Sunday, December 1, 2013

WHY Babies Cry (a Practical Analysis)

By title, this is an ambitious post. I'm attempting to discuss the fundamental communication methodology for infants that has evolved with mankind for millions of years. If you are a father, and I have been for the past 10 days now, you know how daunting and scary crying can be. Imagine your baby crying and screaming every half an hour for a day or two. To keep your sanity and the baby's, it is critical to understand WHY babies cry

From reading various books and articles, yes, I understand that the baby is trying to tell you something: "I'm hungry / cold / hot / uncomfortable / scared / pee'd / poop'd ..." And it is up to you to decode it. If you can't, you won't be sleeping. But trust me, when you are sleep deprived and walk towards the crib like a zombie for the 17th time in a night, you don't want to be playing cryptographer or mathematician.

So in this post, I want to attempt at this question with a practical method. From my experience, when raising a newborn under normal circumstances, three reasons make up 99% of why a baby cries (proven with my son). I've broken down each below. 

"I am hungry" (90%)
When in doubt, your baby is hungry. Keep in mind that a stomach of a newborn is less than 50ml or roughly 1.5 oz. This means that they will digest this quite rapidly and be hungry again. In addition, if you are breastfeeding, there is no guarantee how much milk was ingested from the mother regardless of the frequency and duration of the feeding. The mother's breasts may not be ready to produce enough milk, and in this case, you can supplement the feeding with ready-to-feed formula. Once again, don't ever rule out this reason by thinking you've fed the baby enough. And if you are afraid of over-feeding, don't worry. The baby will not swallow when full.
"I am sleepy" (7%)
Once you ruled out hunger, you should then consider putting the baby to sleep. The life of a newborn is quite simple - eat, sleep, pee/poop. And babies will express the need to sleep as they need to sleep 16+ hours a day. There are many ways to help the baby sleep, and thus stop them from crying. Some school of thought say the baby should be held tightly and patted on the back, essentially be coddled. Other theories say they should be left alone. Either way, you should create a decently quiet environment, place the baby on a safe surface, and make sure it is warm. My son seems to like two things: touching his cheeks with mine and my brushing his hair lightly. 

"My diaper needs changing" (2%)
Diaper technology has come a long way with increased capacities to hold pee and/or poop. There are even diapers that show you the amount of pee contained via an external stripe! Even with how often babies pee/poop, diapers only make up 2% of the crying cause because babies are only discomforted by a large amount of excretion accumulated. Furthermore, you'll be changing diapers as part of eat, sleep, pee/poop routine. Also, know that babies can pee/poop any time. Diapers can be wet even seconds after changing them. 

And then of course, there are the remaining 1% that you should not ignore. The baby might have a fever, they might have a wound, their arm might be stuck in a weird way in the shirt, etc. But once again, you want to be diagnosing the situation with the most probable causes first!