Babies make me ill
August 20, 2011 4:09 PM   Subscribe

When I hear a baby crying I feel like I am getting sliced open with a scalpel. It is totally fight or flight. What the hell is going on with me? This is more than yuppie griping about having dinner ruined. It is not just annoying but harmful to brain chemistry. What is going on w me.
posted by moammargaret to Human Relations (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Babies survive by getting their needs met. Adults ensure the survival of their offspring by meeting the needs of babies.

Because there is a significant survival benefit in noticing and responding to the cries of babies, we have evolved over time to be especially attentive to them.

This, like every other trait, varies by the individual. Seems like you have an especially strong version of the OMG BABY DO SOMETHING trait.

There are also different kinds of cries--some babies cry in a much more bothersome way. Again, this is a variation of a normal human trait.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:20 PM on August 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Could you give us some more information? What is your sex and age? Is this a new feeling or have you pretty much always felt this way?
posted by voltairemodern at 4:23 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some people do have strong reactions to cries from unrelated babies. A childless female friend of mine fought such reactions in herself for years, which often ruined outings and trips for her, which she recognized was a terrible and continuing outcome for her life, particularly as she is a frequent business traveler, and thus, is confined several times a month on airplanes with crying babies, due to inner ear pain from cabin pressure changes.

She tried a lot of behavior modification techniques without much success, until she hit upon the realization that imagining dunking the offending babies in ice baths, imagining stringing them up upside down and hoisting them up the masts of tall sailing ships, and imagining shooting them out of circus cannons into vats of mushroom soup, and other such mental story making processes, greatly helped her ignore the crying, and relax herself. In particularly bad circumstances, at the end of such flights, she has recounted her thoughts directly to the mother or father of such infants, leaving them with stunned looks, as she cheerily wishes them a pleasant continued journey, and walks away.
posted by paulsc at 4:27 PM on August 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not so much into the creepy murder fantasies, but that was an interesting suggestion.

I'm male, 30s, married, no kids (obviously slash thankfully). My wife is much more political about being childfree. I am just not interested in parenting and don't give it much thought. Which is why this is weird. It's not so much a feeling than a somatic reaction.
posted by moammargaret at 4:34 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have this problem, too. I think the panicky/scalpel feeling comes more from me freaking out about wanting someone to do something about it, but not being able to because it's a stranger's baby. A baby's cry is an evolutionary thing telling adults to attend to the baby. So when a baby starts crying hysterically in public, I get that feeling of "ATTEND TO BABY NOW!", but it's made even worse in a kind of subconsciously frustrating and helpless way, because it's not my place to take care of the child.
posted by side effect at 4:41 PM on August 20, 2011

I feel like the more you are around the crying the more you can accept/ignore it. It used to be like a scalpel to me as you say. Now with little niece and nephew more like frustration. You are biologically conditioned to respond to a baby's cry. Some (you) may have a stronger response (despite your lack of interest in having children).
posted by boobjob at 4:42 PM on August 20, 2011

I'm a late-twenty-something female with the same feeling. I notice a distinct difference when I can do something about the baby, e.g. when babysitting or it's a family member. I think part of it is the aforementioned evolution thing and part of it is the subconscious knowledge that you can't control anything.
posted by sarahkeebs at 4:43 PM on August 20, 2011

What you're describing could be misophonia or hyperacusis -- since you seem to be saying it's more reflexive ("AAARGH!") than cognitive ("damn babies! why don't their parents keep them at home").

Do any other sounds make you uncomfortable?
posted by hungrytiger at 5:07 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Female laughter.
posted by moammargaret at 5:18 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am serious. (and dont call me hope?) I think it is a selective pitch issue, actually, which is beginning to make more sense.
posted by moammargaret at 5:30 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's another possibility - hormones. I worked with a woman who used fake baby cries to assess parental hormone levels and she found that being exposed to a 'crying baby' (actually a recording and holding a doll if I remember correctly) increased stress (and other) hormones in pregnant women and their male partners. I doubt the baby-crying-stress-hormone link is specific to pregnant/pregnant-associated people so you might just be extra sensitive to this stimulus. I guess you can be extra thankful that your partner doesn't want to get pregnant because you might end up with a bad case of couvade (and you might be a good father (if good fathers are associated with lower testosterone...blah, blah, blah, caveats)).

