Your baby cries because it is the most effective way of communicating they have. The aim of crying is to communicate their needs. You will learn your baby’s language of crying and begin to recognise what each cry indicates. Once you have met the basic needs of your baby - feeding, cleaning/nappy change, sleep or temperature regulation it may be that baby is just talking to you and needs cuddles, interaction and reassurance that they have been heard. At other times your baby may become extremely anxious and distressed. It is at these times your baby requires immediate intervention by you to alleviate, manage and help. Your baby doesn't have the skills yet to self-regulate and needs you to co-regulate with them.
During distress and anxious periods of crying it is important that you react and respond. Although crying in itself does not affect the development of your baby’s brain, prolonged distressed crying does. This is because your baby's brain becomes exposed to high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone which is toxic and damages brain cells. At the same time opioids are withdrawn from the brain and neurological pathways are formed to create pain circuits just as if your baby was physically hurt. These could lead to long term effects on the brain. One of the effects of creating negative reactions and coping mechanisms to stress is being over sensitive to stress and anxiety. Your baby will then carry this over sensitivity with them throughout their life. Stress and anxiety often leads to depression as an adult. Don’t worry that every cry is damaging because most aren’t. Remember crying is your baby's language and one of their ways they convey their needs to you. The crying that can potentially cause negative neurological pathways to form isn't the few minutes it takes you to respond when they wake or are hungry. It is also not the prolonged crying whilst being nurtured in your arms. It is the crying of distress in attempting to get their needs met yet being ignored. It is periods of prolonged, ignored and alone crying in distress.
It is important to remember that your baby does not have the brain functions to manipulate you through crying. You cannot spoil your baby through love. In fact exactly the opposite you nurture and grow babies through love. So always respond to your crying baby.
To effectively soothe and calm your crying baby you must first be calm yourself. Breath work is a great way of calming yourself. Remember not to be doing something else whilst trying to calm your baby as they need to feel that their distress is your total focus. Your baby needs to feel that their needs are important and valid. This will enable them to successfully regulate their body and emotions through your co-regulation. Now to soothe, calm and settle your baby you must do things that stimulate the anti-stress chemical systems within your baby's brain. This means finding ways to release the chemical oxytocin into baby’s brain. It needs to be at such a level that oxytocin can cause the levels of the stress chemical cortisol to drop back to base level. To do this your baby needs touch, warmth and sucking.
Touch – pick up, hold, and cuddle your baby. Attend a baby massage class. These activities will activate the vagus nerve which is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, baby’s rest and digest system. Meaning babies' calm and centred branch is activated.
Warmth – cuddle your baby close to help with body temperature regulation. This will release the hormone oxytocin. A mother’s blood vessels on the chest will dilate and act as a self-regulating radiator through skin to skin contact. Remember it is important to ensure your baby does not overheat.
Sucking – help baby find their fist or thumb. Allow them to suckle your fingers. The sucking motion helps soothe and calm your baby.
Smooth, gentle rhythmical movement and rocking remind your baby of the security of being carried in the womb. These smooth and gentle movements are wonderful ways of comforting your baby. Provide age appropriate interactive play for your baby will aid the activation of dopamine in the brain. A baby yoga class would be perfect for these activities as not only will you learn breath work, you will also discover wonderful movements, poses, dips and swings to nurture and calm your baby. I know it isn't easy to be doing these activities during lockdown or natural recover from birthing baby and yourself. Take a look online and investigate the amazing and diverse world of what classes are available for you and your baby.
Most importantly remember babies cry. It is an important part of their development. It is how they communicate and alert you to their needs. Crying is natural as is responding to your baby's cries. Comforting and nurturing your baby is the perfect natural response. Your baby requires you to have their needs met. Your baby needs you to co-regulate their feelings and calm them. Co-regulation from you now will aid your baby to successfully regulate their own emotions and state of self once their brain reaches emotional maturity.
All opinions published in this article are the author's own.