As a new parent, the experience of a crying baby can be extremely overwhelming. A baby’s cry can be so unpredictable, and it can be difficult to determine the cause. Even more so, it can be difficult to develop effective strategies to stop the crying.
Everyone, from your midwife to your neighbour, will have advice on this topic. Through this blog post, I hope to demystify some information, and to ultimately provide some much needed reassurance to parents regarding their baby-led programs.
For 20 years, when presented with a crying baby, I have referred to my checklist below in order to determine the cause. Is the baby:
- Needing a nappy change?
- Experiencing wind?
Personally, I believed that once all of the above suggestions were accounted for, the baby should have stopped crying as there were no other reasons for it to cry. I was considered a baby whisperer among mothers, and for 20 years, I worked successfully with unsettled babies, and helped provide techniques to soothe them.
This brings me to 11 years ago. My second Grandson, Charlie, was born. It looked like my daughter was in a non-stop baby-crying nightmare. She was so tired and overwhelmed with love for her new son, but driven by her manic desire to sleep. All I wanted was to support her better.
So, it began. I, with my daughter’s approval and armed with plentiful bottles of expressed breast milk, was ready to have my 6-week old grandson for the night. I assumed all that lay ahead was a wonderful night of bonding and sleep for us all. I was wrong.
The night was horrific. Charlie cried and cried – it was so difficult. When my daughter came to pick him up, fresh as a daisy, she said ‘Mum, you look terrible. Get some sleep’. So, I asked myself – how do mothers in this predicament cope?
How do you cope?
That night with Charlie, was so difficult. I felt useless. If Charlie wasn’t either guzzling down his Mum’s magic milk, or in my arms, he was crying.
When my clients ask me, ‘Jan, Why does my baby cry’? I go through the list above. I then tell my story of Charlie, and address the difference between a well crying baby, and a baby who needs to see a doctor.
In the green My Health, Learning and Development book, given to you by your health service, there is a great list at the very front called Recognizing serious illness in your infant. Additionally, the Maternal Child Health Nurse Line, 132229 is available if you have any concerns.
Because of my experience with Charlie, and the obvious need for extra support for parents, I am very interested in the subject of crying babies.
‘But there are so many cries’!
It is said that a baby can have 50 different cries, and somehow there is this misconception that parents must learn each and every one of these. Personally, I agree with the experts who argue that your baby has its own cry, and this cry can vary in intensity, power and volume.
Herbalists, pharmacists, friends, family, and that lady you met at the bus stop will all have different treatments – however there is no ‘one thing fixes all’ solution. This is seen particularly in cases where parents describe the symptoms of what was once called ‘Colic’, however is now mostly referred to as ‘Purple Crying’ (see purplecrying.info for more information).
U – Unexpected
R – Resists soothing
P – Pain like face
L – Long lasting
E – Evening
This period of ‘Purple Crying’ has a beginning and end. Purple crying reflects a normal developmental pathway, NOT an illness. It begins at about 2 weeks and continues till 3 to 4 months.
‘What is wrong with them’?
In order to accept that a baby is crying, and ultimately develop strategies to sooth the baby, we must first realise that (in most circumstances) crying is a normal developmental trait. After all, crying is the only way a baby is able to communicate it’s needs at this stage.
With this said, it is also important to remember that when a baby cries, it gives parents or carers an opportunity to bond and learn what our baby’s needs are.
Additionally, as a Midwife, I need to remind others that babies are often exhausted from birth or are hurting because of it. This is especially common when instruments are used on their heads at birth. It’s a tough job being born! They were nice and comfy and warm, and have now been pushed into a bright world out of nowhere – they’re exhausted!
Babies who are born premature or those who need nursery care may need extra patience and love as they gain confidence in life’s journey.
There is lengthy research that shows that babies are unaware of the idea of ‘day’ and ‘night’, and therefore sleeping in the dark vs. sleeping in the light shouldn’t make too much of a difference.
Do babies cry more at night?
Yes. There are many theories to explain this. One of the most interesting is the idea that by feeding at night, the baby intends to delay the mother’s return to fertility by keeping mum exhausted and delaying ovulation. This begs the question, ‘Does the baby have a hidden plan to control it’s parents and prevent potential for siblings in the near future’? Researchers debate over this as seen in the references below [Michaeleen Doccleff}. Harvard University’s David Haig says those lungs were made for screaming. in earlier times, babies that cried and woke their mothers at night had a better chance of surviving and having their own children. Its clear young babies can’t get enough milk if they sleep all night.
Parents do need to be reassured by experts that crying in a well child is normal. Yes, there is a reason and yes, there is a solution. It makes sense to hold your baby when it cries and this will provide insight to the reason and help you grow as this baby’s parent .
Holding your baby can heal all wounds.
Ignoring your baby can make it worse.
Charlie is now 11, and he has always had trouble sleeping. He lays awake wondering about Lego, dinosaurs and basketball.
By Jan Ireland, Mother of 4, Nanna to 8 (soon to be 9). Director of MAMA.
Breastfeeding, I. (2018). Breastfeeding, Infant Sleep And How Babies Are Defying An Evolutionary Mandate. [online] Science 2.0. Available at: http://www.science20.com/news_articles/breastfeeding_infant_sleep_and_how_babies_are_defying_an_evolutionary_mandate-133880 [Accessed 21 May 2018].