“I Don’t Know What to Do When My Baby Keeps Crying!”
Remember: During their first two weeks, a crying newborn is always considered a hungry baby and must be put to the breast. Last week we explored evidence that breastfeeding is well established:
- Baby makes 3-6 stools a day.
- Baby regains birth weight by two weeks.
- After getting to birth weight, baby continues to gain 1/2 – 1 ounce (15-30 gm) a day.
- Mother is comfortable breastfeeding.
Once a baby is meeting the above guidelines, crying can mean more than “I’m hungry!”
Maria and her husband were feeling more confident this week. But now little Anna is crying more. Huge tears rolling down Maria’s face say it all. “Anna cries all the time, and so do I!” this young mother tells her husband. As if on cue, Anna seems to wind up for a big one. Her face gets red, her hands start to tremble, and her legs stiffen. Though Maria knew that all babies cry, she never imagined how overwhelmed she would feel when her tiny newborn enters the fussing/crying, “Rebooting Zone.”
Maria’s husband comments, “That baby must be hungry!” Though Maria has been committed to breastfeeding, she now wonders if her baby might need a little formula. Surely a bottle or two a day of that expensive “gas-free” formula would help her crying baby! But Maria vaguely remembers that the birth center’s lactation consultant (LC) had mentioned something about extra crying spells during their prenatal breastfeeding class. Didn’t that “Roadmap” handout say something about crying? Maria shuffles through some papers beside the couch. Yes, it says to “anticipate increased crying” at two weeks. Maria decides to get a bit more advice before buying even one can of formula.
“I’m desperate! Just tell me what TO DO!” Maria asks the LC when she and her husband arrive at the clinic the next day.
The Science: “Just Tell Me What TO DO!”
Most normal, healthy babies begin to cry more around forty-two weeks gestation, or two weeks after birth (if the baby was born full-term). Babies typically move from crying two hours a day to crying three hours a day by six weeks of age. Then their crying tapers to about one hour a day by twelve weeks of age.
The LC shares with Maria some easy-to-remember tips on calming a little baby.
T – Talk to your baby. Lean over and use a persistent, sing-song voice close to her ear. Give your baby a few seconds to notice and respond to your voice.
O – Observe your baby’s efforts to contribute to his own calming. Many parents are surprised to learn that babies have instinctive behaviors that help them calm down. She might bring her hand to her mouth (perhaps with your help) and suck her finger or thumb. Or she may make sucking movements and start to quiet on her own.
Another baby may look like she’s taking up sword fighting (the fencing reflex): Her head turns to the side, one arm and one leg extend, while the other arm and leg flex. This instinctive maneuver helps many babies calm. Finally, some babies use behavioral SOSs (Signs of Over-Stimulation) to turn off the excessive stimulation around them. The baby may stare into space, or appear drowsy, and then begin to settle.
DO – If the baby is still crying, a parent’s help is needed. Hold her arms against her chest and continue that quiet, persistent talking. Encourage the baby to suck your finger or the breast, or swaddle her safely, and gently sway her, until she becomes calm. Techniques for safe swaddling include:
- Bend the knees upward and rotate them outward to protect the hips. (Here is the International Hip Dysplasia Institutes’s link to safe swaddling.)
- Do not swaddle tightly, or for long periods of time.
- Monitor the baby’s temperature to avoid over-heating.
- Never put a swaddled (or un-swaddled) baby to sleep on his stomach.
- Stop swaddling the baby once she can roll over (at about 3-4 months old).
If parents take these actions, one step at a time, mothers and fathers will soon discover what is most comforting to their baby.
An “Ah-Ha” Moment: How The HUG’s Information Helps these Parents…
When little Anna starts to cry at her clinic visit the next morning, the LC leans over the baby and speaks quietly into her ear. Anna looks surprised but continues to cry. The baby smacks her lips a moment and then quiets right down when the LC holds her tiny but strong arms securely against the baby’s chest.
Maria and her husband can’t believe their eyes (or ears!). Anna’s father gently holds his baby’s hands in this comforting position and sees his now peaceful baby look right up into his eyes. Maria then brings the baby to the breast for a good feed before their ride home. “We are a good team,” she tells the LC. “We’ll work this out together–and without any formula!”
© HUG Your Baby 2018