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How To Handle A Crying Baby

It is important to understand that a baby has only one way of communicating his or her needs - by crying. While the tendency of new parents is to assume a crying baby is hungry (especially if they are breastfeeding), babies also cry because they are cold, tired, lonely, bored, wet, dirty, hot, or in pain. A baby's cry always means there's a problem, although admittedly it's often difficult to ascertain what that problem is.

When you hear your baby cry, relax and trust your instincts. What do you feel is wrong? Does the baby sound like he or she is in pain? Tired? Is it a high-pitched shriek, a sob, a call? Did the baby sound like that the last time he or she was cold or wet? Is the baby turning his or her head from side to side and opening the mouth to suck? (indicates hunger) Babies have different cries to express different needs. As time goes on you'll learn to differentiate among your infant's cries and what they mean. You'll know what's wrong almost immediately and how to help. Until then, we'd like to share some baby-soothing strategies with you.

1. If breastfeeding, offer the breast. Breastfed babies can be hungry as often as every hour at times during the first few weeks. Even if they are not hungry, the additional sucking may be all they need to feel comfortable again.

2. If bottle feeding, follow your pediatrician's advice on how often to offer a bottle. Bottle-fed babies often require additional sucking - if it's not time for a bottle of formula, offer a bottle of water, or a pacifier (if you believe in their use). Do not use pacifiers that are made of more than one piece or that are so small they can be swallowed. Some parents prefer not to let a baby become attached to a pacifier because it might not be there when needed, and prefer to help him or her find the thumb instead.

3. Change the diaper. Some babies are uncomfortable when they are wet or dirty.

4. Burp the baby. Perhaps a gas bubble is causing discomfort.

5. Feel the back of the baby's neck or face to see if he or she is cold or perspiring. (An infant's hands and feet generally feel cold because of the decreased blood circulation to these areas.) Also, check to see if perhaps the crib is too near a radiator or in a draft.

6. Observe the baby. Is the stomach distended? Does the baby pull the knees up to the chest and then bring them down sharply? These can indicate gas pains. Things to try:

a) Hold the baby across your lap, with his or her tummy on your knees and gently rub the back.

b) Hold the baby with his or her back against your stomach. Place your arm around the waist and exert gentle pressure.

c) Hold the baby face up in your arms and gently rub the belly.

d) Hold the baby upright against your body with his or her head against your shoulder. Gently pat the back or rub it in a circulation motion.

e) Put a warm (not hot) hot-water bottle under the baby's stomach. (Never leave an infant alone this way.)

7. If the crying continues and sounds piercing, strip the baby naked. Take off everything, including the diaper. Check the body carefully. Possibly a piece of thread from the clothing has wrapped itself around a finger or toe. If you are using cloth diapers, a pin may be open. Look for red marks around the thighs and waist - an indication that the diaper or plastic pants are too tight. Check the diaper area for a rash that might be causing pain. As you dress the baby again, make sure the clothing is not constricting.

8. Perhaps the baby is bored. Try:

a) Changing the baby's position in the crib so the room can be seen from another angle.

b) Dangling brightly colored objects over the crib. Mobiles are great and can be made of string and household items such as spoons and colored paper. Fisher-Price has a mobile that turns for ten minutes when wound - instead of just two or three.

c) Turn on the radio and play soft music, some babies prefer music with a beat.

d) Sing to the baby.

e) Make funny sounds. This seems ridiculous but can often be distracting (if not to the baby, they to you!)

f) Put the baby in a chest carrier to see the world and feel your closeness as you go about your chores, providing a constant change of scenery. This may also aid digestion.

g) Get out of the house with the baby. Put him or her in a chest carrier or a carriage and take a walk. The change of scenery will do you both some good.

9. If Bottle feeding: are the child's bowel movements hard? Have you recently changed the formula?

10. Take the baby's temperature. Some babies become fussy when they have a fever. (Also, the thermometer often stimulates intestinal activity and allows gas to pass.)

11. Other soothers: you might try out one of the mechanically operated infant swings, before actually purchasing one, to see if it soothes the baby. It can be very helpful during a fussy period, especially during your meal times.

a) Rock the baby in a rocking chair, carnage, or while standing, holding him or her in your arms.

b) Recordings of sounds common in the fetal environment are commercially available. Hearing the mother’s heartbeat, placental circulation, and amniotic fluid is frequently soothing, especially if you begin to use such a recording soon after you come home from the hospital while these sounds are still familiar.

c) Get undressed, undress the baby, and take the baby with you into a tub of warm water. Skin-to-skin contact and the liquid environment are often soothing.

d) Get undressed, undress the baby, and get into bed. This is especially good if you are breastfeeding and can nurse the baby under the covers. Again, the skin-to-skin contact and warmth often do wonders. (It might be advisable to leave the baby's diaper on.)

e) Some babies like to be swaddled - wrapped snuggly in a light blanket.

f) Take the crib bumpers and subdivide the crib into two halves. Some babies prefer to be in smaller spaces. Try placing the baby against the side of the bumper to give him or her a sense of security.

12. Are you tense? Under pressure? Have you just had an argument with your mate? Babies sometimes cry because they sense you are under stress. Try to relax with some Lamaze breathing techniques or just sit down and put your feet up for a while. There are two schools of thought about what to do if the baby continues to cry and cannot be soothed despite all efforts to meet his or her needs. One says to let the baby cry it out, that if you constantly hold and rock your child, he or she will get to like it and demand the attention even when it is not needed. Life, according to this theory, is difficult, and the time to begin learning this is when you're young. A variation on this advice is to let the child cry, but pick the infant up every twenty minutes to let him or her know you're there and then put the baby back because babies shouldn't be “spoiled” and need to learn to be by themselves.

