The silver lining to a baby’s cry

I wonder what you think when I say ‘crying babies’. Do you get annoyed at the sound? Do you cringe when it’s your baby?

A baby’s first cry is the best sound to hear when a child is born. But I think it stops being the best sound pretty quickly!

A new mother can quickly become frustrated by cries, especially when she can’t meet the needs, or she doesn’t know the cause.

When I had a newborn baby, I never had enough milk and my daughter was supplementary feeding before we left hospital. I was advised to persevere with breastfeeding – and I did. But it wasn’t easy as I travelled the fraught path of breastfeeding and supplementing and dealt with the worst (and best, I suppose) of both worlds. So mostly when my baby cried it was because she was hungry. But I couldn’t always provide what she needed and never as quickly as she wanted.

There were other times when I had no idea why she was crying. I used to wish that babies came with a digital temperature readout so I knew if they were sick; hot and cold indicators; stomach full and empty gauges; nappy full and empty gauges; and some method of knowing if they were in pain or just being impatient.

But as good or as frustrating as a baby’s cry is for us mothers, it is a very useful thing for the baby. When we respond to our baby’s cry with food, comfort, warmth, safety or a clean nappy, our baby learns that reaching outside himself for help brings things he needs. The baby may seem helpless but he/she has a voice. And she uses this voice to get her basic needs met. Even before a baby knows it has a mother it cries, by instinct, into the void – and you, its mother, hear and answer.

Gradually, through these experiences, the baby comes to understand important things about his/her parents – firstly you, the mother. In the way that you respond to their cries, your baby learns:

  • how much of your time, energy and patience you will invest in loving them;
  • how available you are to give them your undivided attention, both quality and quantity time;
  • how reliable you are in responding to their needs, holding them close, smiling at them, making them laugh;
  • how you ease them into learning patience and independence; and
  • how carefully you try to understand them.

Maybe, next time your child cries, think about how you can use it as an opportunity to show them what sort of a mother you want them to know you are.

Our baby might be a good model for us as mums as well. When I find myself in situations where I have overwhelming needs or feel helpless, my baby’s cry can remind me that I, too, have a voice. I, too, can reach out beyond myself for support – to family, to mum friends, or a quick prayer to God. I don’t need to face every challenge alone.

Lexia Smallwood
Managing Director

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