Why Do Moms Hear A Baby Crying As Soon As They Jump In The Shower Or Start Vacuuming? Phantom Baby Cries Explained.

Why is it that when I’m doing something loud, like vacuuming, drying my hair or taking that much-needed shower, I’m quite sure everything in my house is going off, from ringing phones, to wailing children, to exploding food coloring experiments? However, when I dart into the next room - sometimes half naked and sopping wet - to quell my fears, nine out of ten times, there’s no emergency needing my attention, or hungry child waking from a nap. Hell, three out of ten times the children aren’t even home, but I hear them crying anyway. Jenny Isenman, who also writes the fabulously funny blog, The Suburban Jungle, explains the phenomenon of the phantom baby cries.
Jenny Isenman

I’m guessing that all moms know this feeling. What is it about not being able to hear our kids that triggers these phantom wails?

What the experts say
Alison Astair, a behavioral specialist who works with both parents and children, says these mind tricks are a maternal thing. “When our hearing is incapacitated we feel a lack of control, which will prompt every mom to worry.”

Though I’ve actually convinced my children that I have eyes in the back of my head, it’s really some well trained ears that keep me abreast of what’s going on when I can’t see them. I am keenly aware of every noise in my house - from the high pitched beep of the fire alarm’s battery going dead to the low drip and grind of the coffee maker starting to brew on a timer.

Mother’s intuition?
When it comes to my kids, this keen sense becomes more of a Mother’s intuition (ok, maybe obsession). You know, that sixth sense that has us tuned into possibilities that haven’t even happened yet - the sound of a baby about to cry, or the sound of a child rolling precariously close to the edge of the bed. Our ears are always perked to notice the slightest hint of danger.  Astair believes that we’re programmed through evolution to care for our young, and that we maximize all of our senses to do so. This theory would certainly explain why moms can see when our kid’s look “off,” feel when their bodies are even the slightest bit hotter than usual, and yes, even smell certain tummy issues. This Mothering thing is in our DNA. 

So, why don’t most men hear phantom cries?
Frankly, I don’t know how paternal these senses are. I asked my husband if he ever hears things when he’s showering, working with power tools, or vacuuming – wait, scratch the last one, that’s just ridiculous - and he said, “Sure, I hear the water running or the tools humming.“ Well thanks, Captain Obvious.

Astair says, “Mens’ mental state, in terms of the family, is often more financial.” Yep, think hunter-gatherer. The moms have been the assumed nurturers since the dawn of time. “Women often complain that their husbands don’t wake up in the middle of the night when the baby cries,” says Astair. “For men, this is a non-developed skill, though it can be learned.” Well, I’ll just add waking up to the list of skills I’ve been trying to teach my husband for the last decade. It can go right after remember to take out the trash and before put your dirty clothes in the hamper. I’ll let you know how it goes.

So, will we ever be able to vacuum or shower without fearing the worst? Astair says, “Yes, if we can learn to live in the moment. We’re so overloaded with ‘what ifs’ that we spend much of our time projecting our fears, and then our brain imagines the sounds to confirm them.”

I think finding time to relax can certainly help. Something as simple as a couple of deep breaths before showering can clear your head. I don’t know, this whole "being at ease around the house" thing may have to wait until the kids are off to college, but it definitely couldn’t hurt to make our husbands to do some vacuuming.

More answers to your toughest baby questions:

-My baby is spitting up. Is it refux?

-How to keep you and your baby happy in the car

-How can I ease my baby's teething pain?

-Top 100 baby parenting articles


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Stephen February 23, 2015
i am a dad and I hear "crying" all the time in the shower and after they wake in the middle of the night
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