Your baby is crying. Screaming! She's miserable. And, frankly, you're not feeling too great yourself. This is not what you pictured "before baby"-back when your thoughts were all about cozy cuddles and cute outfits. Now all you can think is, "What did I get myself into?" But remember this: Your infant's tears serve a purpose. "Babies cry to express themselves. it just means that your child is trying to tell you something," says Eileen Costello, M.D., a pediatrician in Boston. "It's up to you to figure out what she has to say." That's not all. According to some experts, your baby may be wailing simply because she wants to?and it's your job to let her. Read on for more reassuring news about crying.
Change Me! Hold Me!
Most of the time, your baby's cries are an attempt to tell you that he's uncomfortable. These clues from Catharine Shaner, M.D., a pediatric adviser for the American Safety & Health Institute, can help you figure out why your little one is unhappy.
- "I'm hungry." These rhythmic, brief cries get more and more intense until they result in a full-blown tearfest. Watch for visual cues: Your baby may open his mouth or start sucking on his fingers.
- "I'm tired." A baby who needs sleep can have an irritated, sporadic cry, may belt out several quick wails, or will look like he wants to cry but can't. In addition, he'll yawn, rub his eyes, or turn away from you.
- "How boring." One minute he's cooing with delight, then suddenly he's making throaty noises and whiny moans that sound fake or exaggerated.
- "Ouch! Something hurts." This sudden, piercing scream is often accompanied by a wide-open mouth and clenched hands and feet. Look for clothing pinching his skin or a thread wrapped tightly around a toe.
Temperament also plays a big role in how your little one reacts to everyday stressors. "Infants arrive in this world with a specific personality type," Dr. Costello says. "Some are wired to be extra sensitive to their environment. You may just need to turn down the television or dim the lights to help him calm down."
A Shoulder To Cry On
You've taken care of all your baby's needs, yet she's still blubbering. Now what? "The fact is, your baby may just need a good cry," says Aletha Solter, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and author of Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry. "And you shouldn't try to stop it." Why? Because crying is valuable in and of itself. "It releases stress," Dr. Solter says. "Babies get tense-just like anyone else-and crying is often the easiest way to shake those feelings fast."
It's your job, then, to make your baby's environment as comfortable as possible while he wails. Dr. Solter recommends the "crying-in-arms" approach: Holding your baby, head for a quiet, dimly lit room, and sit in a comfortable chair. "Try to make eye contact as you cradle him, but don't try to shush him," Dr. Solter explains. "You're just there to make sure your baby feels loved and is safe as he expresses himself." Stay like this until either the tears spontaneously stop, the crying jag merges into his next mealtime, or he falls asleep.
Lisa Robinson, of Delmar, New York, quickly discovered that sometimes all her now one-year-old son wanted to do was cry?and she let him. "I'd just hold Benjamin and talk to him the way I would to an upset friend. I'd say, 'Oh, that's sad. It's so hard to be a baby, isn't it? Tell me all about it.' It certainly made me feel better?and his tears always stopped after a little while."
Some babies will calm down more quickly if they're swaddled comfortably in a blanket, given a pacifier, or exposed to white noise-such as a whirring fan or radio static. "Whatever other tricks you try, just remember that babies are meant to be held," Dr. Costello says. "Having your arms around her will give your baby an incredible sense of comfort; she'll stop crying when she's good and ready."
Could your baby's sobs be a sign of a serious problem? Usually, no. But you should call your doctor if your infant is inconsolable for two or more hours nonstop. In addition, let your doctor know if his crying is accompanied by a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or any symptoms of illness. "If, for example, your baby has a cold, he could also have an earache that's causing him to wail his head off," explains Bud Zukow, M.D., author of Baby: An Owner's Manual. Finally, if his crying jags consistently occur at mealtimes or if your baby refuses to eat, tell your pediatrician. It may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Stay Calm, Mom
There's one last thing you must do when your baby won't stop sobbing: Remain as relaxed as possible?and not just for your own peace of mind. "Babies pick up on their mothers' vibes," Dr. Solter says. "If you're tense and frustrated, your little one will react by crying even more." If you can, have family members or friends stop by during your baby's peak crying hours, or schedule short breaks when you can leave your baby in the hands of your husband or a sitter and go to a yoga class or take a walk. And remember, while her crying jags are tough to take, they don't last forever?this phase will end soon.