In the face of their crying baby, most parents feel helpless and understandably distressed. What most new parents don’t realise is that babies especially in the first three months of their life cry a great deal and some more than others. On one end of the spectrum, you have babies who rarely fuss, who fall asleep readily after a feed and have a predictable patten during the day. On the other extreme, you have babies who don’t settle and spend all their waking hours crying and need to be constantly soothed. They have a random sleep schedule and sleep inconsistently.
Although babies cry for various reasons, most parents have difficulty in figuring out whether there is a serious underlying problem that is causing the crying and if it is something they should contact their paediatrician for. It is important for new parents to understand that crying is a normal response and it is your baby’s way of communicating. Even if your baby is crying daily and for no apparent reason, it is important to remember that this is normal, and it gets better with time.
There are babies that cry up to three hours every day for the first three months of their life and this could still fall within the normal range. Most newborns do not learn to self-soothe till at least three months of age. By three months, most babies settle down and the crying phase thereafter rarely exceeds one hour a day.
It is nobody’s fault that your baby is crying, it’s a phase of normal development and ought not to be met with overmedication and numerous time-consuming and expensive consultations with your paediatrician. This phase usually settles by four to five months. As long as your baby is growing well and is happy between these periods there is no caused for concern. It’s important to distinguish between normal crying and a child crying when sick.
Techniques to soothe a fractious baby
Babies cry for different reasons, an overstimulated child needs a calmer environment while an under-stimulated child needs more interaction with the care givers. There are different ways you can soothe a crying baby. Skin–to-skin contact works for some, others need to be walked or rocked. Some babies may need their back patted. You can try to burp your baby if you think it’s because of trapped wind.
If the above do not work, you can play soft music or even sing to your baby even if you don’t have a great singing voice! Swaddling or a warm bath also helps some.
You may have been told by your mum or your well-meaning friends that by constantly carrying your baby you will “spoil” your child. However, research shows that the opposite is true. Many studies have revealed that babies who are carried more often cry less and turn into more confident and happy children. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, promptly responding to a crying baby results in less crying in the long run and happier children.
Most parents and even grandparents believe that any baby that cries for no apparent reason and is inconsolable has colic.
Medically the term colic means “uncontrollable crying for more than three hours a day and more than three days a week.” It tends to happen late afternoon or evening and its cause remains a mystery. Hence, the effectiveness varies from baby to baby.
Research from child-development experts such as Dr Ronald Barr suggest that most crying babies are in the period of PURPLE CRYING and not colic.
PURPLE is an acronym that describes a characteristic of normal crying during the developmental phase.
P -Peak of Crying
P-pain like face
This is called a period of purple, to emphasise that it’s only a phase and settles down by the child’s five to six months of age. However, if at any time you are concerned, please reach out to your paediatrician as it may be because of either lactose or cow’s milk protein intolerance or gastro-oesophageal reflux.
Breast feeding and excessive crying
Whatever you eat does come through in the breast milk, so it may be prudent to keep a food diary. This way you may be able to find the offending ingredient that is causing the problem. Your baby’s paediatrician may ask you to stop or cut down drastically on dairy and dairy products, spicy food and food that produces wind such as broccoli and cauliflower.
Sometimes, it may be that your baby is hungry and not colicky at all, so get your baby”s weight checked frequently to see if she is gaining weight well. If not, you can get some lactation advice from your paediatrician or lactation consultant.
Most of all, even when you feel at the end of your tether, it is good to remember that this is a phase that will pass with time and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
(Dr. Saroja Balan is consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. Her column appears every fortnight.)