Hi Sandy and Marcie,
I’m about four months pregnant, my pregnancy was planned and I’m looking forward to this baby. But one thing really worries me– I can’t stand hearing crying babies when I’m out, the noise really agitates me and makes me grind my teeth and feel like I’m going crazy! And I’ve read that babies cry for several hours a day, and that’s it’s bad to leave the alone to ‘cry it out.’ Just how bad is it going to be? What can I do?”
Babies’ crying is hard on everyone– the decibel level is akin to the sound of a jackhammer. It’s especially rough on new moms, the crying can make you eject milk and scramble your brain, for sure! Three-week-olds cry an average of 1.7 hours per day and 6-week-olds cry the most, with an average of 2.2 hours per day. The “six week crying peak” seems to coincide with the baby transitioning to the 60-120-minute sleep cycles of the third trimester and newborn stages to a day/night sleep cycle. Babies tend to do their worst crying in the late afternoon and be happiest in the mornings.
And yes, there are things you can do!
First, be aware of hunger cues so you can feed the baby before he or she gets frantic and is tougher to console. Opening and closing her mouth like a little fish, sucking fingers and smacking her lips are all signs that she’s ready for a feed. Once baby starts flailing arms and crying that means she’s getting desperate, so you want to feed her before it gets to that point. It can be surprising to new parents just how often newborns want to feed– basically every 45 to 60 minutes every waking hour.
Second, go for a lot of skin-to-skin contact. This has been shown to reduce average crying time by many minutes a day. So using a soft carrier like a Baby Bjorn, doing tummy time chest-to-chest and breastfeeding will all help.
And while it’s true that you should never just leave a baby to cry, it’s also important to not get so overwhelmed that you start to handle the baby roughly, shake her, or have a total breakdown yourself. If the baby has been fed, soothed, walked, doesn’t have any apparent physical symptoms like a fever, hangnail or other injury and you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, it is perfectly fine to put the baby in a safe place like her crib and go somewhere away from the noise for 15 minutes or so. If possible, ask a neighbor, relative, your partner or someone responsible to watch the baby while you take a walk, shower or just relax for a while.
The nonprofit 1-800-FOR-A-CHILD is also a terrific resource if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed. The group’s main goal is to prevent child abuse, but you don’t need to feel like you are actually on the verge of hurting your child to call and talk confidentially to a qualified therapist who can help you come up with a plan of action to keep you from getting overwhelmed.