Babies have a communication system all their own, one that consists primarily of crying. But decoding which cry means "Feed me!" and which one means "Hold me!" can leave parents feeling like we're learning a foreign language.
Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton has found that there are at least six types of infant cries for parents to interpret: hunger, pain, boredom, discomfort, fatigue and tension. No wonder this is confusing! And while it might seem like a daunting task to learn how to interpret each cry, it usually just takes time and practice.
When trying to distinguish between your baby's cries, try not to jump to conclusions too quickly. One of the best ways to interpret her cries is to just watch her for a moment while you soothe her with your voice or touch. Listen to the tone and pitch of her cry and study her face and body for other clues about why she's upset.
While it's important not to let your baby "cry it out" for too long, the experts say a minute or two is actually healthy because it gives her an opportunity to try to comfort herself.
As you observe your infant's crying, ask yourself these questions:
Does she have her hand in her mouth trying to suck while crying? Maybe she's hungry.
Is it an intense, almost shrieking cry? Check for a too tight diaper or a zipper or diaper adhesive tab that's irritating her somewhere.
Is it an off and on cry that doesn't sound frantic? Maybe he's just bored and wants a little attention or a change of scenery. If moving him around or picking him up doesn't help, check for a dirty diaper or scratchy sleeper. Maybe he's just uncomfortable.
Does the cry continue to rise in pitch and intensity? This might signal overstimulation, which can lead to fatigue or a need for tension relief. Try removing your baby from loud noises and other people. Sing to her, whisper quietly in her ear, rub her back. See if she can be calmed and relaxed.
Keep in mind, however, that a baby who seems to cry constantly or frequently acts as if she's in pain may be a colicky baby. Colicky babies aren't just fussy; there may be food allergies or other medical factors causing their distress. If your baby seems to go through lengthy, intense crying spells, check with your pediatrician to find out if there might be a medical or physical cause.
Learning the language of crying is certainly challenging. But with patience, practice and prayers for perseverance, you'll soon be fluent in the language of a parent's love.
Teacher, mother of two
Want More Information?
Parenting the Fussy Baby and High Need Child
by Dr. William and Martha Sears (Little, Brown and Co.)
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