How to Soothe a Crying Baby
"Would you please take off this sweater?"
Just because the air is a tad brisk outside doesn't mean your baby needs to be dressed for dogsledding in Siberia. Parents tend to overdress infants, who get cranky when they're hot and sweaty -- just like adults do.
The fix: Dress your baby in the same number of layers as you're wearing. If you're not sure whether she's too hot or too cold, put your hand on her tummy or back to gauge her body temperature. "A baby's feet or cheeks can often seem cool even when she's comfortable," says Charlotte Cowan, MD, a pediatrician in Boston..
"Can't we all just get along?"
Babies don't understand sentences such as, "I can't believe you forgot to pay the Visa bill," or "Why can't you ever take out the trash without being reminded?" But they can sense when Mom and Dad are fighting -- and they don't like it. "If there's tension or yelling, a baby can pick up on that and may become fussy," says Ellen Schumann, MD, a pediatrician at the Marshfield Clinic, in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
The fix: Occasional arguments with your husband will happen (especially given the intense demands of caring for a new baby). But try to express your feelings calmly so that you create a consistent, soothing environment. Save the heated discussions for after your child goes to bed.
"I'm totally stressed out!"
Too much noise, movement, or bright light -- at the mall, a crowded coffee shop, or a family party -- can drive a baby to tears. And after a point, too much stimulation of any kind -- even being left in a doorway jumper for 20 minutes or surrounded by too many toys -- can overwhelm her.
The fix: Every child has a different breaking point, so pay close attention to how your baby handles commotion. Keep visits to busy stores short, eat at restaurants in the off-hours (when they're quieter), and introduce new toys -- even noise-free ones -- in small doses. Also schedule some quiet time after an outing so your revved-up child can settle down.
"My tummy hurts!"
There's no shortage of reasons why your baby might have stomach discomfort. He could have a painful buildup of gas. He might be constipated. Formula-fed babies can develop a milk sensitivity or a milk allergy, both of which can cause cramps along with mucous poop. Or your child could have reflux, in which food contents from the stomach splash back into the esophagus.
The fix: First try burping your baby more often. You can also reduce gas by massaging his tummy gently or pedaling his legs. If you're nursing, try using one breast for the entire feed instead of switching. The milk that comes out first is higher in lactose than the "hind milk" that follows. For bottle-fed babies, switch to a low-flow nipple so your child swallows less air when he drinks. If that doesn't help, take a poopy diaper to your pediatrician and ask whether you should try a hypoallergenic or soy-based formula. Don't panic if your baby spits up on occasion, but speak to your doctor if the symptoms become chronic or your child seems in distress. You may need to position him upright after meals, thicken his milk with rice cereal, or, if he has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), give him acid-reducing medication.
"Ouch, I'm being pinched!"
Your baby could have a hair or a loose thread wrapped around her toe or finger, cutting off the circulation and causing pain and swelling. It's more common than many parents realize, and you've got to catch it early or your child might have permanent tissue damage. Other possibilities: Your baby's skin is irritated by a label or a zipper, or the car-seat belt or stroller straps are chafing her.
The fix: Undress your baby, and inspect her toes and fingers. If you find a hair, try unwrapping it, cutting it with little scissors, or using a small amount of a hair-removing product such as Nair. "If you have a boy, keep in mind that a hair can even get wrapped around the penis," says Dr. Schumann. Also check zippers and adjust any too-tight straps.
"I'm feeling lonely over here."
Between 6 and 9 months, your baby will learn that he's a separate being from you, which is good. But he may start to cry as soon as you leave the room because he misses you. Which is good -- and bad.
The fix: It's fine to leave your baby in an activity center so you can change a load of laundry. But if you notice this momentary separation is triggering a meltdown, stop what you're doing and show him a little love. "Sometimes just seeing you or being cuddled will stop the tears," says Dr. Cowan. A gentle massage or some light pats on the back will also help reassure him that when you go away, you'll always come back. If you've tried every trick in the book-- the swing, music, his favorite stuffed animal -- it may be easier to simply take your baby with you to the laundry room. Comfort yourself with this thought: He'll outgrow his separation anxiety by around 15 months.
Your baby just ate an hour ago, so you're sure it's not time for another meal. Or is it? If she's going through a growth spurt, her tears might mean, "Waitress, I'd like another course." These spurts typically occur at 2, 3, and 6 weeks, and at 3 and 6 months, and they last about two days, says Melissa Nagin, a lactation consultant in New York City. Still, babies don't tend to check their calendar, so one might happen at any time.
The fix: Is your baby really hungry? The best test is to put her in the stroller or a sling and go for a walk. If she falls asleep or calms down quickly, she doesn't need food. But if she screams her way around the block, offer her a breast or a bottle. "Don't worry -- it's really not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby," says Nagin.
"This wall I'm staring at is getting a little old."
Spending an hour in the same chair in the same corner of the same room is the baby equivalent of being confined to an office cubicle all day: not a lot of fun. Although some infants have a higher tolerance than others for staying in one place, all babies get bored and appreciate a change of scenery.
The fix: Encourage your child's natural love of exploration by moving him to another room, taking him to the park, or running some errands together. Don't have time to wander? Simply talking and interacting with him is a great antidote for boredom. "Babies are very social," says Prachi Shah, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital, in Houston. "They love being around you, listening to you, and learning from you."
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the June 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
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