Why my baby won’t stop crying
It can be frustrating and distressing when you cannot calm a crying baby.
For new parents, it can also be confusing.
Why does my baby cry for no reason when nothing seems wrong?
Here’s the thing… babies don’t cry for no reason.
But they may cry for no reason that you can identify yet.
Why do babies cry
Babies can’t talk. Crying is the only way they can communicate their needs. It is a survival instinct they are born with, not a choice they make.
Sometimes, the baby’s needs are very straightforward – hunger, tiredness, dirty diapers, boredom, etc. But it could also be something not that obvious.
It is up to us, the grownups, to figure it out.
Using crying to achieve a young child’s goals is not misbehavior. Even when your baby grows and has learned to speak, they may not understand what they feel or how to elaborate on what their experience.
Until children learn to speak and understand their own needs, they behave this way in order to survive.
What causes baby crying
Babies don’t cry for fun. They don’t throw tantrums just to get their way.
There are always reasons why they cry, but it may not be a reason you agree with or feel worth crying about.
Many types of infant cries exist. Most parents learn to distinguish the type of crying or the meaning of their baby’s cries within 2 weeks of age and they can respond accordingly1.
Here are some common reasons babies cry.
- Dirty diaper
- Anxiety or fear
- Food allergy
- Too full
- Acid reflux
- Uncomfortable clothing
- Sickness or health problems
- Separation from mother
Pain-induced cries have significantly stronger amplitudes and are more intense.
Hunger cries, although not as strong as pain-induced cries, are still more intense than fussy cries.
Is my fussy baby colic
When infants cry excessively and regularly without identifiable reasons, they are often called “infantile colic.” Colic is defined as inconsolable crying for 3 or more hours a day.
Colic is not just a “growing pain”. It’s not the child’s temperament or a medical condition.
It means, “We have no idea why they cry, but let’s give it a name.”
If you and the pediatrician are unable to identify the cause of your infant’s long, persistent crying, then you may say that your baby is colicky2.
What are the patterns of normal crying
Healthy babies cry, too. A healthy, normal baby cries the most during the first three months of age. Newborn crying peaks at six-seven weeks after birth and drops until four months of age3. Late afternoons and evenings are common time when the frequency of crying increases4.
What to do when my baby won’t stop crying
In a study on constant crying intervention, when parents of babies who had colic were taught to answer cries swiftly, consistently, and completely, infant crying was reduced by 60 percent.
When mothers demonstrated less sensitive or affectionate reaction to the newborn, the infant was likely to become a persistent crier.
Here are the steps suggested by researchers.
1. Answer the baby’s crying quickly
There were many parenting pamphlets written between 1920s and 1940s that warned parents not to pick up a baby between feedings because that would lead to spoiled, fussy children5.
Since then, studies after studies have shown that responding quickly to an infant’s cry during their first few months will decrease their crying significantly by the end of their first year. Infants whose mothers ignore their cries or delay in responding to them are the ones who show the stereotype of the “spoiled child” by the age of one.
So the first step in soothing a crying baby is to respond to them and do not ignore the baby’s cues for help.
2. Answer the baby’s crying consistently
No research supports the notion that an infant can be spoiled by having their every cry answered during the first six months. Studies have shown that consistent maternal responses in the first six months reduce infant crying later in life.
This is because manipulative thinking, such as “When I cry, my mother comes to play with me”, has not developed yet. So, an infant cannot become spoiled by having their cries answered consistently. Rather than being spoiled, the infant will learn that their needs will always be met reliably.
3. Pick up the baby
Providing close physical contact is one of the most common ways mothers comfort a crying infant. Baby crying may be affected by whether the mother picks up her infant quickly after they begin crying6.
Researchers found that mothers who picked up their babies soon after they began to cry recorded the shortest duration of infant crying7.
Infants whose mothers have handled them tenderly and affectionately in the early days of the baby’s life are content with relatively little physical touch at the end of their first year8.
4. Find the reason of crying
When you respond to your baby’s cry quickly, consistently, and completely, and the crying still does not stop, you may need to examine and determine what is causing the discomfort.
