Your question: Why does my baby crying give me anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Being a parent is an exhausting job. Everyone expects nothing less than perfection from you, and often, you are your own worst critic. There are many things parents worry about when it comes to parenting. Each stage of life has its own challenges and benefits.

It’s completely normal for parents to feel anxiety, sadness, panic or anger when their baby cries. It’s a typical story: you’re lying on the couch or bed, trying to distract yourself on your phone or take a break from the daily grind of adult life, and suddenly, you hear your baby’s desperate cry.

This is the reality for many, if not all, parents who have gone through this stage. There are many reasons why a baby may cry, from hunger and sleepiness to fear of separation from parents. The most frustrating thing for parents is that even when comforting them, they cannot explain why their baby continues to cry.

Research has shown (1) that when infant crying is uncontrollable and excessive, it can generate such intense anxiety in parents that it creates complications in parenting. It has been shown how infant crying can generate aggressive reactions in adults.

This is not your fault, it’s as if our brains are designed to act reactively to babies’ cries. Parents’ anxiety about their children’s crying is even more understandable, because apart from the natural stress of the noise of crying, there is the stress of all the responsibilities related to parenthood and adult life.

Therefore, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You are doing your best to care for your child and worry about his or her needs. Feeling overwhelmed by a crying baby is one of the most normal things in parenthood, and there are strategies you can apply to lessen that feeling and become the parent and person you want to be.

Why does your baby’s crying make you anxious?

The causes of anxiety related to your baby’s crying are psychological and biological. Pregnancy significantly changes the mother’s brain. Studies (2) have shown that brain size changes during and after pregnancy.

When a woman has a baby, she is naturally more sensitive to external stimuli, and therefore more prone to anxiety, as her body continues to adjust hormonally.

On the other hand, your baby’s crying may make you feel anxious, angry, scared and sad because you are going through a period of stress. Parents not only have the responsibility of raising their children. You probably have financial, work, academic and interpersonal concerns, trying to balance all areas of your life while trying to be the best parent you can be.

The anxiety of everyday life makes you more sensitive, therefore, more likely to feel anxious when you hear your baby cry. It’s also likely that parenthood has changed your sleeping and eating habits. When you don’t sleep and eat properly, you will naturally be more sensitive and reactive to stressful situations.

Why does your baby cry “without cause”?

Often, parents’ frustration and anxiety about their babies’ crying is that they can’t find a possible cause for their crying, and they despair because it won’t stop.

Once you have checked that your baby’s crying is not due to the most typical causes: hunger, sleep, wet diaper or fear, you should consider that he may have a physical ailment, in which case, take him to a pediatrician as soon as possible.

What can you do to reduce your anxiety?

Through some anxiety management strategies, and with the support of professionals such as psychologists and pediatricians, you will be able to cope with the anxiety that your baby’s crying produces.

Check the reasons for crying

It will be helpful to write a list of the main reasons why your child might be crying and post it in his or her room, in a space accessible to your sight. This will allow you to confront your anxiety. If you have already fed, bathed and taken your baby to the doctor and concluded that there is no problem, your child’s crying is probably due to a general reaction of discomfort or tiredness, and you should allow yourself to rest and separate from your baby for a while.

Breathing and relaxation

When your baby’s crying makes you anxious, slow breathing can help relieve your symptoms. Close your eyes, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds and exhale through your mouth for four seconds. Rest your hands on your abdomen as you feel the tension slowly ease. It is helpful to buy headphones or noise blockers while you do these exercises during the times when anxiety overwhelms you, 5 to 20 minutes a day.

Make space for yourself

Many parents are so devoted to their children that they forget the fundamental rule of parenting: you have to be well yourself in order to take care of your children. Therefore, you need to do activities outside the home, not related to your baby, by asking your partner, family members or caregivers to help you stay with your baby while you go out to a museum, a movie or a coffee alone.

Question your anxious thoughts

It is normal in parenthood to have doubts about your own performance. It is important to constantly check your anxious thoughts, which can send you negative messages such as “you are a bad parent”. When these thoughts appear, you should give them an alternative and positive response, for example “I am doing the best I can as a parent, and I am constantly learning things to improve”.

In my experience…

Feeling anxious when your baby cries is completely normal. Not enough is said about how parenting can wear on a parent’s physical and mental health if they don’t receive essential self-care support or information. Even if you feel selfish, there is nothing wrong with letting your baby cry (knowing that everything is fine and they don’t need anything). Babies also need to learn to express and manage their emotions on their own.

However, if the problem persists, you need to see a professional who can give you suggestions for improvement. Remember that all the changes you make in your parenting are for your own good and for the good of your baby. There are no healthy children without healthy parents, therefore, you must make yourself a priority and not be so hard on yourself.

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