There are many practical challenges for new parents and new skills to learn. The practical decisions we make about how to parent are often coloured by how we’re feeling inside.

It is difficult for any parent to listen to their baby’s cries without feeling a desperate and urgent need to make it better. This is part of the survival mechanism of the newborn baby and your response is an essential part of being bonded with your baby.

Babies are helpless and vulnerable. They are completely dependent on you for their survival. Their feelings are vast and global. When they feel distress or discomfort, their distress is absolute. They have no sense that it will pass. They often feel their very survival is threatened. They rely on their parents to help them manage these states. Their screams are an attempt to put all of these bad feelings outside them and in to you, so that you can help manage them.

They need their parents to think about what their cries and behaviour might be communicating. This might include needing to be soothed, comforted, fed and held. This returns the baby to its natural equilibrium.

Your baby might be screaming, from a colicky pain in her tummy. Physically, she might need some holding or rocking, or whatever seems to comfort her. Emotionally, what she might need from you is something like

"I know you are in pain and feeling distressed. It is colic and it will pass. It is not the end of the world and you will feel better."

Your baby understands from you that while things might feel bad, they are not catastrophic and this lessens their anxiety.

Over time these many interactions will begin to form a pattern in your baby’s mind. If their needs are (overall) consistently responded to, they will begin to develop a crucial expectation in life that others will be there to help them emotionally, to notice their feelings and help manage them and to provide comfort when needed. This is the foundation of secure attachment that leads a baby to feel basic trust in those around them.

This doesn’t mean that you have to get it right every time, or respond to every need. This would be impossible to achieve and indeed not helpful to your baby. Within the context of a secure environment, it is important for babies to develop the internal resources to deal with frustration and disappointment.

In the beginning it can be difficult to separate your own feelings from those of your baby. It they are miserable, you are miserable. If they are gurgling and content, you heart glows with a sense of well-being. This can make it difficult to hold on to a sense of perspective when your baby is distressed. Exhaustion serves to exacerbate this.

The cries of a distressed baby can also re-awaken powerful feelings from your own childhood. While you might not have an actual memory of these early experiences, the feelings evoked in you can come from that time. How your own vulnerability and distress were attended to, how your mother felt about you, how you were held and comforted will influence your feelings about your own baby and how you interpret their crying.

Sometimes a baby’s cries can seem like a reproach, as if they are wailing ‘why aren’t you doing anything to make me feel better, you’re no good’ and you might doubt your own ability to comfort and sooth or have anything to offer your baby. Sometimes you might feel irritation and rage at their insatiable demands and wish they would go away. At others you might be flooded with panic, that your baby is in agony and terribly unwell. These feelings can sometimes be connected to earlier experiences.

Often when our baby is crying, we feel we need to DO something. This at makes us feel better and somehow less powerless.

It is often tempting to call on the help of others, to get advice on what to do. It is common for parents to feel that there is some expert out there who would somehow know what to do. There are times this can be important, to ensure that nothing is physically wrong. But it is also important to trust that you are enough and that when your baby is distressed what he or she needs is YOU.

Your baby will be attuned to your feelings and sense when you’re feeling anxious or panicked. Understanding your reactions to your baby’s cries and how you are interpreting them, can allow you to think about how to respond differently, if necessary.

Crying is one of the only ways a new baby has to communicate. It is important to recognise that you are the one who knows your baby and knows most about what they are trying to say. With time you will come to understand their different cries and what they mean.

"Looking back, I interpreted every cry as a cry for hunger. It didn’t occur to me that my baby could be crying because he was over-tired. The more I fed him the worse the colic got. I was nearly mad with tiredness after about fourteen weeks. But then things started to settle. Both of us learned to stretch out the feeds."