Babies cannot identify or communicate why they are crying. Your job is to figure it out the cause of your baby crying when there is no obvious reason.
5. More things to try
In the event that your pediatrician and you are unable to identify the cause of colic, here are a variety of techniques you can use to calm your colicky infant.
- Give them a pacifier
- Use swaddling
- Play heartbeat sounds, lullabies, or music
- Mother sings or talks in a gentle voice
- Pace, rock, or use rhythmic movements
- Do baby massage
- Play the sound of a vacuum cleaner, white noise machine or ocean waves
Often, the effectiveness of crying-reduction strategies decreases with repetition, so don’t be surprised if what worked before doesn’t work anymore. Whenever possible, try to pinpoint the cause of the baby’s crying, and try different ways to comfort them.
What NOT to do when babies cry
Do not shake a baby
NEVER EVER SHAKE A BABY.
Shaken baby syndrome, or inflicted traumatic brain injury, occurs when a baby is violently shaken or hit with a hard surface. It can result in head trauma and brain damage.
Shaking is often triggered by infant crying9.
A colicky baby’s first few months after birth are marked by prolonged, inconsolable, and unpredictable crying episodes. These episodes can be frustrating, upsetting and exhausting for parents.
However, you should not shake a baby under any circumstances.
Colicky babies are not fussy babies. Crying spells are not meant to torture anyone.
A colic baby is a distressed infant whose parents are not sure how to help them. Listening to excessive crying is exhausting, but consider the baby who has to produce that crying. How much discomfort must they endure for them to cry like that?
Shaking baby syndrome is a dangerous and preventable condition. Do not shake a baby under any circumstances. If you really cannot handle it, put the baby down in a safe place, take a few deep breaths to center yourself, or walk away to put some distance between you and the child. Make sure the baby is safe at all times.
Do not let your baby cry it out
It is for survival reasons that the human brain is born with a pretty developed fear/anxiety center, called the amygdala. In early childhood, the frontal lobe, an important part of reasoning and regulating emotions, does not develop until around 3 years of age.
Prolonged excessive crying is associated with long term health issues. Children whose crying bouts were not answered quickly, consistently, and completely are found to have lower self-esteem and impaired attachment security10.
How to prevent infant crying
The best way to avoid the serious problems associated with crying is to prevent crying altogether.
Kangaroo care is a skin-to-skin holding practice in which the infant is placed upright with its parent, chest-to-chest, wearing only a diaper. It’s like hugging your baby with skin-contact. It is an efficient method for preventing, minimizing, and halting infant crying11.
Kangaroo care is a very efficient method for preventing crying. During kangaroo care, crying is virtually nonexistent. Maternal holding and paternal holding are the next best interventions for reducing crying.
For older babies, being held in a baby carrier may have similar effect.
Learn your baby’s signs
Learn how to read your baby’s cue. Cue-based infant-demand care, when applied even moderately from birth, is linked to a more settled infant’s behavior in the first 12 weeks12.
Research shows that having inconsolable baby crying is associated with maternal postpartum depressive symptoms13. While it is vital to take good care of your baby, your mental health is also important.
It’s hard to think about self-care when you haven’t taken a shower in ten days, eaten a real meal, or cleaned up your dirty house.
It is alright to ask for help.
In fact, you should ask for help. Postpartum depression is associated with infantile colic. Get help early to protect the health of both you and the infant.
When to call the doctor
At 5 months, persistent crying problems are estimated to affect perhaps 5% of crying babies and are associated with negative cognitive development14.
The risk of premature breastfeeding cessation15 and child abuse also increases with crying babies16. Their mothers are more likely to suffer from postnatal depression as well17.
For crying babies and their mothers, early intervention is crucial to prevent these adverse effects. Also, medical cause can be diagnosed earlier. When in doubt, call your baby’s doctor or other health professionals.
- 1.Barr RG, Chen S, Hopkins B, Westra T. CRYING PATTERNS IN PRETERM INFANTS. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. Published online November 12, 2008:345-355. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8749.1996.tb12100.x
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