What if I told you just because your baby is crying doesn’t necessarily mean they are hungry?
To properly prepare for your journey in motherhood and breastfeeding, parents must understand the developmental stages of their baby and crying is one of them.
The biggest flag where moms feel their babies are not getting enough milk comes in the form of their baby crying and how do I fix it? It pulls on our heartstrings to hear them even wince but we really must understand how mistaking your baby’s cries for hunger can cause a ‘perceived dip” in your milk supply and possibly set your baby up for emotional eating in adolescence and adulthood.
The most difficult periods of parenting is accompanied by the Three Cs’:
Clinginess, Crankiness and Crying.
And guess what, honey. These three emotions are most commonly known as “growth spurts” the way in which a child's physical growth progresses. A child's mental development progresses the same as well.
Remember, the saying goes -- it takes 21 days to make or break an old habit. Imagine being a baby used to a routine then along comes these ‘growth spurts’ and now you want me to unlearn and learn a new routine.
Yeah, I’d be a little cranky too.
This routine change could simply be recognition of patterns and faces. A baby goes through a lot of developmental changes so it’s understandable they could feel some kind of way when they are growing. Although this period may seem never ending and takes more energy to push through, it is also a great sign that your baby is making major leaps in growth. Your baby does a lot of growing quickly within a year and their body is constantly changing, so it could take some time to get use to.
But how does this affect my milk supply?
When we assume our baby's cries always means hunger it begins a cycle of “topping up” which is counterproductive to your milk supply. And not to mention setting a pathway for emotional eating. Anytime baby is upset or uncomfortable, LET'S EAT.
Each time your baby cries moms begin to perceive they are not enough. The stress from possibly not feeding your baby enough will lead to topping up, which leads to an increased amount of breast milk or formula after a feed or bottle feeding of more than the recommended 1-1.5 ounces of breast milk every hour which causes the stomach to stretch.
Remember, your baby places the demand for your milk supply, which is in direct proportion to your baby's tummy size. If you stretch the baby's stomach by feeding more than 4 ounces, which is the average size of a one month old to a year of age, your body will not be able to compensate for the extra amount of milk you have been feeding to satisfy baby’s needs in enough time.
***cues supplementation with more formula.
Do you see where I am going with topping up?
Now don’t get me wrong, supplementation can get you back on the path of nursing if you are working with an IBCLC. Even if you or your baby are experiencing medical issues that prevent you from latching and you must pump for example, NICU babies, we must follow paced bottle feeding guidelines and we must pump every time we supplement with formula to send the proper signals of nipple stimulation to produce milk.
Because the only way to make more milk is to increase the amount of nipple stimulation which sends signals to the brain to make more milk. Nipple stimulation can come in the form of direct nursing, hand expression, electric or manual pumping and sex.
Yes, sex can increase your milk supply but that's another post. Remind me to come back to that one.
So, what else can crying mean?
Besides hunger, it can mean growth spurts, overstimulation, temperature aversion, too full, boredom, bonding, movement and more.
What would you do if you left a warm, cozy, dark and snug place and now you're in a bright and noisy space? You don’t necessarily want to eat or take a nap, right?
Shortly before your baby begins a major leap in physical development, the crying will be your precursor. So if baby begins to learn to roll, crying, if baby begins to learn how to crawl, crying, if baby begins to recognize faces and patterns, crying.
Uh, oh here we grow again….
And to the seasoned mothers, NO two babies are the same, remember this so you may have to parent a little differently with each child.
***cues mom hat.
So, what can you do to help baby with crying?
1. Know your baby's feeding cues.
Recognize your baby's feeding cues. Recognizing feeding cues insures you're feeding when baby is hungry. If you wait until baby gets to the crying stage it may become too difficult to get baby to latch or bottle feed. We must calm ourselves and baby down too before attempting a feed.
2. Baby wearing
Understand that your baby needs you physically and emotionally. Sometimes it's just as simple as Mama I need you to hold me close so I can feel safe and secure. Baby wearing is a responsive parenting tool where a mother carries her baby on her chest or back in a piece of durable fabric. Baby wearing also known as Kangaroo care, aids in skin to skin, which keeps baby close to a mother's chest and allows baby to feel secure. It also promotes bonding, temperature and emotional regulation and encourages breastfeeding on demand as a baby knows that food is always near by.
3. Learn your babies developmental stages.
Only you know your baby best. Take this time to learn what your baby is saying through the cries. Very soon you will begin to be able to distinguish the cries and decipher what baby is telling you what they need at the present moment. When parents are prepared for what's to come they will find ways to manage the different stages of development of their babies. This will look completely different from what baby wants and what you and your partner wants. Give yourselves and baby grace.
Just when you've gotten out of this phase, relax...just a little, honey, because this is the calm before the next stage of development.
3. Seek medical attention for prolonged bouts of crying.
If our baby is crying for hours and hours on end or a prolonged period of time more than a few days or even into weeks, then there is an immediate need for you to seek medical attention from your pediatrician.
How can I help you achieve your goals today, honey?
References for this blog post.
1. Van de Rijt, Plooij, The Wonder Weeks, The Netherlands, KW Publishing, 2013.
2. CDC, Feeding from a Bottle, https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/bottle-feeding/index.html Guidelines for Breastfeeding, www.cdc.gov
3. Wambach, Spencer, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation 6th Edition, Burlington, MA, Jones and Bartlett Learning, LLC,
******This blog post is not meant to replace the advice of your medical provider. It is simply meant to keep families abreast of evidence based information to make better informed decisions.
Jada Metcalf | is a mom of two, Certified Breastfeeding Specialist, trained Birth and Postpartum Doula, ROSE Community Transformer, Fertility Doula and Community Health Worker in training, 2021 IBLCE candidate and a postpartum wellness business owner of the Milk + Honey Co. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals, textbooks and highly respected health organizations and institutions including the CDC (Center for Disease Control), AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), WHO ( World Health Organization), NIH (National Institute of Health), ABM (Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine) Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 5th Edition, Wambach Spencer)