All babies cry.
Crying is how babies communicate. Crying can mean “I’m hungry,” “I’m hot/cold,” “I’m tired,” “I’m uncomfortable,” “I’m lonely,” and a great number of other things. New parents quickly build a mental checklist that they run down at the sound of a baby’s cry: When did he last eat? Let’s check the diaper. Let’s try a burp. Does she seem sweaty? Maybe he wants to be held in a different position. Bounced faster? Sung to? After running through this checklist a few times with a noisy wake of vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, and stove vents shushing an whirring around you, and feeling like that stair-master at the gym would have nothing on you after your 500 squats as you bounced your baby, of COURSE you are at your wit’s end.
Who wouldn’t be?
I’ve spoken with many parents who say that when their baby is having a bout of crying, they can almost feel their blood pressures rise. They start to feel stressed and frantic. As more and more items on the checklist fail to work, they’re ready to cry themselves. When your baby is crying, of course you want to do all you can to help them feel better. But sometimes even your best soothing techniques are not good enough. When you feel like you can’t take it anymore, you may want to close your baby in another room and walk away. Then that’s when many parents feel guilty for feeling that way.
Today, though, I’m writing to give you permission to walk away.
I firmly believe that parents taking care of themselves leads to babies that are better cared for. (That’s what postpartum doulas are for!) Certainly there are many sacrifices that every parent will make for their children, but as with oxygen masks in airplanes, sometimes you need to put on your own before helping the person next to you. Sometimes as a parent you need a few minutes of me-time to clear your head and breathe so you can be a more attentive and more effective parent. So the next time your baby has a long stretch of being inconsolable, when you’ve feel like you’ve tried everything, here’s what you can do:
- Give your baby a kiss and put her down in a safe place (i.e. a crib free of loose bedding, stuffed animals, and bumpers; or a swing with a safety harness).
- Go to a different room.
- Get a glass of water, take a five-minute shower, blast your favorite happy song, or have something to eat. Do something quick that nourishes you, and no matter what that thing is, take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth as you do it.
- After 5-10 minutes, you should feel more clear-headed and refreshed. Scoop up your baby, give her another kiss, and continue working to soothe her.
Yes, babies need closeness, love, and lots of support, but if you do not take care of yourself, it will be much harder to take care of your baby. Taking 5 minutes for yourself while your baby is crying does not make you a bad or incapable parent. Don’t add it to your long list of things to feel guilty about. You are helping your baby and yourself by doing what you need to do to approach a stressful crying situation with a clearer head. Give yourself permission.