Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night after hearing a cry and rushed frantically to your baby only to find them sleeping peacefully? How about swearing that you’ve heard your baby’s voice while in the shower? Or in a large crowd? Let us reassure you, you are not losing your marbles!
This phenomenon is called the “phantom cry” and is a very common maternal experience. Rest assured, you are not alone.
What is the phantom cry?
Substantive research is still lacking on the topic. However, experts believe that the highly stimulated maternal brain is wired to be sensitive to her baby’s cries, leading to a heightened awareness of sounds. One prominent theory is that the worry or anxiety experienced by new parents is also partly responsible.
Interestingly, people in other situations who have to acutely respond to a stimulus can experience the same thing. Doctors have often been known to report sudden awakening to sounds of pagers and the beeps and noises of an ER or ICU, even when we are not on call. The doctor might be more mentally alert to hearing these important sounds, often due to a fear of sleeping through them. Similarly, new parents’ might be just as sensitive and have a subconscious fear of missing their babies’ cry for help.
If you are put off by these phantom cries, not to worry! We have a couple of reassurances and tips for you.
Remember that it’s okay for babies to cry.
That is their one job and only form of communication. So like Shrek once profoundly said, “all babies do is eat and poop and then cry . . . and they cry when they poop and poop when they cry.” This funny but astute observation illustrates babies will cry regardless of their need.
Remember, newborns only have one type of cry: the panic cry!
That doesn’t mean everything is actually panic-worthy! Whether they are cold, wet, hungry, tired, full, gassy, or just plain grumpy, newborns will act like all of those are emergencies! Don’t worry; they are not. You don’t always have to rush to them.
Remember that you’re likely not hallucinating.
Even if you hear your baby’s voice when they clearly weren’t calling out, you are not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. And you are not going crazy!
Know that this is typically temporary.
Once the child’s sleep and wake cycles are more consistent and there is an established routine, parents naturally get more comfortable that their baby is safe, and the phantom cries start to dissipate.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
The concept of the phantom cry illustrates that sometimes unexplainable things happen when it comes to parenting. As pediatricians, we want to encourage you to reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed. If the phantom cries start to interfere with your daily life and prevent you from getting sleep, taking care of your baby, or performing your essential daily activities, please do not hesitate to talk to your doctor.
The mental health of parents is a key component to raising a happy and healthy baby. We encourage you not to ignore the signs and symptoms your body may be giving you. They could pass in time, or they could be a clue into a deeper concern that needs to be addressed.
Overall, parenting is a marathon with many surprises. Most cases of the phantom cry are simply due to a parent who is extra heightened to their baby’s needs. The next time this happens to you, take a few deep breaths and marvel at your quiet baby. Remember, you’re one of many parents who have walked these steps before.