Week 46 is the one to watch for …. according to Melvin Konner

It’s when baby crying reaches its peak. But what is actually happening? What is crying? Is it a signal of despair, isolation or happiness? The hard to get your head round version is Happy Tears, can there be such a thing?

Well we’ve all heard of the expression ‘tears of joy’ but isn’t that the exclusive territory of elderly aunts? Seems not according to Oriana R. Aragon. The Yale psychologist studied why we react in a way that seems to the uninformed counter intuitive, your child presents you with a handmade Mother or Father’s Day card the emotions well up, a teen weeps at a Harry Styles gig. You had a crazy day at work, dropped your bag down the escalator on route to the tube and thought you’d lost your credit card only to get home and discover it in your sock drawer triggering a teeny weeny, happy, sigh filled blubber. According to Oriana Aragon (her theories are backed up by solid testing) strong feelings, be they happy or sad provoke emotion which is also Route One to why people laugh at funerals.

  “These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions, which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together,” she said.

An article in Fatherly mentions that

 ‘tears release neurotransmitters known as leucine encephalin, which can act as a natural painkiller’

which explains why weirdly we sometimes feel better after crying. In the mix is the fact that there is an added pleasure gained from being comforted by others.

toddler crying

Melt Down

But back to Week 46, where does that figure in the story? Much has been written about why and when newborn babies cry and one book which is worth savouring is neuroscientist and anthropologist Melvin Konners’  The Evolution of Childhood (2010).  It chronicles forty years of his observations and analysis, which seems like a fairly decent field test to us. He explains

 ‘In 1979 I signed a contract with Harvard University Press to write a book on evolution and childhood. I thought it would take three years; it took three decades. In that time, advances in the fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, behavior genetics, and brain development greatly enhanced our understanding of childhood. There were thousands of person-years of studying animal behavior in the wild, hundreds of well-designed experiments testing Darwinian hypotheses about human behavior, enormous samples analyzed by advanced statistics in twin and adoption studies, accelerating gene technology, and functional brain imaging in real time in adolescents and even in children’.

Not a light read but something to be savoured, one nugget which caught our attention was Melvin Konner’s observation about Week 46. Konner suggests that regardless of whether a baby was born at the 38th or 42nd week, babies reach their ‘peak’ of spontaneous crying time on Week 46 . This is not connected to their parent’s behavior, but what is useful to understand and become more familiar with is the caregiver’s reaction. It is key to teaching a baby the vital cues that tells them that everything is okay, that food will be coming and warmth and comfort. The caregivers reaction, nature and speed underpins the babies feeling of safety and wellbeing.

What we do know is what we don’t know, we don’t know

what the baby is thinking whilst they are crying

We should not assume that a crying baby is an indicator of a sad baby at this point, let’s set this aside from the topic about how to get babies to go to sleep.

baby crying in cot

That moment at 3am

One dad created a blog we love called Reasons My Son is Crying   which maps just that, it is filled with love from him and other parents and caregivers who contribute, it’s not attempting to explain the unexplained it’s just showing the wide variety of triggers.

One parent sent in a picture of their less than happy toddler with the explanation

‘He offered me a bite of his pretzel, and I took it’


Another shared about the reason their 1 year old was distraught


“The ‘Best Dad’ wouldn’t let her eat the remote control.”



Background reading is invaluable, you may not come to a conclusion and you may not agree with a lot you read but it will inform your thinking especially during those moments of sustained crying when 30 seconds feels like 30 minutes.

If you’d like to explore further and have the opportunity to pose a question to an expert on this topic, join Riverside Cares on October 19tthr for a free all day web session. You can post your questions on the day or in advance. This years team includes Lecturer in Child Health, Jill Wheatcroft and highly respected academic Dr Emma Haycraft of The Child Feeding Guide. As well as questions about helping babies to sleep there is also an opportunity to ask or comment about toddlers who reject food, sibling rivalry, preparing a baby for nursery, toddler tantrums …we could keep going.

If you do want instead a one to one extended private session Riverside Cares’ parenting consultancy is available for both in person sessions and phone sessions. Just drop the team a line at info@riversidecares.co.uk

Gaby Morris

Riverside Cares