Responding to the messages

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Parenting columnist Ian Munro has some advice for deciphering what your baby is trying to tell you.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Before I became a father, babies just cried. A cry was a cry, was a cry. It was usually loud and often annoying. After fatherhood, I discovered that babies didn't just cry, babies communicated with varied styles of crying.

Surprisingly, after almost three decades away from close involvement with babies, I find I can still distinguish many of the messages. Messages such as discomfort caused by wet nappies, heat or thirst or, more painfully, by wind; the various whimpers indicating a need for the reassurance of a touch or cuddle; the cry of a sudden fright; and the restless whine of boredom or tiredness.

Most mothers are on to these differences within a week or two, even if they aren't quite sure of what each means, and they can usually distinguish their baby's cries from those of others in a matter of days. It takes a bit longer for fathers, depending on how involved they are with baby.

For most reasons, making baby comfortable, for example with a nappy change, and providing physical reassurance through cuddling, rocking and stroking will end the crying. Often a cuddle is all they need. They like to be close and feel your warmth, see your face, hear your voice and listen to your heartbeat.

Giving something to suck, talking to baby, distracting with objects, a stroll in the buggy or even the motion of a ride in the car will usually do the trick. Sometimes, quiet music or the repeated sound of a musical box or steady sound of something like a fan can relax baby.

Perhaps the most tiring and demoralising crying is caused by colic. You know something is wrong and that baby's in pain but you can't do anything to immediately make things better. And this is in baby's first months, when new parents are probably least equipped to cope with it.

Nevertheless, it does require you to stay as calm as you can, respond as advised in dealing with the colic, burping the additional air taken on board while crying, some cuddling and soothing.

Teething is the other cause of intense crying that can't be quickly remedied. Swelling where the tooth is coming through causes the pain and sucking can increase it further. A chilled teething ring or other smallish hard object will help, as will rubbing baby's gums gently before feeding. Teething gels can also be effective.

In the midst of it all, the hardest thing to believe but the simplest of messages is that babies cry and this phase will soon end. In the meantime, it calls for some team parenting that allows each of you to get some needed sleep or some quiet time away from the noise.


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