It is definitely heartbreaking to hear your baby cry and cry and cry and you have no idea what is wrong with him or what to do to make him stop crying and start smiling again. It can also be very frustrating, having done all you know, and still your baby cries.
One thing I will like to assure new parents is this : it is normal for your baby to cry, it is normal for you to feel helpless, especially in the beginning few months. Don’t start thinking that you are a bad parent or that you must be doing something really wrong to cause your baby to cry so much.
If you are like me, you won’t feel too loving towards your baby during the initial days. You may even feel like strangling your baby, throwing him out ‘with the bath water’, abandoning him somewhere, etc. Yes, I have gone through all those feelings. They make you feel even worse because now you feel guilty, on top of frustrated, for feeling so mean towards your baby. If you have a bad case of post-natal blues, you may even feel worse.
The good news is that this is just a phase. It is temporary and will go away. It may take longer time for some people to get over this stage, but it will definitely be over some day. So hang in there. Things will only get better as days go by, not worse.
Remember, if all else fail, help is always at hand. You can consult the doctor. Knowing that your baby is not sick helps to reduce your anxiety. If there is something wrong with your baby (most likely not), the doctor will be able to do something for him, which will help also. But under normal circumstances, your baby is likely to be crying for nothing serious and you will just have to do whatever you can and hang in there. If you have a bad case of post-natal blues, again, help is at hand. Professional help is available. And most importantly, seek help and support from friends and family members who have gone through the same thing. I find my parents’ confidence and ‘steadiness’ in handling Dominic very reassuring. It was comforting to know that if I didn’t know what to do, at least they would know what to do.
Babies cry for many, many reasons. They could be hungry, they may have a wet diaper, they may be windy or colicky, bored, tired, uncomfortable, sick, over-stimulated…..the list goes on. I don’t have any ‘expert advice’ on why your baby cries. But I can share my experience with Dominic with you. Hopefully, it will shade some light on your situation as well and help you a little.
Dominic, the ‘Cry Baby’
When Dominic first came home from the hospital, he was slightly jaundiced and was very sleepy. We actually had to wake him up to eat and during feeding, we had to keep him awake. We thought, ” Wow! This is a good baby!” Little did we know that after his jaundice cleared, he was so alert throughout the day!
Then the crying really started in full force. Because he was fed on a schedule, that helped us to at least know that if he cried half an hour after his feed, most likely it was not due to hunger but something else; if he started crying close to his feeding time, it was mostly due to hunger.
But even then, he seemed to be crying all the time, and he had a very ‘fierce’ cry, which made us panicked because it was as if something was seriously wrong. I mean, something has to be ‘wrong’ for Dominic to cry in the first place, but his fierce cry made us thought that it must be because of something serious, like pain or illness; instead of simple things like wet diapers.
So we brought him to the paediatrician. He was spitting up quite a bit and we were worried. Although my parents kept reassuring us that it was normal, for our peace of mind, we brought him to the doctor’s anyway. And it turned out that Dominic was very windy. Now, we were told in the hospital by the lactation consultant that we didn’t have to burp a breastfed baby because they don’t swallow a lot of wind. So although we did suspect that Dominic was windy, we believed more in the lactation consultant.
So anyway, we started giving him wind drops before his feed and after a couple of days, things improved. He was not as colicky as before. But he was still crying very often! So, out of desperation, I started searching through the websites, reading and asking around. And gradually, I began to take steps to try to improve the situation.
Firstly, Dominic was not getting enough sleep. A newborn has to sleep for over 15 hours a day. Otherwise, he would be over-tired and when a baby is over-tired, the irony is that he finds it even more difficult to fall asleep! Secondly, he was probably over-stimulated, which was related to his sleeping problems.
Dominic was a very alert baby and we had been playing with him whenever he was awake and alert, which was very often. The more we played with him, the more alert he got. In the end, he was probably over-stimulated. And despite the fact that we put him on a feeding schedule, we didn’t try to put him on a sleeping schedule as well, which was equally important!
Once we began to make sure that he took his nap, things improved. It was difficult because, as I said, he was an alert baby and preferred not to sleep but to look around. But for his own good, we had to ‘discipline’ him to sleep.
Also, as Dominic grew, he sort of settled down, and was less of a cry baby. Right now, we have learned to watch out for his ‘sleep cues’ and put him to sleep, and he generally only cries when he is sleepy or hungry or in protest of being put to sleep. Of course, there are times when he cries for other reasons, but as we get to know him, we can more or less tell what is wrong. Even then, that does not mean that all the guesswork is over!
Some pointer that may help you are :
1. Get to know your baby
Your baby has a personality right from the beginning and it helps for you to get to know him. E.g. Dominic does not like to sleep and will protest whenever I put him to down to take his nap. So now, his crying before sleeping does not bother me because I know that it is just his way and before long, he will be sound asleep.
2. Learn to listen to your baby’s cry
After a while, you will know what cry is ‘abnormal’ so that you can attend to it. Like I said above, Dominic will cry before he sleeps. Sometimes, it take as long as half an hour before he finally settles down. Sometimes, halfway into his sleep, he will wake up and cry for a few minutes before going back to sleep again. I have learned not to rush to him the moment he cries. However, there was this day when he was sleeping and suddenly he gave a very loud, sharp cry. It didn’t sound like his normal ‘sleeping cry’ so I went to investigate. The moment I picked him up, he gave this big and loud burp. The next moment, he was sleeping again in my arms again!
3, Should you let your baby cry?
Some parenting experts say that you should never let your baby cry because he will feel insecure. Some say you should so that you won’t ‘spoil’ the child. Well, my mom let us cry when we were younger because she had to (she was taking care of 3 of us single-handedly and had to do all the housework as well). None of us grew up to be insecure or psychologically impaired. Nevertheless, I am not saying that you should neglect your baby and ignore him when he cries. Babies cry to communicate. And the ‘crying it out’ way does not work well. I find this method flawed firstly because when the baby is young, he still has not developed ‘object permanence’ yet. This means that when you are out of sight, he does not understand that you are somewhere else in the house and you will come back to him. So all that ‘reassuring pats’ do nothing to reassurance the baby at all. Secondly, a mother’s first instinct is to respond to the baby’s cry. I think God made us this way so that we can meet our children’s needs. If we deliberately suppress that instinct, how is it going to help in our parenting? Certainly, you don’t have to drop everything at the first sound of crying and rush to your baby’s side. Exercise wisdom and assess the situation. Find out what is wrong. You are not God and can’t be everywhere at the same time, and doing everything at the same time. Sometimes, when the going gets tough, you may need a minute or two to be alone to cool your head first, leaving your baby to wail a little longer. But do respond. It builds up trust between you and your baby.
4. Try to maintain a positive attitude
This is easier said than done, I know. But the truth of the matter is that your baby can sense it if you are angry or tense. Speaking to him in a calm and reassuring tone is more likely to help you succeed in settling him down. There is no point being angry with your baby because he is not a ‘reasonable’ being. And if you really are going to ‘blow your top’ off (being human after all), go away from your child, take a few minutes to cool down and then go back to your child again. In the meantime, your child will be crying his eyeballs out. Yes. But in situation like this, it is better you take a few minutes time off than to worsen the situation by blowing up at your child.