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How to Cope with a Crying Baby

Sara Walters
Carmarthen Wales UK
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 1, January-February 2007, pp.30-31

Although none of us would deny that life with a new baby is wonderful, there are periods when the shine can be taken out of it -- especially if our babies are fussy. Most babies will have a fussy period at least once a day. Often, it becomes a predictable feature in the 24-hour period. Some babies, however, seem to be permanently fussy, with prolonged periods of crying and discomfort. This is very wearing for parents, particularly mothers. You may wonder what you are doing wrong, or even if your baby likes you. In particular, breastfeeding mothers may question whether it is breastfeeding itself that is causing the problem, especially if other people are suggesting it is.

Why do babies cry?

Hunger may be a reason babies cry, but it is certainly not the only reason. (Bear in mind that crying is a late sign of hunger -- there are plenty of other cues that come first to indicate that your baby is hungry, such as rooting or hand-sucking.) If you are breastfeeding frequently, and if your baby is having plenty of wet and dirty nappies (diapers) and is gaining weight, then you may assume other reasons such as overtiredness, overstimulation, loneliness, or discomfort. Many parents may recognize the different types of crying that accompany different emotions. There are also babies who are just more sensitive than others and require more comforting.

Some babies may appear to be in great pain. These babies are usually described as being colicky. There is some debate as to what colic actually is, but is believed to be intense physical discomfort. Whatever the cause, your baby may scream as though in agony for prolonged periods. Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to alleviate colic in some babies.

Is there anything I can do to prevent crying?

Hold your baby. A study has shown that babies who are carried more tend to cry less. It's impossible to spoil a baby. Also not restricting access to the breast means your baby is less likely to get upset. Timing or scheduling feedings may result in a fussy, hungry baby. Often, a baby may want to nurse just for comfort. If your baby seems full or is taking in more milk than she can comfortably hold, resulting in gassiness, then offering the breast she finished last will allow her to meet her sucking and closeness needs without the milk.

Most babies do cry -- some more than others -- whatever preventative measures we may try and take. If we are loving and responsive to our babies needs, then we should not reproach ourselves for having a baby who cries. As Dr. William Sears has suggested, we should recognize that we have intelligent babies who are smart enough to insist on high quality care.

Although it may seem that holding or cuddling your baby is ineffective, your baby will sense that someone loves her enough to comfort her through her upset. It is never a waste of time to hold a crying baby. If, however, you are reaching the breaking point, by all means pass your baby to another pair of loving arms, or if you are alone, put her down somewhere safe while you recharge for a few minutes. Do not leave her to cry alone for long, though. Prolonged crying is physically and emotionally very stressful, and may have an impact on the wiring of the brain.

Your baby will stop crying eventually, but has learned a sad lesson: that her needs for comfort have not been taken seriously. A baby cannot manipulate you; she simply needs to trust you to take very good care of her. Exhausting as this may be at times, your baby is learning about loving relationships, and this will foster security and independence in her in the long run.

How can you cope?

It is never easy to hear your baby cry. If nothing you do seems to calm her, you may feel helpless, frustrated, and wonder if you are capable of being a good mother. It is essential that you have support both emotionally and practically, if possible.

Be realistic about what you can achieve around the house when much of your day is spent comforting your baby. Remember to make some time to meet your needs, too. In order to cope lovingly, it is vital that you get enough rest and eat well. Talking to an LLL Leader and attending LLL meetings for support and information may help, too. (To find an LLL Leader in your area, go to www.llli.org or call 800-LALECHE.) Most importantly, remember that your baby will grow and leave this stage behind. This, too, shall pass.

Resources

Sears, W. THE FUSSY BABY. Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2001.
McKay, P. 100 Ways to Calm the Crying. Sydney, Australia: Lothian Press, 2002.

Ideas for calming your crying baby
(if nursing and holding don't help)

  • Burp her;
  • Change her nappy (diaper);
  • Undress her completely -- her clothes may be causing her discomfort;
  • Have a warm bath together;
  • Give her a massage;
  • Put her in a sling or carrier and go for a walk;
  • Swaddle her in a light blanket;
  • Create "white noise" by running the shower or the vacuum cleaner;
  • If she is overstimulated, take her to a quiet room;
  • Rock her;
  • Sing to her, talk to her, or make loud "shh" noises while keeping her in your arms;
  • Try different positions such as laying her on her tummy and rubbing her back, or carrying her tummy down across your forearm.
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