Our family addition is now 3 months old and I was reminded of what our 4 year old was like around that age. She smiles and coos like her brother did. But, she cries less than her brother. I think. Jerome Groopman, in a 2007 article in the New Yorker, quotes Sheila Kitzinger, a British social anthropologist who studies pregnancy and childbirth, has written “The sound of a crying baby . . . is just about the most disturbing, demanding, shattering noise we can hear.” Groopman also notes that the U.S. military has used the sound of wailing infants as an instrument of psychological stress, piping recordings of their cries into the cells of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Changing dirty diapers is already stressful enough.
Certainly, crying can serve several useful purposes for a baby. She uses it to be fed, when she is uncomfortable, or when it is too loud or too bright, and it helps her release tension. Babies have different cries. A cry of hunger usually sounds short and low-pitched, and rises and falls. An angry baby’s cry is often more turbulent. Cry from pain or distress usually comes on suddenly and loudly with a long, high-pitched shriek followed by a long pause and then a flat wail. Crying tends to increase for the first six to eight weeks, mostly in the late afternoon and early evenings. Two to three hours of crying a day for the first 3 months is considered normal. As a baby develops, the cries will become stronger, louder, and more insistent. There will also be more variability in the cries, as if she is trying to convey different needs and desires.
The two first best strategies to handle crying are to respond promptly when your baby cries during the first few months, and to remain calm. One can not spoil a young baby with attention, and she will overall cry less when her calls are answered straightaway. And, the cooler you remain the easier it will be to calm your baby. Babies are sensitive to tension around them and react by crying.
The next step is to go down a mental checklist of the baby’s possible needs, and to try to meet those most pressing first. Is she hungry? Is it too cold or too hot? Is the diaper dirty? Is there a piece of clothing stuck and making her uncomfortable? Could there be some hair tied around a finger or toe? Could she be sick? Is there a fever? Is she over stimulated?
After those needs are met and resolved, and she is still crying, try some of these ways to comfort a crying a baby. With time, you will find what works, and does not work, for your baby: swaddling, holding baby in our arms and lay on the left side, rocking, singing or softly talking, soft music, walk in a carrier or stroller, riding in a car, offer a pacifier, shushing, burping, gentle stroking, or a warm bath. Here are a couple of more points: try to avoid overfeeding, and limit each daytime nap to no longer than 3 hours.
Lastly, a crying baby can be tough to handle, and may feel tougher if a care provider is physically tired or mentally exhausted. Take a deep breath. If all soothing attempts fail, it is okay to place your baby in a safe place, such as crib or playpen without stuffed animals and blankets, and let her cry alone for 10-15 minutes. Call a friend or family member, or do some simple chores, or call your baby’s healthcare provider – we are here to help. Remember that all babies cry, don’t take it personally, and she cries not because we are bad parents or she does not like us. Take a realistic approach to the situation and enjoy all those marvelous moments with your baby. Now, excuse me because I think I hear something…