Crying is a baby’s way of communicating
There is no question about it… Crying is how babies express discontentment. Whether they are uncomfortable because of a wet diaper, in a state of discomfort due to being overstimulated, or wanting something they don’t have, babies cry to express that they want something.
Toddlers often whine in an attempt to express what they want, but since babies do not have the expressive language development necessary for that, they cry. And some cry a lot.
The babies on the bus go “waa waa waa”…
If you have a particularly vocal baby at home, you are no stranger to crying. For some babies, there can be specific things that set them off like being strapped into the car seat, being laid down, or being transferred into their crib or bassinet when it’s time to sleep.
You may have noticed that I did not say that they cry to express a “need” because let’s face it, not everything a baby cries over is a requirement.
Sometimes they cry to protest a change or because the tag in their shirt is itchy, or sometimes they cry just to let you know they are there!
Think about the well-known children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus”. You know that part about the babies? The babies on the bus aren’t eating or sleeping or playing. In fact, all the babies on the bus are CRYING!
And what are the mamas on the bus doing? They are trying to comfort their babies by offering some “shhh shhh shhh”. I’ll bet that before those mamas got on the bus, they changed their babies diapers, dressed them in warm clothes, fed them and put them in their sling or baby carrier. They walked down to the bus, hopped on, sat down and BOOM! “Waa waa waa”.
Baby might be crying because they liked it better when mom was moving, or because the bus is loud, or because they are tired and were just jolted awake when mom sat down. In any of these cases, baby is not crying because of a neglectful mama or necessity!
What’s a mom to do?
Knowing how (and when) to respond to your baby’s crying is a very important part of motherhood. You don’t want to be neglectful and listen to a discontented baby all day and similarly, you don’t want to get into the habit (for baby or you) of responding within milliseconds to every peep. Like most issues in parenting, finding a balance is very important here. And that balance will look different from family to family.
I recommend making a checklist to ensure that all the basic NEEDS have been met. Has baby been recently fed and burped? Has baby been changed? Is baby in a climate-controlled room and dressed in the appropriate clothing? Has baby been recently cuddled? Has baby recently napped?
A lot of times, we get to the end of that list and our answer is no… Baby hasn’t napped because baby has been crying for the past 30 minutes. And that, my dear, is your answer! Baby is crying because they are overstimulated and overtired. Baby needs a nap. The length of time that a baby can handle between naps varies by age, but most of the time, parents are waiting too long to get their little one down for a rest.
When a baby gets past the point of tired, preventing a meltdown can be challenging. And it’s a huge bummer that when they get too sleepy, they cry and get worked up and it can be hard for them to get to sleep. This can be a vicious cycle to get out of.
But what if baby won’t take a nap?
What you do next depends on whether or not your baby knows how to fall asleep independently. If you have a prop-free sleep (doesn’t need to be fed or rocked to get to sleep), go ahead and set baby down in their safe sleep space and give him a few minutes to see if he can get to sleep.
If your baby is still dependent on outside assistance to fall asleep (being held, fed, rocked, bounced, walked, etc), do whatever you need to do in this moment to get baby to sleep. Maybe that means a ride in the car? Maybe that means you holding the binky in his mouth. I know it probably sounds crazy that a sleep consultant is telling you to use a sleep prop, but guess what? Total meltdown mode is NOT the best time to start sleep training, especially if your little one is in a cycle of overtiredness.
There comes a point where getting your little one to sleep is much more important than HOW you are getting them to start their sleep cycle.
Time to re-assess and get your mindset right!
Now, once that nap is complete and baby is awake and happy again, it might be worth considering any of the many methods for teaching your little one to fall asleep on their own. Once babies and toddlers know how to start their sleep journey independently, most of the meltdowns due to overtiredness subside. When this happens, families, as a whole, are much much happier!
And if you are currently in the mindset of “my baby will never be a good napper” or “there is no way I can teach my baby to sleep independently”, I encourage you to take a step back and think about sleep as a skill. Your little one CAN and WILL learn how to sleep prop-free as soon as you take the time to teach him.
I am not claiming that your little one will never cry because there will always be more that they want from you, but having a well-rested family is a great way to cut back on all the tears. Theirs and yours!
Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant. She gets that life as a mom is TOUGH, especially when sleep is out of the question! If your family is struggling with sleep, listening to a crying baby can be one of the hardest things to hear. As an educator, Brittney believes in the power of teaching and loves supporting families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and opportunities for sleep virtual Q&A sessions.