Crying is baby’s main way of communication

We know this already: crying is a way of communication and it could even be the main one for a young baby. And this is normal because they haven’t yet collected so many words in their mind pocket and they don’t filter the way they express their emotions. If they are hungry, they are crying with their whole tiny body, if they are overtired, they are desperately crying, if their diaper is full, they are crying, and of course when they are in pain…you got it, they are crying again.

But we should not be afraid of crying because it does not necessarily mean the baby is hungry or in pain or has a big discomfort. When it comes to sleep, crying could also mean that they are frustrated because they don’t get what they want or are used to (e.g. to be fed or rocked to sleep or taken into the family bed), or that they are trying to fall asleep and still need our help or that they simply need to steam off.

During these moments, it helps a lot to remember what the baby needs more than what they want. It also helps to look at ourselves, the parents, and observe our reaction to our baby’s crying. In most cases, our level of sensitivity to baby crying has more to do with our own wounds and with the phase of our healing process. But that’s another story…a long and heavy one.

It’s worth considering though that:

parents of sleep-disturbed infants appear to have lower tolerance for infant crying, which may be a predisposition underlying their excessive involvement in soothing their infants to sleep and the development of sleep difficulties.”

This is the conclusion a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and Medical Center together with University from California came to, based on a representative study from 2015 and published in 2016.

In other words, sleep deprived parents who react too soon to their baby’s cry may reinforce their sleep difficulties. Think about that the next time you “rush to save” your baby from their cot. 😉

How to react when a baby starts to cry

Nevertheless, how do we make the difference between all these types of cries so we can better understand our baby (and ourselves)?

First of all, instead of jumping out to “rescue them” the minute they make a sound we should stop for a while (the 3-minute rule) and listen to their cry and try to understand what they are trying to tell us. Besides, babies make a lot of sounds in their sleep and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are awake. This pause before reacting gives them a chance to resettle on their own, to learn to be by themselves for a while and not expect the parent showing up the minute they make the tiniest buzz.

Then we should think about potential disturbing factors: is our baby hungry (when was its last full feed), does it need a diaper change, does it have any tummy or teething issues and most commonly, is my baby overtired?

Only then, after minimum 3-5 minutes of reflection and conscious listening, we should take action.

When it comes to baby sleep, we often tend to over-stimulate our baby if we go to them (or pick them up) the minute they are awake or make a sound during their sleep.

Types of baby language

So, let’s try to identify a few types of baby crying or the “banguage” how Tracy Hogg, the author of the famous book “The Baby Whisperer” calls it.

If we think about newborn babies (0-3 months old), the most appropriate answer we get from Priscilla Dunstan, a former Australian opera singer and a mother who identified 5 universal sound reflexes used by infants to express their emotions:

  • Neh  – I am hungry
  • Owh – I’m sleepy
  • Heh – I’m experiencing discomfort (ex. I need a diaper change)
  • Eairh – I have gas or tummy issues. This sound will also indicate that a bowel movement is in progress and the infant will bend its knees, bringing legs to their chest.
  • Eh – I need to burp

Types of baby cry before sleep

When we try to put a baby in its cot for sleep, here are the main types of cry we usually hear:

First there is the Protest Cry – happening during the first 5-10 minutes after we put the baby in cot. It can be very intense and it tells us that the baby is not happy for being placed alone in his crib.

Then, there is the Peak Cry – an intensified type of baby cry which could easily turn into a hysterical cry because the baby has just realised he/she cannot fall asleep in mom’s arms or at her breast anymore. It usually lasts a few minutes and they occur during the first days of baby sleep training. Tracy Hogg thinks there are not more than 3 peaks per settling session.

The Mantra Cry is like a monotone repetitive type of cry, a grizzling which tells us the baby is trying to fall asleep. It is a rhythmic “wah, wah, wah” cry with small breaks in between, which could last up to 30 minutes. The main rule is that we do not intervene during this mantra cry and especially if the baby is pausing for 20 seconds or more.

The Falling asleep Cry comes after the Mantra Cry. Before finally falling asleep, the baby may either babble or give a soft long “aaahhhhhhh, aaahhhhhhhh” cry and quietly drift off. It is also pretty common for a baby to give a quick loud yell before falling asleep.

The Overtiredness Cry sounds like a “cough, cough, wah; cough, cough, cough waaaahhh!” This means that the baby should have been in bed 20 minutes ago. It can occur before the naps or bedtime or even after a nap (because the baby did not sleep enough) or during the early hours of the morning when the baby is struggling to go back to sleep but he can’t do it because of the light sleep phase and other external factors. Please remember also that the more overtired the child is, the more you will hear this cry.

From my own experience I can tell you that one of the main reasons parents are not consistent enough during sleep coaching their baby is the intensity of their baby’s cry at night. Although 5-10 minutes of cry sound like “hours of pain” and baby protest at night sounds louder than during the day, in reality they are not. Baby’s crying at night is similar to crying during the day, but because of the darkness and silence around us and because of our own overtiredness, we tend to panic and see things more dramatically than they actually are.

So, embrace yourself, dear parents, do not feel guilty because your baby is crying or is moody or is not sleeping perfectly, it’s not your fault and crying does not necessarily mean your baby is in pain or it suffers. It’s just their unfiltered way of communication without keeping any emotions inside (which is actually healthier). You are still the best parents for your baby!

And remember that asking for help is the right thing to do in such a situation because a baby who sleeps well at night develops and grows well, has a strong immune system, an increased appetite and a good mood most of the time. And so will you 😉

Moreover, you have the right to claim your sleep back because a rested parent is a more responsive parent for their baby.

You don’t have to wait until “your baby grows out of it“. If you need more support to improve the sleep of your baby and indirectly of the entire family, please do not hesitate to book a free Discovery Call below.