"Birth can be stressful for babies": Why your baby's cries might not mean what you think they do.

Most mums experience pain in childbirth and the experience is something that stays with us throughout our life. And so it is for babies as well. The journey from womb to the outside world is a traumatic and painful experience, but one that is given little if any consideration.

British psychotherapist and craniosacral therapist, Matthew Appleton, has worked with babies for 25 years helping them to heal from the effects of birth.

“Birth can be stressful and traumatising for babies, but it is natural. Sometimes they can become overwhelmed with feelings of rage and panic and disassociation during the birth,” he said.

About twenty years ago he realised babies were trying to communicate something that he wasn’t understanding and he began studying with Karlton Terry, founder of the American Institute for Pre and Perinatal Education which led to his work in integrative baby therapy.

“The work is not something new. It is something that is understood in other cultures but has been lost. Many conditions that babies routinely suffer from, such as colic, fractious behaviour breathing difficulties, reflux and feeding problems can be the result of unresolved birth trauma,” he said.

Matthew said to begin to address the impact of birth on babies it is important to distinguish between needs crying and memory crying.

“Needs crying is when a baby is expressing a present moment need, such as being hungry, uncomfortable, overstimulated or tired. These are basic needs and when they are met the crying stops,” he said.

We ask Midwife Cath if a fear of vaginal birth or having a traumatic natural birth is a good enough reason to have a caesarean. Post continues after audio.

Memory crying is when the baby is experiencing sensations and images that related to an earlier experience, such as a moment in the birth that was overwhelming. Memory crying is when nothing else works and the baby is probably trying to tell you a story. It is often a high-pitched cry and often parents instinctively know something is going on.”

According to Matthew this crying will be associated with what he calls baby body language.

“They will touch the same place, generally the head, again and again and this is showing us where they got stuck during the birth,” Matthew said.

“There are three basic emotions associated with baby body language; anger through to rage, sadness through to intense grief and anxiety through to terror.”

He said there are also different expressions associated with the different interventions that may have occurred during the birth. Helping the baby to heal from the birth is simply a matter of showing empathy and understanding.

“If you had a bad day you would want to talk about it when you got home. But imagine your husband says, ‘shush it’s ok’, or ‘you are just hungry, have something to eat’. But then imagine if you could feel listened to. You would feel the stress again and maybe become emotional and you would reach an emotional apex and then you could relax,” he said.


“It is the same for babies, but they can’t use words. If they don’t get to express the stress it can have lifelong consequences. If we can support babies when they are young they can grow up to have a much freer relationship with themselves and the world.”

When parents think the crying is memory crying Matthew recommends holding the baby against your belly and breath into your belly so that you feel the contact with the baby, listen and empathise as much as you can tolerate.

We asked women what they didn’t know about birth before having a baby. Post continues after video.

Video by MWN

“Try to acknowledge what you are seeing or hearing the baby express and by saying ‘that must really hurt’. ‘I can see you are sad now’. ‘I can see you are really lost and scared’,” he said.

“Often the parents get stressed and forget to breath. The baby then just experiences being flooded by the parent’s stress.”

He is quick to point out it is not about letting the baby cry it out.

“Babies just need to be listened to. It is that simple. Sometimes ten minutes is all it takes,” explained Matthew.

“At a workshop I held there was a mum whose baby had never slept through the night and she found it very hard to tolerate the crying. One night she did stay with the baby and just held him, and that night the baby slept through for the first time.

“It is often hard for parents to listen to their baby’s story as it is often painful and makes parents aware of how hard the birth process was for their baby. However, it is the listening to and acknowledgement of the pain that allows the baby to let go of it.

“The great gift of acknowledging birth stress is that we also recognise babies as conscious human beings, who have experience and communicate that experience to us.”

Matthew has trained more than 100 practitioners in Europe, but as yet there are none in Australia. He said he can be contacted by Skype consultations. For more information on Matthew Appleton’s work go to