From the abstract: We obtained two blood samples from couples at one of four times before or after the birth of their babies. After the first sample, the couples were exposed to auditory, visual, and olfactory cues from newborn infants (test of situational reactivity). Men and women had similar stage-specific differences in hormone levels, including higher concentrations of prolactin and cortisol in the period just before the births and lower postnatal concentrations of sex steroids (testosterone or estradiol). Men with more pregnancy (couvade) symptoms and men who were most affected by the infant reactivity test had higher prolactin levels and greater post-test reduction in testosterone. Hormone concentrations were correlated between partners. This pattern of hormonal change in men and other paternal mammals, and its absence in nonpaternal species, suggests that hormones may play a role in priming males to provide care for young.
posted by hydrobatidae at 6:32 PM on August 20, 2011

Baby wails ~ distress that you can't alleviate without being socially awkward (sooth some stranger's baby). Strong biological drive to help the helpless.

Female laughter... is it ok hearing it on TV?
posted by porpoise at 7:47 PM on August 20, 2011

Do you get migraines?

I can't stand crying babies, because it is a migraine trigger for me.

Seriously, baby crying = feels like someone is repeatedly stabbing knitting needles in my ears and brain. It physically hurts me.

I deal with it by taking earplugs with me everywhere.

On a plane, earplugs + these style of headphones over the top of the earplugs playing gentle music = can mostly cope with crying baby.

(I'm a woman, but I don't have any maternal instincts, so I don't think that's a factor. It's just a distressing noise, like people drilling through concrete, only much much worse.)
posted by Year of meteors at 8:03 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a feeling everybody feels pretty much the same way. A crying baby is the most alarming sound in the world for a reason.
posted by falameufilho at 11:06 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

People already beat me to the migraine/hyperacusis suggestions, but I just wanted to chime in to second those. I personally have overly acute hearing and smelling senses, which is either the chicken or the egg in my chronic migraine disease. Anyway, very specific sounds are like a scalpel to me and fill me with dread - for instance, someone using packing tape to tape up a box. *shiver*

I wish I had advice for you on how to endure it better, but I haven't learned that myself yet. The best tactic I've learned so far is to avoid, which I appreciate is far more difficult with crying babies than it is with packing tape. FWIW, I carry a set of ear plugs with me at all times.
posted by corn_bread at 5:03 AM on August 21, 2011

I had a similar reaction to babies crying until I was desensitized by attending two or three of my five year old niece's gymnastics practice sessions. They are encouraged to scream and squeal in that same pitch range, amplified by the acoustics of a gymnasium, and it pretty much insured I would never hear anything in that frequency range again.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2011

I guess to solve this problem you need to figure out whether it's a sensory processing sort of issue (as hungrytiger suggested) or just an overclocked version of the natural biological response to a baby's cry (which, as others have mentioned, IS something most people have experienced to one degree or another).

If it's the former, an occupational therapist or a psychologist who specializes in sensory issues can probably help you come up with coping strategies and / or a desensitization program. (This has done wonders for people in my own family with sensitivities to sound.)

If it's the latter, I can tell you that what helped me tone my own negative reaction (which was once pretty strong) down was spending more time around babies, and learning to better interpret their cries, by sorting out what sort of baby cry indicates hunger or exhaustion or frustration and what sort indicates actual danger.

That way I could tell myself, "That baby is just sleepy" or "That baby is just hungry," which for me really helped -- it turned the sound into interpretable information rather than just an annoying alarm. Working as a nanny and then later having my own kid pretty much cured me of my overreaction-to-crying-babies problem. But you don't have to work with kids regularly or have your own babies at home to do retrain yourself. Just spend time with a friend's baby or a relative's baby on occasion, preferably in an environment where you can exit to a calm and quiet place if the sound of the baby crying starts to really freak you out.
posted by BlueJae at 7:20 AM on August 21, 2011

I think it is a selective pitch issue, actually, which is beginning to make more sense.

I have profound hearing loss in both ears, and wear hearing aids, but I can still hear very high pitched tones clearly. Even when I take the hearing aids off. Even with ear plugs. If it's not just babies, then there's got to be something physiological going on and hyperacusis makes sense. White noise helps me avoid stabbing people.
posted by desjardins at 8:53 AM on August 21, 2011

Goodness, I'm a parent of two and the sound of a baby crying can still send a shiver down my spine!!! Especially during the night-time hours between say 10pm to 7am) ... I've always said there is no lonelier place on earth than in the room with a crying child, trying to calm them, at 3 in the morning.

I think it is, in many ways, a normal human reaction to a baby crying - the reaction being one of alarm or alertness, followed by an action (deal with the matter, get away from the problem, etc)

Personally, as a parent, I've learned to think that the baby's cries are because they need some help or assistance, and its the only way of getting their message across.

But I understand your reaction and wanted to drop a line to reassure you on that point!
posted by chris88 at 5:08 PM on August 21, 2011

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