Coping with a crying baby

By Candace Douglass, Sue Wicks, Kids Health, Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Crying is a normal part of your baby’s development and is normal for babies from all cultural backgrounds. Crying is your baby’s way of letting you know that something is upsetting them and that they need you. A normal healthy baby can cry for up to five hours a day.

The peak crying time for a baby usually occurs at 6-8 weeks of life. After 12 weeks the crying usually becomes less intense and by 4-5months old most babies become more settled.

Babies cry for many reasons, they may be:

• hungry or thirsty
• too hot or too cold
• unwell or in pain
• over-tired or overstimulated
• uncomfortable
• anxious of being alone
• scared or startled, needing to be settled by holding close and cuddling

If you have made all the obvious checks (hunger, thirst, nappy change) and your baby just won’t stop crying, try:

• another feed - your baby may still be hungry
• cuddle your baby, rock your baby close to your chest so the baby can feel your heart beating
• take your baby for a walk in the fresh air
• sing or talk to your baby
• wrap your baby in a small soft sheet so the baby feels secure and try to settle your baby in a safe, dark and quiet place

It is important that you stay calm, which is not easy, as you will find it more difficult to comfort your baby if you are also upset. A few things you can try to help yourself stay calm are;

• Deep breathing
• singing quietly
• listening to your favourite music
• thinking of your favourite place or even your favourite food
• Try to slow your breathing down. A calm heartbeat will help your baby
• Try to breathe in to the count of 5 and out to the count of 4

Whatever you do, don’t get so upset by your baby’s crying that you shake or hit your baby.

A baby’s head is big and heavy compared to the rest of its body. Unless supported, the head flops around because the neck muscles aren’t yet strong enough to hold it still.

When a baby is shaken their head is thrown back and forth very quickly with great force. This force may cause tiny blood vessels inside the baby’s brain to tear and bleed, resulting in one or more of the following:

• blindness or deafness
• seizures
• developmental delays
• learning difficulties
• impaired intellect
• memory and attention problems
• serious other health conditions such as cerebral palsy
• death

The types of injuries caused by shaking a baby don’t happen accidentally during normal gentle play. These types of injuries are typical of what is called abusive head trauma (AHT) and shaken baby syndrome is a form of AHT. Sometimes, even throwing your baby into the air or bouncing them onto a soft surface such as a bed as a form of play can cause brain injury.

Babies need parents, family members and carers to meet their needs for safety, comfort and nurturing. It is important for a baby to experience cuddling, playing and doing all the things a baby really enjoys.

Asking for help is a sign of coping

Remember, no matter how upset you feel, shaking your baby is just not the deal!

Remember:

• Crying babies are not bad
• A baby's brain is very fragile. Never shake your baby
• All babies are potential victims
• ANYONE from ANYWHERE can potentially lose control, and be capable of shaking a baby or child
• Crying is a 'normal' part of infancy
• Getting frustrated or distressed about a crying baby is normal. It is the adult’s job to be calm
• There are strategies that may help to soothe a baby

For more information, see The Crying Baby Factsheet at: http://www.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/crying-baby or the Shaken Baby Prevention Project at http://kidshealth.org.au/shaken-baby

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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