Coping with Crying
Bouts of crying in an infant, especially if they persist for a while, can be distressful for both parents and baby. But crying is an important way for your baby to express his needs and feelings. Different types or sounds of crying mean different things. Fortunately, these different sounds and the needs they're trying to express become easier to identify over time. And as your baby grows older, and becomes better able to express himself through other forms of communication, he'll cry less often, and for shorter periods of time.
Sometimes crying indicates a serious problem. If your baby's cries are unusually shrill and intense, and are accompanied by fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or other signs of unwellness, he should get medical attention immediately. The same is true of a baby who normally does not cry much, but suddenly has an episode of sustained, high-pitched crying or screaming. These signs could indicate that your child has a serious medical problem which needs immediate attention.
Fortunately, however, crying is usually an expression of some less alarming and more satisfiable need, such as the need to eat, sleep, or have a change of diapers. Or it may simply indicate that your baby is feeling wound up or frustrated. Babies who have extended bouts of crying on a regular basis, but are otherwise healthy, may have a common condition called colic (for more information about colic, please see Colic and the Newborn. Be sure to consult your pediatrician if your infant cries regularly for extended periods of time.
Although crying is not usually cause for alarm, it can be stressful for both parents and baby. Keeping your baby's environment peaceful and calm, particularly around feeding time and in the late afternoon and evening, may help prevent or minimize crying jags. When your baby does cry, be sure to respond to him. Babies who are left to cry may begin to feel abandoned and insecure, and are often harder to calm. Don't worry - babies can't be spoiled at this age! Babies who are given a lot of attention in the first few months tend to be happier, healthier and better adjusted in the long run.
Here are some strategies parents or other caregivers can try to help relieve and calm a crying baby:
- Gently rock the baby in your arms.
- Wrap the baby snugly in a blanket. Many babies find this soothing. But remember, never put your baby to sleep with a blanket wrap.
- Babies love gentle rhythmic motion. Strapping your baby into his car seat, and taking him for a ride in the car may help calm him, or lull him to sleep. Or go for a walk outdoors together (or even indoors) using a stroller, sling, baby carrier or just your arms - it may calm your baby while providing some much needed stress-relief for you too!
- Singing softly, or gently massaging the tummy or back seems to soothe many babies.
Sometimes nothing will soothe a crying infant, and the episode must simply run its course before crying will subside. Though it may be difficult in these circumstances, it's important that parents try to remain calm, both for their own sake and the sake of their baby. Babies can sense their parents' anxiety and nervousness, and this may upset them further, leading to more intense crying. Bouts of intense crying can also leave parents feeling frustrated, inadequate, exhausted, and at wit's end. If your baby's crying jags are leaving you feeling stressed or burned out, leave the baby in the hands of a competent babysitter, and take time out for a movie, a dinner out, or just a few hours of quiet relaxation - you've certainly earned it! You'll come back revitalized, better able to cope, and feeling like you've missed your baby.