Why Crying Babies are Just So Hard to Ignore
Crying babies are impossible to ignore. Whether you want to, or can’t possibly imagine ever trying to, it’s physically and biologically impossible to disregard a baby’s cry.
I remember a day when my twin girls were just a few weeks old, and I was relaxing in my mother’s living room, relishing a quiet, peaceful baby-free moment. Then, the silence was broken by that familiar newborn mewling. My heart started racing and my hands felt sweaty. As I made my way towards my crying baby, I have a distinct memory of this thought crossing my mind:
“Where is everybody and why are they not rushing to see what the emergency is?! Where is my mother? My husband? My younger sisters?!”
I honestly could not understand why no one felt the sense of urgency that overcame me to pick up and soothe my baby. I wondered if they were temporarily deaf, or just altogether heartless, to have the nerve to stay absorbed in whatever activities they were engaged in, for not coming to rescue my poor little pup facing dire emergency.
Didn’t they understand the urgency?! Apparently, they didn’t. That’s because it was a biological emergency for me, but not for them. I was the mom.
What Crying Does
All mammals cry- it’s an instinct hardwired into us in cases of hunger, pain or fear or being alone. The cry of a mammal is engineered to have a specific impact on the brain of the listener, which will ensure that the baby gets his needs met.
When you hear your baby cry, here is what happens in your brain within 47 milliseconds:
- The part of your brain responsible for deciding if incoming information is important or not bursts into a flurry of electrical activity. This reaction happens at double the speed that is does when faced with an ordinary sound, such as a car honking.
- The part of your brain responsible for deciding how much emotion to afford incoming information lights up, on fire.
- The part of your brain that controls movement starts exploding, galvanizing you into action.
With all of this occurring in less than a quarter of a quarter of a second, it is any wonder that you can’t ignore your baby’s cries?!
The cry of a baby is unique in it’s acoustic signature (as an analogy, that would be “paint shade” if we were talking colors). This sound is a perfect fit to the mother brain that responds to the baby. This pitch makes the mother brain go haywire.
Interestingly, ambulance and police sirens are modeled on the sound of a crying baby so that drivers on the road will automatically look around for the sound and make way for the emergency vehicle.
So What Should I Do When my Baby Cries?
Just because you have an instinct doesn’t mean you should always act on it. When someone says something rude to you or cuts you off with a hurtful, snarky comment, you know you shouldn’t take a swing at them, or run and hide in the bushes because of your fight-or-flight instinct that kicked in. Sometimes the instinct isn’t mean to be acted upon.
Obviously, if your baby is hungry, in pain or needs some form of care, take care of her! But know and understand that just because it feels like an emergency in your body every time your baby cries, doesn’t mean that it really is so.
Use your judgement and remember to take some long, deep breaths to calm yourself down.