The First Cry

All babies cry. Infants cry an average of one to four hours a day. Some infants cry more — a lot more — and some cry less. Your baby may do nothing but sleep the first few days after birth and hardly cry at all. Don't congratulate yourself yet. Crying often doesn't really get going until babies are a few weeks old, and usually peaks at six weeks. A baby's cry makes both moms' and dads' heartbeats speed up, blood pressure increase, and palms sweat. It also heats up the breasts of nursing mothers, so hearing your baby cry may soak your shirt with milk.

A crying baby is trying to tell you something. She may be trying to communicate that she's hungry, or that she ate too much and her stomach hurts. She may be saying that her diaper is wet and it feels yucky, or that she liked that nice warm wet diaper on her and now that you took it off she's cold — and mad! She may be saying that she's tired and wants you to rock her to sleep, or that she's bored and wants you to samba dance for her entertainment. She may be saying that she's furious that she can't scoot across the carpet and grab the fireplace tools. When you first hold your baby in your arms, you won't understand any of this.

Never shake your baby. It won't make the crying stop and can cause permanent paralysis, seizures, blindness, brain damage, or death. Because babies have large heads and weak neck muscles, shaking a baby causes the brain to bounce about in its skull, tearing blood vessels. If you feel overwhelmed, put the baby in a safe place and walk away.

Your job is to figure out how to understand your infant's language, because crying is a language. The sooner you figure it out, the sooner you'll spend more time listening to your baby coo and babble and less time listening to her shriek.

What you shouldn't be doing, at this point, is trying to teach your baby patience. In fact, the faster you respond to her cries, the better because it's easier to calm a baby that's just started crying, before it escalates into hysteria.

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