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It’s science: whining really is the most annoying sound (for a very important reason)

When our child speaks their first words the sound of that little voice is the most beautiful thing in the world, but later, when they’re whining at us, it’s probably the most annoying thing we’ve ever heard. And that’s not just the opinion of frustrated parents, that’s science.


Studies have shown that the sound of whining causes stress responses in adults, and is more distracting than other sounds.

According to Rose Sokol-Chang, one of the co-authors of those studies, there’s an evolutionary reason why we just can’t ignore whining: attachment. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, whining is meant to draw parents to a child, and as anyone with a toddler at home knows, it works.

“People tend to think that whining is a bad behavior, something that need to be squelched, but it’s something that is very integral to attachment relationships, much like baby cries are,” says Sokol-Chang.

We know that when our babies cry, we’re impacted on a physical level, and the same is true of whining. Researchers tested the effects of whining on adults by playing two dull recorded stories for people, one in each ear. The participants were asked to repeat one story, and ignore the other. That story was interrupted with whining, and proved hard for participants to block out.

“They also have a galvanic skin response, so they have a spike in the measure of sweat in their fingertips, which is usually associated with stress or heightened attention,” Sokol-Chang notes.

The other study compared how well people could focus on a math problem when listening to whining sound, or listening to a machine noise. “The machine noise was a pretty high pitched table saw that kept catching on wood, so it kind of had the same properties of whining,” Sokol-Chang explains, adding that the saw noise turned out to be easier to ignore than the whining.

Basically, we’re wired to find whining intolerable, but Sokol-Chang recommends parents try to look at whining as an attachment behavior rather than an annoying behavior, and see whining episodes as a reminder to connect with our kids.

“The whining usually is not about the candy or whatever’s being asked for, it’s usually a sign that you need to tune in and give some attention. There’s a different need than what’s being expressed,” she explains, adding that proactive parenting can help stop whining before it starts.

“Tune in more often throughout the day. Make sure you’re giving the child attention before it gets to the point that he or she is whining,” says Sokol-Chang.

When that doesn’t work, and the world’s most annoying sound comes out of your child’s mouth, remember that it’s a sign of the bond you share with your child. Humans don’t make that noise at people they’re not close with, according to Sokol-Chang. It’s a kind of communication that happens between parents and kids, and between partners.

“You don’t just whine to anyone, you whine to the people that you love. So if you’re being whined to you are probably loved,” says Sokol-Chang.

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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