In the first few weeks of a newborn's life, it may seem like all he or she does is eat, sleep, cry and keep you busy changing diapers. But your baby is also taking in the sights, sounds and smells of his or her new world, learning to use his or her muscles and expressing a number of innate reflexes.
As soon as babies are born, they begin to communicate with you. Infants can't use words to communicate their needs, moods or preferences, but they have other ways of expressing themselves, especially by crying.
You won't always know how your newborn is feeling, and sometimes it will seem as though he or she is communicating in a foreign language. But you can learn about how your baby experiences the world and relates to you and others. In turn, your baby will learn your language of touching, holding, and making sounds and facial gestures.
Crying is the first and primary form of communication that newborns use. And they do plenty of it — young babies typically cry an average of one to as many as four hours a day. It's a normal part of adjusting to life outside the womb.
Common reasons for crying include:
• Hunger. Most babies eat six to 10 times in a 24-hour period. For at least the first three months, babies usually wake for night feedings.
• Discomfort. Your baby may cry because of wet or soiled diapers, gas or indigestion, and uncomfortable temperatures or positions. When babies are uncomfortable, they may look for something to suck on. But feeding won't stop the discomfort, and a pacifier may help only briefly. When the discomfort passes, your baby will probably settle down.
• Boredom, fear and loneliness. Sometimes, a baby will cry because he or she is bored, frightened or lonely and wants to be held and cuddled. A baby seeking comfort may calm down with the reassurance of seeing you, hearing your voice, feeling your touch, being with you, being cuddled or being offered something to suck on.
• Overtiredness or overstimulation. Crying helps an overtired or over-stimulated baby to shut out sights, sounds and other sensations. It also helps relieve tension. You may notice that your baby's fussy periods occur at predictable times during the day, often between early evening and midnight. It seems nothing you do at these times can console him or her, but afterward the baby may be more alert than before and then may sleep more deeply. This kind of fussy crying seems to help babies get rid of excess energy.
As your baby matures, you'll be able to distinguish the different messages in your baby's cries.
In general, respond promptly to your infant when he or she cries during the first few months. You won't spoil the baby by doing so. Studies show that newborns who are quickly and warmly responded to when crying learn to cry less overall and sleep more at night.
When your baby's crying seems incessant, run down a simple list to determine what might be needed:
• Does your baby need a clean diaper?
• Does your baby need to be burped?
• Does your baby need to be moved to a more comfortable position? Is something pinching, sticking or binding your baby?
• Does your baby just need to suck, whether on a finger or a pacifier?
• Does your baby need some tender care — walking, rocking, cuddling, stroking, a baby massage, gentle talking, singing or humming?
• Has there been too much excitement or stimulation? Does the baby just need to cry for a while?
Try to meet your baby's most pressing needs first. If hunger seems to be the problem, feed him or her. If the crying is shrieking or panicky, check to make sure nothing is poking or pinching the baby.
If your baby is warm, dry, well-fed and well-rested but still wailing, these suggestions may help:
• Try swaddling the baby more snugly in a blanket, as shown here.
Step 1. Bring one corner of the blanket Step 2. Fold the bottom point up, leav-up and pull it taut. Bring the blanket ing room for your baby's legs to move across your baby's body with one arm freely.
tucked inside. Tuck the corner under your baby's bottom snugly.
Step 3. Bring up the other corner of the Step 4. Aah ... a cozy bundle, blanket, pull it taut and tuck it under your baby. Leave one hand and arm free.
• Gently talk or sing to your baby face to face.
• Use gentle motion, such as rocking the baby in your arms, walking with the baby against your shoulder or carrying him or her in a front carrier.
• Gently stroke the baby's head or rub or pat his or her chest or back.
• Hold the baby tummy-down on your lap.
• Hold the baby in an upright position on your shoulder or against your chest.
• Give the baby a warm bath or put a warm — not hot — water bottle on his or her stomach.
• Go outside — take your baby for a walk in a stroller or carriage.
• Offer your baby your finger or a pacifier to suck on as you rock or rhythmically walk him or her.
• Reduce the noise, movement and lights in the area where your baby is. Or try introducing white noise, such as the continuous, monotonous sound of a vacuum cleaner or a recording of ocean waves. Often it can relax and lull babies by blocking out other sounds.
If your baby is dry, full, comfortable, and wrapped snugly, but is still crying, he or she may need a 10- to 15-minute period alone. Stay within earshot, and check on the baby every few minutes from a distance. Although many parents find it difficult to let their baby cry, it may give the infant an opportunity to unwind and let off steam.
Remember that you won't always be able to calm your baby, especially when the fussing is simply a way to release tension. Babies do cry. It's a normal part of being a baby. Rest assured that the crying won't last forever — the amount of time your baby spends crying usually peaks at about six weeks after birth and then gradually decreases.
It's also a normal part of parenting to find excessive crying frustrating. Make arrangements with family, friends or a baby sitter for needed breaks. Even an hour's break can renew your coping strength.
If your baby's crying is making you feel out of control, put your baby in a safe place, such as a crib. Then immediately contact your health care provider, your hospital emergency room, a local crisis intervention service or a mental health help line.
Normal crying or colic?
Every baby is fussy at times, but some babies cry much more than others. If your baby is healthy but has frequent fussy episodes, especially during the evening, or has prolonged, inconsolable crying for three or more hours a day, chances are the baby has colic. It's not a physical disorder or disease — colic is just the term for recurring bouts of crying that are difficult to relieve.
A colicky baby's crying is not simply due to hunger, a wet diaper or any other apparent cause, and the baby can't be calmed down. Experts aren't sure what causes the condition. Colic typically peaks at about six weeks after birth and usually goes away by three months.
Remember, though, that a baby's fussiness may not be colic but rather a sign of illness. Colicky babies will still have a healthy appetite, like to be cuddled and handled, and have normal stools.
For parents of a baby with colic, it may seem that the baby will never outgrow this phase. It's common to feel frustrated, angry, tense, irritable, worried and fatigued.
No single treatment consistently provides relief to infants with colic. Experiment with various methods to calm the baby, such as those listed on pages 227-228. Try not to get discouraged if many of your efforts seem futile; your baby will outgrow colic eventually.
The more relaxed you can stay, the easier it'll be to console your child. Listening to a newborn wailing can be agonizing, but your own anxiety, frustration or panic will only add to the infant's distress.
Take a break and allow others to watch your baby so that you can relax. Sometimes a new face can calm the baby when you've used up all your tricks.
Call your baby's health care provider about crying if:
• Your baby seems to cry for an unusual length of time
• The cries sound odd to you
• The crying is associated with decreased activity, poor feeding, or unusual breathing or movements
• The crying is accompanied by other signs of illness, such as vomiting, fever and diarrhea
• A parent or someone else is having trouble dealing with a crying baby You can also call an emergency help line such as that offered by
Childhelp USA: (800) 4-A-CHILD, or (800) 422-4453. For more information, see the Childhelp Web site at www.childhelpusa.org/report_hotline.htm.
No matter how impatient or angry you get, never shake a baby. Never let anyone else shake a baby. Shaking an infant can cause blindness, brain damage or even death.
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