What your baby’s crying means

What your baby’s crying means

Edith Kermit Roosevelt

“Why does my baby cry so much, doctor?” This is a question frequently asked by new parents who fail to realize many normal babies cry sporadically throughout the day.

Even the most piercing cries are usually no cause for alarm. More experienced parents learn to understand the reasons behind them.

“Parents learn what their baby’s signals mean, when to intervene or back off and how to help the baby develop his own internal controls,” says Zachariah Boukydis, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and family therapist at Harvard Medical School. The most common reasons for these crying “signals” are listed in his book, New Parent Advisor.

Hunger: Hunger cries tend to be rhythmic — a sudden, loud burst, a pause to catch his breath, then more crying and the pattern broadens. Babies may cry in this manner after a feeding because they have not finished, or when they awaken feeling hungry after a nap.

Discomfort: A bottle-fed baby’s formula may disagree with an immature digestive system, causing gas. Then the baby’s cries mean he or she feels uncomfortable. Also, if infants awaken suddenly and wail, they may be urinating or defecating. The accompanying cry usually begins suddenly and is shriller and more intense than a hunger cry.

Pain or Illness: A cry caused by serious discomfort usually consists of a long, piercing burst, followed by a pause, then another outburst. In such cases, parents would do well to check for other signs of illness in the child, such as fever, and contact a doctor.

Frustration: A persistent, throaty moan may be baby’s way of saying “I’m too hot” or “too cold.” Or the baby may not like the bath, or want to play anymore. The crying could be a way of shutting out environmental stimulus and telling you in a baby way, “I’ve had enough!”

Letting off steam: Termed “cyclical crying” by pediatricians, it is a common way for babies to release pent-up tension and energy.

“Will I spoil my baby by responding immediately to his cries?” Parents agonize over this question.

“Cuddle your baby when he cries,” advises Marilyn Segal, Ph.D., Director of the Family Center at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Responding to a newborn’s crying results in a more contented baby who will cry less after six months of age,” says Dr. Segal, a developmental psychologist. Comforting a baby is a trial-and-error process, she explains, and urges experimentation to help determine what the child likes best.

Katerina Haka-Ikse, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, observes that “difficult” or hypersensitive babies benefit from low-key soothing methods, such as being swaddled or given a pacifier.

If these comforting methods don’t work, T. Berry Brazeleton, M.D., Chief of the Child Development Unit at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston, recommends that parents try the following:

Let the baby fuss or cry for fifteen minutes; then pick him up, try to calm him, give him water, and return him to his crib to fuss a little longer. He will eventually work things out for himself. If none of these strategies seems to work very well?

It is comforting to know that in about three months, the baby’s crying will diminish. By then, the child will have learned to focus his eyes and to use his hands. As babies gain more control of the nervous system, they will have developed varied and less disconcerting ways to express needs and feelings.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Vegetus Publications

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