What is happening in my baby’s brain when crying?

Crying is a natural reaction in a baby, it is a way of signalling discomfort. When a baby is crying he may be hungry, tired, in need of a nappy change or just looking for attention, and it is perfectly normal for them to cry as it is the only way of communication they know at this point.

But what happens when the crying turns into distress? This is a situation that can cause damaged to their developing brain.

I’m sure if you ask your parents or grandparents, they will tell you it is ok to let the baby cry, or that he is developing his lungs like this. But actually, when your baby cries, his brain is releasing cortisol, a stress hormone, and this is what can cause problems. If the level of cortisol gets too high, it can damage the constantly developing brain.

When you pick up your baby and comfort him, the cortisol level will start to go down, signalling to his body that the “enemy” or stressor is not there, he is safe now.

It is not to say that every time your baby starts crying, you should run to pick him up, as crying is a natural expression of their reality and they should be crying to communicate with us. But when it is a prolonged state of crying, that is causing him distress, that’s when the brain is wiring himself to be oversensitive to stressors. 

In these situations, your body is teaching his tiny body what to do, he is copying your calm breathing, he is listening to your soothing voice to de-escalate the situation and it’s response to it.

At the end of the day, the best we can do for our children is help them develop into brilliant functioning adults in the future by being there for them and helping them cope with all the challenges. 

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