I remember the experience as if it was yesterday. I remember having my son in my arms and trying everything to soothe him. I had my magical answers and my wife had hers. Sometimes a bouncy walk with him on my shoulder would work. Sometimes my wife would use a rocking chair and have him across her lap. And many times we would just keep switching off trying new tricks until he finally tired himself out. This was almost seventeen years ago when my wife and I had a very fussy, colicky baby. It was then that I learned how stressful a crying baby can be. The experience has stayed with me and has given me extreme sympathy to parents of crying babies. It also gave me a professional curiosity about what causes some babies to be such tenacious criers.
During the time of my son’s colic I read many theories on “crybabies”. Most people believe that the crying has to do with gas, diet and their abdominal distension. Others believe it is due to over stimulation and fatigue and the crying itself makes children “gassy”. Still others believed that it was due to an inability to ease into sleep – an ability that becomes easier with some brain maturity. All these theories have some merit. But none of them provide the answer to every crying baby.
Much of the advice that people give about handling crying infants stem from these theories. Many mothers are told to change the baby’s diet in one way or another. This goes along with the theory that the formula or breast milk is causing the baby to be gassy and the gas is causing the discomfort. Others receive advice to put their baby down since the constant contact with the parents is contributing to “spoiling” or “over stimulating” the baby. Most of this kind of advice comes from beliefs without truths behind the beliefs.
So what do we really know about crying babies. We know that babies cry 26 hours total in a day and that some are worse than others. About 10% of babies cry more than other babies (probably at the 6 hour end of the range). All babies cry more at six weeks of age than in the first few weeks but then settle down again by three to four months of age. A few babies will have their fussiness decrease with diet changes. Most will not. All babies have gas. Only some seem to be bothered by the gas. And all babies strain when having bowel movements.
So with this information how should families handle a crying infant?
- Recognize that it is a phase and no matter what you do your baby will be calmer by three to four months of age.
- Take everyone’s advice but see what works for you.
- The crying baby is a natural phenomenon and is no one’s fault.
- You may want to try a formula change if you are bottle feeding or a change in your diet (i.e. stop milk products) if you are breast feeding.
- Baby experts recommend spoiling of all babies for at least three months. Before that age it is too young to let your baby cry for long by themselves. Short periods alone are okay.
- It is okay to take a break from a fussy crying baby. Get some tea, go for a walk or take a shower. Taking care of a crying baby is stressful and parents do need to get breaks.
- The more hands around to hold a baby the better. It is good to have people to help you care for a crying baby. It is definitely worthwhile having support for this difficult problem.
- Cry babies do become happy babies over time. Support your baby through this time. Support their gassy bellies. Provide them warmth. Rock and swaddle them. And rest assured the baby you have been waiting for will come to you with plenty of smiles – by four months of age.
- If you have any doubts about your child’s health in the midst of all the crying, by all means, see your pediatrician. Pediatricians are familiar with fussy babies and can help families be assured that their child is just colicky and isn’t sick.
- Remember, that just because you have a crybaby, it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. And it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are doing. Nobody knows exactly why we have colicky babies. But one thing is for sure; they are a natural phenomenon and exist in many cultures and economic levels. Crybabies just happen. But with time and your support they can get through this rough start to their new life.