Soothing Crying Infants

For parents, the amount of crying a newborn baby does on a daily, if not hourly, basis can be a source of great stress and anxiety. Both mothers and fathers instinctively respond to the crying of a baby with a strong impulse to help the baby and make the crying stop. Not being able to calm a baby’s tears can cause concerned and exhausted parents to feel very inadequate, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Of great concern to medical professionals is the association between excessive crying and the occurrence of Shaken Baby Syndrome or other forms of infant abuse.

It is important to realize that it is okay and important for babies to cry. The amount of crying usually reaches its peak when the baby is around 6 weeks old. After 3 months old, it is normal for a baby to cry about an hour a day (Lerner & Parlakian, 2016).

“All infants cry as a means of communicating their needs, as self-expression, and as a way to manage and organize stress or “let off steam.” Parents can expect most babies under three months old to cry up to three hours per day” (Bruening, 2002).

A baby who cries at least three hours a day on three or more days a week, and lasting three weeks, has colic. There are no apparent reasons for why the baby with colic begins crying or stops. Colic will eventually go away, usually around 4 months old, but can still be difficult to deal with.

There are some strategies for calming a fussy or colicky baby that many parents have found to be effective. Each baby responds differently to different strategies, and may vary in how they respond from time to time. Here are a few:

  • Watch for patterns in the circumstances and times your baby normally cries.
  • Try holding the baby in different positions. Babies can be unique and particular about what positions they are most comfortable in. Examples here.
  • Making a relatively loud “shhhh” sound near a baby’s ears is thought to mimic the sounds the baby hears inside the womb. This can be calming to a baby.
  • Rocking baby back and forth. Sometimes a baby will prefer a slow rock while others will calm down with a more active motion.
  • Swaddling is a method for wrapping a baby and providing a sense of security and soothing comfort, that has been around for centuries. It is important to be very careful in swaddling the baby to not overheat them. Some research shows that laying a swaddled baby on his stomach or side is linked to risk for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.) So, a baby should be laid on her back when swaddled. Another concern about swaddling is that restricting a baby’s hips can lead to future hip dysplasia. This can be prevented by wrapping the baby with the blanket securely around his arms but loosely around the legs, leaving room for the legs to move. See some examples below.

  • Give the baby and yourself a break. Sometimes all the effort to calm the baby can actually be increasing the baby’s distress. Some research shows that babies naturally can sense and absorb the emotional state of their parent from a young age (Bunim, 2014). It could be that a mother’s anxiety and stress is felt by the baby, which only adds to the crying. If you feel overwhelmed, lay your baby down safely in another room and take some time to calm down or find someone else to help care for them. Take naps when the baby naps and try to get enough sleep.

Seek help if needed. If you ever feel extremely overwhelmed or think that you might hurt the baby, call a medical or child development professional for help and guidance. Rely on family or your spouse to support you. It is understandable to struggle, but necessary that one seeks help.

For more information on soothing fussy babies, check out this parenting handout from the National Physicians Center called Use “S’s” to Help Soothe Your Baby

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References

Akhnikh, S., Engelberts, A. C., van Sleuwen, B.,E., L’Hoir, M.,P., & Benninga, M. A. (2014). The excessively crying infant: Etiology and treatment. Pediatric Annals, 43(4), e69-75. doi:http://dx.doi.org.byui.idm.oclc.org/10.3928/00904481-20140325-07.

Bruening, J.C. (2002). Coping with a crying infant. Retrieved from: http://www.reflux.org/reflux/webdoc01.nsf/(vwWebPage)/CopingwithCrying.htm?OpenDocument.

Bunim, J. (Feb. 6, 2014). Is stress contagious? Studies show babies can catch it from their mothers. Retrieved from: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2014/02/111661/stress-contagious-study-shows-babies-can-catch-it-their-mothers.

Lerner, C. & Parlakian, R. (Feb. 18, 2016). Colic and crying. Retrieved from: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/197-colic-and-crying.

Stadtlander, L. (2016). Sensory-Based Calming Strategies for Infants. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 31(4), 18-20. https://eds-a-ebscohost-com.byui.idm.oclc.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=85c3a308-3dfd-4640-be45-ffbda3d97018@sessionmgr104.

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