Baby cry can be due to several reasons. The infant may cry when hungry, wet, or tired. The baby cries because of gas or just before a bowel movement. Sometimes the cry may be out of frustration or because the baby wants to be cuddled. The newborn cries because of illness or pain. And sometimes your baby will cry for no reason at all, at least any that you can determine.
Crying is your baby’s first means of communication. Although the infant will develop more sophisticated methods, few will be any more effective for obtaining a response from the parent. Every baby and every day are different. All babies cry, some more than others. On some days your baby may cry for 20 or 30 minutes for four or five times—typically before eating, sleeping, and having a bowel movement. On another day, the infant may scream for hours.
Studies show that infants respond to the stresses of their environment by crying; the more stressful the situation, the longer and more intense the crying spell. Thus, if the parent has had a bad day, the baby may too. However, on days when the atmosphere at home is relaxed, the fussy periods decrease dramatically in proportion to how much attention the baby gets. First babies are more likely to have the long crying spells, presumably because parents become more relaxed with subsequent children.
The newborn’s nervous and digestive systems are learning to adjust to the outside world. For some babies, this is a difficult task. If the bulk of your baby’s crying occurs in the late afternoon or evening and its stomach is distended, the infant may have colic. Few common infant maladies make a parent feel as helpless as an attack of colic. The following scenario may be familiar to countless parents. Your newborn is quiet in the hospital, but a few days after going home it begins to have crying spells that may last for several hours. You change the diapers, pick the newborn up, and even offer the breast or bottle. Nothing works. The infant cries so hard that its face becomes flushed. Its stomach is tense and distended and its legs are drawn up toward its abdomen. Its feet and hands may feel cold. You wonder whether something is terribly wrong with your child and you call the baby’s physician.
The infant with these symptoms is not seriously ill. The baby simply has colic, a common ailment that is more upsetting to the parents than it is harmful to the infant. The term colic describes frequent attacks of abdominal pain, thought to originate in the infant’s intestines. The infant hurts and responds by severe crying, often to the point of exhaustion. The severity and frequency of colic attacks vary. Some babies are predictable in that every evening they scream for hours; others spread their crying out in shorter intervals during the day. Some infants cry on and off during the day but sleep well at night, and others reserve their crying for the middle of the night. A baby with colic generally begins to cry after a feeding, which is one sign that differentiates the cries of a colicky baby from those of a hungry one.
No one knows for certain what causes colic. Certain infants simply seem to be susceptible to abdominal upsets. Attacks may be associated with hunger and with swallowed air that has passed into the intestines. Foods that the breastfeeding mother has eaten, particularly those with a high carbohydrate content, may be responsible for excessive fermentation in the infant’s intestines.
The first thing you should understand is that the end is in sight. The vast majority of babies even those with severe colic are over these crying episodes by the third month of life. Until that magic time, a parent can do several things.
First, check for the obvious. Is the baby hungry? If the infant ate well and now is crying less than 2 hours later, it is unlikely to be hungry. However, you can try another feeding. Sometimes just the comfort of sucking will quiet a newborn. Change the baby’s diaper or try burping it. Some babies become quiet if you rock them; others like to be sung to. Some physicians contend that a baby held over the parent's heart cries less. If the baby seems colicky, holding it upright sometimes helps. Most colicky babies are more comfortable lying on their abdomens. Try holding the baby, abdomen down, across your lap and massaging its back.
A hot water bottle placed against the abdomen helps relieve the symptoms of colic in some infants. If you decide to try this method, however, you must make sure the bottle is not so hot as to burn the infant. Test the temperature by holding your wrist against the bottle for a moment. If that is uncomfortable, the water is too hot.
Rocking or walking the baby sometimes helps. Do not be afraid of spoiling your newborn by excessive holding. That result is unlikely. Hold the baby if that seems to help. Swaddling a colicky baby in a soft blanket sometimes helps. Other methods that may work include giving the baby a pacifier, putting the baby in a small space such as a bassinet or infant carrier (rather than the larger crib), or going for a short ride in the car. Often a colic attack ends when the infant passes rectal gas or has a bowel movement. Sometimes the insertion of a thermometer into the baby's rectum will elicit gas or a bowel movement and the baby may feel better.
As a parent of a colicky baby, you also should pay particular attention to burping after every feeding. Even if it takes awhile, try to get the baby to burp. If your baby’s colic is persistent, your baby’s physician may suggest you try another formula (if you are bottle feeding) to see if there is an improvement. And what about the baby who, despite your efforts, will not stop crying? If there are no signs of illness, maybe the next step is to do nothing and see what happens. Some babies simply cannot fall asleep without crying for awhile. When all else fails, do not be afraid to let the baby cry for 20 minutes or so in its crib.
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