?? Whew! That takes the negative edge off crying, doesn’t it? Of course, this expression and release of stress needs to happen in a safe calm environment, maybe snuggled up in mom or dad’s arms. At this young age you don’t ever want to leave your baby alone to figure it out by themselves.
Hunger and tiredness
Apart from expressing stress, two of the other main reasons for a newborn baby to cry are: hunger and fatigue/overstimulation. If it has been over 2 hours since feeding your little one and they are not settling, offer them a feed. Their stomachs are so small at this stage that they need regular feeding to stay full, and young babies don’t cope well at all with feeling hungry. If you have fed within the last hour, and you know that hunger is not a likely option, they could very well be overtired. Consider swaddling your baby, turning on some calming womb sounds, dimming the lights, and gently swaying with your baby back and forth in a rhythmic motion while patting their bottom. This helps your baby to shut off from the overwhelming outside stimulation, and settle down.
Building Healthy Sleep Habits
As a sleep coach I recommend implementing age appropriate awake times. An overtired baby produces stress hormones which prevents settling and sleep. A newborn baby actually can’t handle being awake for more than about 40-60min, and tend to sleep for about 14-18 hours of their day! That’s a lot of sleep! And although older babies sleep less, they need their sleep just as much! Healthy sleep habits not only help your child to be able to regulate their emotions better during the day, but prepare them for improved concentration and ability to learn in their school years. So just like you wouldn’t skip your baby’s feeding, it’s really important not to skip their naps either. Sleep is the time when babies create crucial brain connections, process emotions and release stress, and where bones and tissue are repaired, appetite is regulated, and energy levels are restored. Creating an age appropriate day rhythm for your baby from the start can really decrease the amount of crying, as your child’s need for sleep is respected and encouraged. This can also help to create healthy sleep patterns for your child in the future.
Crying in the older child
What about older babies? Until a baby is able to really talk and express themselves verbally, crying may be one of the main ways a child expresses themselves. However, how they cry and why they cry may change over time. I always encourage parents to first listen to their child, to try to understand WHY they are crying before responding, so that the response is empathetic and appropriate. You don’t want to just feed your baby everytime they cry because they “may be hungry”!
Babies have the ability to start to regulate their emotions from about 6 months of age. They start to realize that certain aspects of their behaviour results in a particular response from mom or dad, and start to recognize patterns in daily life. Here it’s really important to create space to listen to your baby, and understand what they are trying to communicate: are they frustrated? Tired? Hungry? In pain? Does he need your help or does he need more space?! Crying is hardly ever without ANY reason, and it’s important for children that they feel heard and allowed to feel their emotions.
Setting healthy boundaries
This obviously doesn’t mean that you have to give in when your toddler begs and cries for chocolate, and it’s just about time for dinner! Healthy boundaries set by the parents actually give children a sense of security and improve bonding with their caregiver. However, HOW you set the boundary can greatly influence how you experience the situation, and can strengthen your relationship to your child. I encourage parents to kneel down to their child’s level, simply explain the situation (you’d be surprised how much children understand even before they can talk!) and express your understanding of their feelings. “I know it is frustrating to you that you can’t have chocolate, chocolate is very yummy. But we are just about to have dinner. When you’ve eaten your dinner, we’ll talk about it again. I love you.”
Crying it out?
The same goes for issues regarding sleep. Sleep coaches get a bad rap sometimes as many parents assume that “sleep training” will involve leaving their child for hours on end to finally cry themselves to sleep. That is certainly not my approach! Even in regards to sleep, a child deserves to be heard and understood. However, I still encourage parents to set healthy boundaries with consistent and empathetic reinforcement.
So, what to do if your husband can’t handle the baby crying?
- Take time to get on the same page, so that you understand WHY you react differently, and so that you can both be responsive and consistent. Maybe your husband is away during the day at work and has less time to be around the baby to differentiate his/her cries. Or maybe he has a negative connotation with crying. Talk openly together about the science of crying as a form of communication.
- Listen to your baby and learn to differentiate their cries, so that you can respond appropriately.
- Minimize stimulation, especially with newborns.
- Implement age-appropriate awake times and make sleep a priority, so that your child is well-rested, and stress is kept to a minimum.
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About the Author
Rachael Kullmann is an infant and child sleep coach and the founder of Sweet Babydreams Sleep Coaching. She specializes in responsive and gentle sleep methods, working with children ages newborn to 5 years old. As a mother of 2 lively active children, Rachael knows what it means to experience sleepless nights and post-partum depression, as well as all the joys and laughter motherhood brings. Her passion is to see families thriving and well-rested, by empowering parents with the specific tools they need to encourage healthy sleep habits in their little ones for life.