Somewhere, a baby cries. Somewhere close by, two parents react…
Honey, you’d better go check.
Ahh, what’s the matter, little one?
[Makes a silly face at crying baby. Baby keeps crying.]
Oh, for crying out loud! — pun intended; pretty clever, huh? — What’s wrong?
What should we do?
Any and all of these responses are possible — and likely — if you raised an infant. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the situation, besides the obvious, is trying to figure out WHY your baby is crying. Sometimes the cause is obvious and can be easily addressed. Sometimes it’s not. But that doesn’t mean the baby can’t be soothed or comforted. As much as it might feel like it, you don’t need to be Nostradamus, Warren Buffet, or a psychic to do it.
Let start with the obvious ones:
Most newborns feed about every 2-3 hours, though on occasion, a more frequent feeding will be requested.
While not all infants cry while in a dirty diaper… if the baby is crying, definitely check the diaper!
Some infants who are ready for sleep may fuss and cry. The remedy: put baby to sleep.
Some infants will become fussy and cry with teething, but this is typically not until teeth begin to erupt at 6-8 months old or later. A cool teething ring, pacifier, or appropriately dosed acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help. (For more on Teething, see Dr. Wolf’s Doctor’s Note.)
Pain, itching, heat, or cold could cause a baby to cry. If you can find an easily explainable, reasonable, and treatable solution, then simple measures to relieve these situations can solve the problem.
This is certainly an important reason to check on a crying baby, since crying may be a signal that the baby is not feeling great. A mild runny nose or single episode of vomiting might help you to identify an illness. Significant symptoms or concerns should be addressed with by calling the office.
Sometimes parents feel they know what’s causing the cry, and sometimes parents, despite the best of intentions and investigations, are totally stumped. If an obvious reason with a directed attempt to console an infant fails, or if you’re just not sure why the baby is crying, then sometimes trying these approaches may help:
- Holding, rocking, patting, cuddling and general physical consoling often work.
- Use your voice: singing, humming, talking, and/or shhhhhhhhhing.
- Other sound: Sometimes music may calm an infant, and sometimes “white noise” like static from a radio or the sound of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine may do the trick.
- A pacifier: even for breastfed infants (as long as breastfeeding child does start until breastfeeding is well established).
- Gentle motion: as above, in a swing, in a car seat in a moving vehicle
- Reducing sources of over-stimulation, such as sounds, lights, tactile or sensory factors.
The 5 S’s
Dr Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block book offers the 5 S’s (Sucking, Swaying, Shushing, Side Lying [while held] and Swaddling) are also great techniques. The approach works best for infants younger than 4 months of age. Many of our parents think these techniques, and in fact the whole book, are an invaluable resource.
Taking a Break
Sometimes an infant’s cry — especially if prolonged, harsh, or in tandem with a sleep-deprived or emotionally fragile parent — can elicit unreasonable thoughts. (“I felt like I was at my wits end…” “I was so tired and angry…” “I wanted to toss the kid out the window…”) While this occurs in far more parents than will actually admit it, it’s also important to make certain that you, as a parent, have adequate support from your spouse, partner, and extended family. Sometimes you may even need to recruit friends and neighbors.
I also tell parents that if you believe the crying does not require medical attention, but you’re not dealing well with the situation, it’s ok to place the baby in a safe location (like on their back in their crib) and for you to take a 5-10 minute breather to calm yourself. If you still feel overwhelmed, then call a relative, friend, or even a medical care resource. You’re not alone, and there are plenty of people who can sympathize. And help.
Crying and Babies… it happens. While it can be the source for significant parental frustration, with time, most parents learn to read their baby’s cues and respond successfully. These suggestions are excellent options for the times that you can’t. And, of course, just as a reminder: if you’re ever concerned that your baby’s crying is related to something significant, contact our office.
Dr. Wolynn is the President and CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics.