You leap out of bed, run to their crib, only to find them fast asleep. Yet, you could have sworn that your sweet baby was screaming at the top of their lungs. Are you going crazy? Was it just a bad dream? This "phantom crying" is actually quite normal. New parents experience this phenomenon for a handful of reasons - and fortunately, there are ways to help you deal with it.
Why Does Phantom Crying Occur?
There are a couple of reasons why you might be hearing phantom cries.
Increasing Social Cognition Skills
From the moment that you become pregnant, your brain begins to change. In fact, it actually shrinks. This natural process brings about feelings of forgetfulness that most people refer to as "pregnancy brain."
Research shows that while a woman's memory is compromised during this time frame, her social cognition skills greatly improve. This gives her the innate ability to read her child and determine what they need based solely on their facial expressions and the sounds of their specific cries.
Greater Sensitivity to Sound
These structural alterations also make her more sensitive to sound. This ensures that she can be present when her child needs her throughout the night. However, these adaptions also make it much more likely that postpartum women will wake randomly throughout the evening hours.
Stress Can Play a Part
Stress plays a big factor in stirring up this situation as well. That's why parents who are suffering from anxiety and a lack of sleep are prone to notice these phantom cries.
Research also shows that screams can trigger an automatic fear response in humans. This, paired with a sensitivity to sound, makes these imaginary cries feel extremely real. The good news is that you're not going crazy. Your mind is just playing tricks on you.
How Long Can Phantom Cries Last?
This will vary from person to person. Most parents note this startling situation occurring within the first three to six months of their baby's life. As sleep schedules become more consistent, these phantom cries usually begin to subside. However, it's important to note that a woman's heightened hearing will stick around for a while longer.
The same research mentioned above shows that these changes in a woman's brain stick around for up to two years after giving birth! This means that phantom cries can reemerge during stressful times, like when your child is sick or going through sleep regressions.
How to Lessen the Instance of Phantom Baby Cries
While the best remedy for this issue is time, if phantom crying is disrupting your rest, there are a few things you can do to help.
Sleep when the baby sleeps. It seems like an impossible task, but experts give this advice for a reason. If you can squeeze in even a 30-minute cat nap, getting rest is the number one way to help your mind relax and to help quiet the cries that you're hearing in your head.
Get on a Schedule
Since sleep deprivation can play a big role in hearing these imaginary screams, it's good for you and your baby to get on a schedule. Mind you, your baby may take a while to actually follow this itinerary, but by setting a bedtime for yourself, you can ensure that you get as much sleep as possible.
Time out your baby's the last feeding of the night right before your bedtime so that you can both drift off into dreamland around the same time.
Put Your Baby on Their Tummy
Want to make sleep happen? Then try to wear your baby out! Tummy time is incredibly beneficial for building your baby's head, neck, and shoulder strength. This activity also helps with wearing them out! This means more sleep for you, which can help solve the phantom crying problem.
The trick is in the timing. Parents should conduct these baby workout sessions, then feed them their last bottle, and finally, lay them down to sleep. Once this is done, try do the same!
Find Ways to Lower Your Stress
It may seem difficult, but by finding ways to de-stress in your ever busy schedule, you can lessen the instance of phantom cries. Some possible solutions include:
- Go for a walk
- Sit in the sunshine
- Take a shower
- Eat a hearty meal
- Practice mindful meditation
- Surround yourself with uplifting individuals
- Get off of social media
- Play with a pet
- Take a break from baby and let your partner take the wheel
Most importantly, don't wait until the walls are closing in. Make meaningful changes in your daily life. This can help you take control of your anxieties and further quiet those phantom baby cries.
Let Them Cry
In the first few months of life, it's a parent's job to tend to their baby's constant needs. Experts recommend not starting sleep training until at least four months of age. However, you can give it a second before leaping out of bed.
If you have been experiencing phantom cries, sit for a second and breathe deeply. Do you still hear your child's screams? If so, get up and check on them. But many times, if you give yourself a minute to wake up a little more, the phantom cries will disappear.
Phantom Crying Shouldn't Impact Your Daily Life
Parenting is hard. If phantom crying is impacting your ability to function in daily life, talk to your doctor about your sleep and anxiety levels. They should be able to help. However, if these startling delusions are just a random nuisance, know that they are normal and will disappear as you get more in tune with your baby's cries and your sleep schedules begin to normalize.