The creator of Calmbirth, Peter Jackson, once told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said ‘the sound of a newborn crying can be likened to the sound of a smoke alarm going off. They make the same sound whether you’ve burnt the toast or the whole kitchen is on fire.’
I spent the next decade soothing four boys while they cried saying to myself…….. “it’s just the toast.” This seemed to help me to feel less panicked when my babies cried. What I know also helps parents is knowing what’s “normal” and what to expect in terms of baby crying.
The average healthy newborn cries around 1-2 hours a day at birth, yet many new parents find this level of crying pretty rattling – especially when it’s happening in the middle of the night as is most common in the first weeks.
Tracking forward a few weeks what many parents don’t know is that the peak of infant crying is around weeks 6-8 at which point the average healthy newborn baby will cry for around 3-4 hours a day , usually in the afternoon and evening - infamously known as the ‘witching hour’.
If parents don’t know to expect this, they are likely to think that maybe they don’t have enough breast milk, that their baby is constantly hungry or sick or worse that they are failing or inadequate as parents because they cannot make the crying stop.
Imagine the weight off the shoulders of new parents if they went into the infant bubble expecting crying?
Infant crying is normal - and healthy. While crying may be a cue that your baby is due for a feed, a change, some comfort or a sleep, sometimes it’s our baby expressing overwhelm or discomfort and they need to be free to let their feelings out.
Imagine, if longer term as this little baby grows, their parents know they are not responsible for avoiding all tears and making their baby “happy” all the time?
When a parent is able to be alongside a baby - holding them in a way that is loving, soothing and calm when they cry - a process called co-regulation happens. This is the process of our babies learning how to eventually self-regulate. As babies and toddlers this needs to be done with a loving caregiver in order for children to eventually be able to regulate on their own.
A message I think lots of parents need to hear is this:
1. Be kind to yourself as you are holding and soothing your baby, because it isn’t easy. Crying is distressing but it’s also inevitable. Keep breathing and remember you are doing the best you can.
2. Sometimes you are going to be able to help your baby to settle but if that doesn’t seem to work, know that you are doing some really vital co-regulation when you hold your bub and tell them: “It’s ok to cry, I am here.”
3. Crying can get too much for all of us. It is vital to tap out sometimes - if a partner or grandparent or friend can step in that’s fantastic. But, if that’s not possible, when it’s feeling too much you can put the baby down somewhere safe and walk away. Sometimes a brief reset outside the room with bub safe in the cot can be the micro break that enables you to go back in and be the safe base your baby needs.