Crying and Soothing in Newborns

Why do babies cry so much?

Newborn babies sleep a lot, particularly during the first five days after birth (the “Grace Period”). They all also show a pattern of increasing emotionality with a peak of fussiness that requires lots of extra soothing at 6 weeks of age. Anthropology research shows this peak of fussiness is a universal pattern of newborn development that all babies have regardless of the country or culture into which they are born and regardless of parenting style. The research also shows that for a given crying episode, parents, researchers, or other caregivers rarely find a specific cause and simply focus on soothing their baby until the crying stops.

So what role does stomach upset play?

A newborn’s crying episodes are often and easily triggered by small issues such as a gas bubble or other minor bowel sensation. But observational scientific research shows that these gastrointestinal sensations are mostly only triggers of the moment. When bowel sensations are managed with medications as part of a research experiment, the babies then cry about something else, generally within a few minutes.

These facts have led human development researchers to conclude that most of this crying, particularly near the 6-week peak, is probably a normal and necessary developmental behavior. They believe that the purpose of the crying is specifically to elicit effective and frequent soothing from their caregivers, and that this daily cyclic pattern of a) the newborn becoming upset and crying, b) Attracting their caregivers, then c) being soothed into peacefulness is a critically important human developmental behavior.

This crying-attracting-soothing behavior pattern that all infants perform with their caregivers seems to prime us neurologically to seek and benefit from social interaction and to help us thrive and solve problems later in life. For example, healthy human adults confronting a problem will first invest it with a personal emotional value, and then convey their concern (or enthusiasm) to family members, friends or co-workers, and then the solutions will emerge as a collaborative group effort.

Methods of soothing

There are 3 primary categories of soothing and they can be employed sequentially or in combination:

  1. Sucking: breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, sucking on caregivers’ fingers, sucking on own hands, pacifiers
  2. Movement: holding while walking, rocking, bouncing (especially on Yoga/Birthing/gym ball) walking with baby sling or carrier, mechanical baby swing, Snoo.
  3. Swaddling – practice this. Use YouTube videos for instruction, as necessary. There are baby blankets with Velcro specifically designed for this if necessary.

Of course, there can be other chonic, sometimes serious, causes of crying in babies, especially if they are not easily soothed. Health problems that cause crying may persist after this time. If you have ongoing concerns about the length, frequency and urgency of your child’s crying or if it is accompanied by other symptoms, please contact us. There are safe, natural solutions to managing your child’s health. You can schedule a visit with Dr. Brousseau.

READ MORE ABOUT: Pediatric Conditions

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