Your baby is not crying to make you pick him up, but because you put him down in the first place.
Penelope Leach, Your Baby and Child
Our culture believes in the strange myth that a baby wants to be left in a quiet, dark room. But what is this stillness like for your new baby? Imagine you’ve been working in a noisy, hectic office for nine months. One morning you come to work and find yourself alone—no chatter, no ringing phones, no commotion. Soon, the stillness gets on your nerves. You begin pacing and muttering, until you lose it and scream, “Get me out of here!”
This scene is similar to the way babies experience the world when they come home from the hospital. Although our image of the perfect nursery is one where our little angel sleeps in serene quiet, to a newborn that feels a bit like being stuck in a closet.
As strange as it sounds, your baby doesn’t want—or need—peace and quiet. What he yearns for are the pulsating rhythms that constantly surrounded him in his womb world. In fact, the understimulation and stillness of our homes can drive a sensitive newborn every bit as nuts as chaotic overstimulation can.
Does understimulation mean babies cry because they’re bored? No. Unlike older children and adults, babies don’t find monotonous repetition boring. (That’s why your baby is happy drinking milk day after day.) Rather, they find the absence of monotonous repetition hard to tolerate. Their cries ask for a return to the constant, hypnotizing stimulation of the womb. Fussy babies often take three months before they become mature enough to cope with the world without this rhythmic reassurance.
Either understimulation or overstimulation can be terribly unsettling to young infants; however, even worse is to experience both at the same time. When an immature baby is subjected to chaos in the absence of calming, rhythmic sensations, it can drive him past his point of tolerance!
Is Immaturity the Long-Sought Cause of Colic? Close, but No Cigar!
Brain immaturity is a large piece of the colic puzzle. But this theory can’t be the whole truth because it fails to explain two crucial colic clues:
Preemies are no more likely to have colic than full-term babies. If brain immaturity were the underlying cause of a baby’s screaming, preemies, with their superimmature brains, would be the fussiest of all babies. Yet these tiny babies never cry without a clear reason, and they stop promptly once their need is met.
There are many cultures around the world where babies never get colic. This fact proves that brain immaturity cannot be the sole basis of persistent crying. There is no biological reason why the brains of infants in some cultures would be so much more mature than those in others.