Sleep deprivation can do crazy things to a new parent — ever put milk in the pantry? We've been there. If you have heard your baby crying, sprung from bed, and dashed over the crib only to realise he or she is fast asleep, this is totally normal according to doctors. The phenomenon is sometimes called phantom crying, and if you've caught these nonexistent calls for help from your little one, you aren't crazy.
"Many moms will report experiencing phantom cries," assures Megan Gray, MD, ob-gyn with Orlando Health Physician Associates. She told POPSUGAR that while there is no substantive research on the topic, "It most likely has to do with a highly stimulated maternal brain that is being wired to be cued by baby's cries, leading to a heightened awareness to sound."
Sometimes worry or anxiety, as experienced by many new parents, is partly responsible. Dr. Gray shares, "People in other situations that are having to acutely respond to some kind of stimulus can experience the same thing. For example, physicians report hearing their pagers going off even when they are not on call and their pager is off." Gina Song, MD, pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, notes to POPSUGAR that sleep deprivation or fear of sleeping through crying is another reason parents may hear baby crying when he or she is not.
Dr. Song offers this advice to anyone who is being "haunted" by phantom cries: "Remember that it's OK that your baby cries, and that parents do not have to attend to their baby the moment they make a fuss." She adds, "It's important that a parent gets as much rest as possible by sleeping when baby is sleeping, especially when your baby is young." Dr. Song encourages parents to ask for help if they need it.
Dr. Gray adds there is a light at the end of the tunnel for exhausted new parents who wake convinced their baby needs them. "It will usually become less frequent and spontaneously resolve as the baby ages and you become more comfortable with baby's routine and crying cues." She agrees that in addition to sleep, relaxing (and vital!) activities like showering and exercising are important for new moms and dads.
"If phantom cries become something that affect your daily life, as in you are unable to perform or complete an activity because of this, or it is a significant source of stress throughout the day, you should reach out to your doctor," Dr. Gray advises.