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Hush sweet baby

What to do when your baby cries

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Wave, November / December 2012

My baby cries a lot. What can I do?

To say that crying is a key challenge to early parenting is an understatement, especially when it is 3 a.m. and you haven't gotten any sleep, and your baby is still crying!

With crying, there are no firm rules - both as to what causes it and what you can do to get your baby to stop. As you get to know your baby, however, you will get better at understanding what causes your baby to cry and what will get her to stop. Soon you will be able to distinguish hungry cries from boredom cries, hurt cries from angry cries. And then, of course, there are times when your baby will cry seemingly for no reason at all.

Why is my baby crying?

When your baby cries, first check the obvious causes such as hunger, discomfort, over-stimulation, and boredom.

Hunger: If it is possible that your baby is hungry, try feeding first. Newborns need short (20-minute), frequent feedings. The feedings provide comfort and closeness, as well as keeping your baby's tummy full.

Discomfort: Your baby may be bothered by one of the following:

  • Illness: If your child is sick, there are usually other signs, such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, or a stuffy nose. Some illnesses cause discomfort without other obvious symptoms. Sometimes a baby can get scratched in the eye or get something stuck in their throat. Make sure your baby's eyes look okay and that she can swallow.
  • Clothes: Check clothing to see if it is too tight. Sometimes threads from the baby's clothes get wound around his fingers or toes and cut off circulation.
  • Temperature: Your baby may be too hot or too cold.
  • Diapers: Unless they have been trained to cry about dirty diapers or unless they have a bad diaper rash, babies generally don't mind wet or soiled diapers. For babies in cloth diapers, check to see if a diaper pin has become loose.

Over-stimulation: Over-stimulation from playing and handling can often cause overtiredness, which will result in crying. Some babies like the secure feeling of being tightly swaddled in a blanket. If you know your baby is not hungry, sucking on a pacifier or a finger (hers or yours) can be just the thing to relax your baby and put her to sleep.

If you think your baby is not ill, your baby may simply need to cry himself to sleep.

Boredom: Crying can also mean that your baby wants a change in scenery or activity. Babies can often be distracted by lively music, by you dancing with them in your arms, or by a noisy rattle or toy. Car or stroller rides often work wonders for a crying baby and for parents as well. A baby swing may also work.

Since babies love to see the sights and to be held close in someone's arms, walking your baby from room to room is generally a good cure for crying. Try using a front pack to free up your hands for little chores while you are walking. (While this is a good cure for crying, it can injure your back - don't overdo it!)

Relax! As you will notice, your baby can tell when you are tense and will often also become tense and cry. Quiet music, gentle rocking, soft singing, or talking often help, as does a warm bath or a gentle massage.

What is colic?

Colic is a term used to describe a baby who cries daily for several hours at a time, usually at the same time each day. There is no known cause and no sure cure for colic other than time. Almost all babies outgrow colic by three months of age.

What if I get angry and frustrated?

If at all possible, try to be relieved often by a spouse, friend, neighbour, or relative. If your baby has been crying and you are getting so angry that you are afraid you might hurt your baby, there are services available to help such as calling your health-care provider, Health Links-Info Santé, or the Triple P Parenting phone line.

When should I call my child's health-care provider?

Call if:

  • Your baby seems to be ill or in pain.
  • Your baby has cried constantly for two hours or more.
  • You are feeling angry, resentful, or exhausted and you are afraid you might hurt your baby.

It is important to take care of yourself to be better able to care for your baby and respond to challenging parenting situations in a constructive and nonhurtful way.

Being a good parent does not mean that your baby should dominate your life or that your own needs are no longer important. Your personal needs for companionship, intimacy, recreation, and time alone need to be met. It is easier to be patient, consistent and available to your baby when your own needs are being met. A (constantly) crying baby can be quite stressful. Here are some tips to help you manage.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eat well, get out of the house, do things you enjoy, and do some form of exercise.

Get support: Family, friends, and neighbours can be good supports. From your support network, select people you trust who can look after your baby so you can get some rest. Having friends who are parents themselves can provide you with social contact and allow you to talk about your ideas and share experiences. You can also support each other by sharing care, such as babysitting for one another. You can get additional support by joining a community support group for parents.

Get rest: Try to sleep or rest at the same time your baby is sleeping. If you can not sleep during the day, try to sit with your feet up for a few minutes.

Take it slow: If you find it hard to make time for yourself, start doing at least one thing you enjoy each day - half an hour can make a big difference.

Relax: Learn to relax through deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

Breathe by taking slow, deep breaths through your nose, deep into your lungs. As you breathe in, imagine you are filling a balloon in your stomach. When you have taken a full breath, pause for a moment and then breathe out slowly through your nose or mouth. Make sure to let out all the air. As you breathe out, allow your body to just let go. Imagine your arms and legs going loose like a rag doll.

Try to relax through the day by loosening up any tense muscles. Find a quiet spot where you are not going to be interrupted. Get comfortable by loosening your clothes, removing your shoes, and taking off your glasses if you wear them. Sit with your legs uncrossed, your feet flat on the floor, your head held straight and your hands resting on your thighs. Tighten then relax each part of your body while keeping the rest of your body relaxed. When you tense one part, feel the tension build up, hold it for 10 seconds and notice where it is particularly tense. Release the tension slowly so you can identify the muscles that are relaxing and notice how it feels, then relax for 20 seconds and enjoy the pleasant feeling.

You can also try other relaxation techniques such as taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music, etc.

Take care of your relationship: If you are in a two-parent family situation, take care of your relationship. Show care and respect for each other, and make an effort to do the things you used to enjoy before having a baby. Make time to do special things you like to do as a couple, such as working on a project together or going on a date.

Recognize warning signs: Seek professional help if you notice signs that show you are not coping well with a crying baby or your role as a parent (e.g., frustration, losing your temper, feeling hopeless or out of control). For more information contact the Triple P Parent Line at: 204-945- 4777 or 1-877-945-4777.

Audra Kolesar is a registered nurse and manager with Health Links - Info Santé, the Winnipeg Health Region's telephone health information service. This column was written in consultation with Thania Martis MHP, who is a consultant with the Triple P Program.

The information for this column is provided by Health Links - Info Santé and the Triple P Parenting Program. It is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health-care professional. You can access health information from a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling Health Links - Info Santé. Call 788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257.

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