Another group believes that after everything has been tried, even if cuddling and holding don't help, a crying baby should be held and cuddled. They feel that no infant should be left to cry simply because “nothing helps anyway.” Current thinking on newborn care embraces the “don't let a newborn cry” advice, based on the theory that if early needs are met the child will have the basic foundations of love and co-existence with other human beings. If left to cry for long periods during the first few months, the infant knows only discomfort, frustration, and isolation, which foster negative, not positive, feelings toward the world. Further, today's childcare thinkers insist that you cannot spoil a young baby. It is interesting to note that in other cultures where babies are carried in back or front packs close to their mothers wherever they may go, infant crying is rarely heard. Warm body contact, the comfort of feeling you close, all say to the baby - “There's someone near who's trying to help you. You're not alone.”

We're not referring to an older baby, who, say, is exhausted and refuses to go to sleep, or when told he or she can't have a cookie throws a temper tantrum. We believe that there comes a time when children have to cry things out, but that time is not in the early weeks when the only way they can communicate a genuine need is through crying - and loneliness and boredom are included as needs. At what age should children be left to “cry it out”? We can't answer that question for you. You know your child and your own feelings. The time to teach children that “you can't have everything” (including your constant attention) is not in the early months.

Parents feel tension when their baby cries. Tension continued over a period of time can be overwhelming. If crying is “getting to you,” call a friend who has a baby. There's nothing like comparing notes with another new parent. By all means, get out of the house for a while if you so desire, either by yourself or with the baby. (Going outdoors often does wonders for a crying infant, and the change of scenery will do wonders for you!) If you go out without the baby, leave the baby with someone who will hold him or her in your absence. (If you ever feel so tense that you think you might harm the baby, call an organization such as Parents Anonymous.)

When should you call the pediatrician? Again, learn to trust your instincts. If you feel something is wrong, that the crying has continued far too long - call. If you need reassurance that the crying is nothing to worry about - call. It often pays to spend the extra money and have your child examined by a physician before the next scheduled office visit to rule out any physical reason for crying. Even if that examination finds nothing wrong - at least you'll be reassured that the crying is not your fault.

Colicky Baby

Your baby will probably be called “colicky” if he or she cries a lot - several hours each day. Colic is the name given to the condition a baby is in when he or she appears to have gas or some other disturbance in the intestinal tract - causing distress and pain and resulting in crying out. It is obvious that the baby is hurting because cries are loud, often changing to screams; the face becomes red and the baby usually pulls the legs up toward the body in pain.

Unexplainably, many babies' colic attacks seem to occur at about the same time each day - usually in the late afternoon or evening. Some attacks are less predictable and sporadic.

No one has come up with an explanation or reason for colic, although there are many theories, including: 1) the baby took in too much air while feeding, causing gassiness; 2) the baby is not digesting formula well; 3) the baby's digestive and elimination system needs to mature.

Soothing A Colicky Baby

1. When he or she starts to cry in pain, do not let the baby “cry it out.” The longer and harder the cries, the more air is inhaled, causing more gas and pain.

2.Try holding the baby upright to encourage better digestion and elimination of gas. You might try a papoose-type infant carrier. (Keeping him or her in an upright position after feedings might also be a good idea - to encourage easier digestion of meals.)

3. Speak softly; handle the baby gently and move slowly. Give the baby as much of a feeling of calm, quiet, and softness as possible. Try to release as much tension as you can from the baby's body by your quiet tone and soothing, lightly massaging touch.

4. Do not offer more milk or formula if the baby cries soon after a feeding. The cries may not mean hunger, but discomfort. If so, the more you feed the child, the more discomfort he or she may have.

5. Try offering him or her a pacifier; sucking may be soothing.

6. Try offering some warm water in a bottle; the warmth may be soothing to the intestinal tract.

7. Keep the baby comfortably warm, perhaps with the belly skin-to-skin on yours for a natural source of warmth and comfort.

8. Place the baby belly down on a hot-water bottle filled with warm water (test the temperature of the bottle on the inside of your wrist first!).

9. Try giving the baby a warm bath - be sure the room temperature is warm and he or she is not chilled when removed from the bath water.

10. If you've been holding the baby for a while, try putting him or her down in the crib on the side, with the back supported against the side of the crib or a rolled-up blanket; or try putting the baby on his or her stomach. Sometimes, it's a comfort to a baby not to be held or handled for a while. Try changing the position after a few minutes if the baby is still uncomfortable.

11. Try singing, rocking, or taking the baby for a ride in the carriage or car.

12. Help the baby expel gas - gently insert the tip of a thermometer (lubricated with petroleum jelly) into the anus and move it in and out gently to stimulate rectal activity.

If nothing works, hang in there with your baby! One thing is reasonably certain: colic goes away around the third month. Until then:

1. Get away from the crying sometimes, by asking someone to stay with the baby (your mate, a relative, friend, or sitter). Go to a movie, a store, a lecture - anything that will take your mind (and tears) away from the baby.

2. Get as much sleep as possible, so you can better cope with the crying. Hire a sitter if you must or ask someone to stay with the baby while you go to a friend's house to sleep or have a sitter take the baby for a walk in the carriage while you sleep at home. It's worth it.

3. It's important for you and your mate to realize that you're both in this together and that one's blame of the other for not being able to soothe the baby is futile and not helpful; besides, it further aggravates the situation. Be aware that each of you needs comforting, understanding, and support at this time.

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