Why Do Babies Scream For No Reason? Experts Explain
Babies are experts at making a mom's blood pressure shoot through the roof in a matter of mere seconds. One minute baby will be resting peacefully upon her playmat, and then the next will go full-on banshee, releasing an otherworldly wail that seems to rattle your very skull. Why do babies scream for no reason so loudly?
Everyone knows that babies cry when they are hungry or tired or cold or hot or toting around a full diaper. (They also seem to love to cry when you are trying to send an email or shave your legs or read more than a sentence of The Goldfinch. But science has no answers for this phenomenon.) Science also knows that evolution has wired us in such a way that the sounds of a baby's cry (any baby's cry — not just your own) initiates an immediate response in the human brain. (In one fascinating study, people were asked to play a game of whack-a-mole before and after listening to the sound of a wailing baby. Turns out, people were actually better at the game after hearing the crying sounds. The implication being that we are actually wired for better, more focused performance when we hear a baby cry, because we know we need to be capable caregivers. Wild, no?)
So yeah, the sound of a crying baby makes us bonkers so that we'll tend to the child's needs — blah blah, everyone gets that. But why sometimes does it seem as if they are crying when all of their needs have seemingly been met?
Dr. Jay Berger, the Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of Pediatrics at ProHEALTH Care says sometimes babies cry because — well, because they're babies. "The emotional part of their brains are not yet developed, and very quickly short circuit when some basic environmental factors are bothering them," Berger tells Romper.
Pediatrician and parenting expert Dr. Jen Trachtenberg echoes this idea. "When baby come into the world, he or she is not used to bright lights, noises, and varying temps. Their nervous systems are immature and still developing." She tells Romper this makes them super sensitive to things that may seem perfectly normal to us. Our eyes, after all, are used to the lights in the kitchen, and the sound of the Succession theme song. Your 2-month-old, however, is just being introduced to these things, and her environment might prove a little jarring at first. Hence, the banshee wail.
"To first-time parents, this can be very worrisome and challenging," says Berger. "Experienced parents already have a sense for this and usually remain much calmer when the baby is not." His advice for parents when their newborn seems to be trying to raise the dead with her otherworldly screech? Go through your comfort checklist. "Does the baby need a bottle? Is it nap-time? Diaper change? Or does the baby just need to be held and given a hug and a kiss?"
So basically, try to stay calm, and suss out the source of discomfort. I know it's so easy to stay calm when your child is acting like demons are are trying to escape via her vocal cords. But more often than not, your little is probably fine and just needs a little something. "Only when the baby is inconsolable for a prolonged period of time do other concerns need to be raised," says Dr. Berger. "At that time, a visit to the pediatrician might be appropriate."
Parsons, C. E., Young, K. S., Parsons, E., Stein, A., & Kringelbach, M. L. (2012). Listening to infant distress vocalizations enhances effortful motor performance. Acta Paediatrica, https://www.academia.edu/1826687/Listening_to_infant_distress_vocalizations_enhances_effortful_motor_performance.
Dr. Jay Berger, chief medical officer and chairman of pediatrics at ProHEALTH Care
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, pediatrician and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai