The Crying Baby: What is Baby Trying to Tell Us?
A baby’s main means of communication in the early weeks and months of life is to cry. It doesn’t take too long for parents to note that not all of their baby’s cries sound the same. Some are easily recognizable, e.g. hunger, anger and others which may not be so easy to “translate.” As your multiples are individuals, it may be that one or more will not go through the same reactions at the same time.
What Do We Know?
- All babies cry, even healthy ones receiving excellent care.
- By crying, babies can express their pain, hunger, anger, fear and boredom, but sometimes they will cry for no specific reason.
- By approximately 3 months of age, crying usually drops off as babies find other ways of communicating, e.g. babbling or cooing, and spend more time exploring their environment.
- Continued crying can be anxiety provoking for parents and make parents feel worried, upset, incompetent and overwhelmed about their ability to meet their babies’ needs.
- When babies cry excessively and are inconsolable, they are commonly referred to as “colicky.”
- A colicky baby might cry for 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for 3 weeks in a row.
There are 5 specific characteristics of normal, excessive crying or infant colic:
1) The crying is unexpected, unpredictable and inconsolable;
2) It often starts at the end of the afternoon or early evening;
3) Can last 35-40 minutes or a long as 2 hours;
4) Increases as the weeks go by and is most intense when baby is about two months old, then decreases until about the age of 5 months; and
5) The baby/babies seem to be suffering.
These characteristics can make parents feel powerless, discouraged and incompetent. It can create problems with the parent-child relationship because the parent may become less involved and less comforting with their child.*
*Adapted from a brochure by Centres of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, Crying: Listen, they’re talking to you!
What Can Parents Do?
Situation: Pay attention to your child’s crying and listen if you can identify any differences between what you are hearing. If an infant is hungry, for example, the crying will sound quite different from when s/he is angry or fearful.
Response: Respond quickly and calmly to the child and hold them close to your body as often as possible to see if the crying calms down.
Situation: If you find yourself provoked by and anxious due to inconsolable crying.
Response: If you become upset, overwhelmed or frustrated with the incessant crying, pull back for a few moments. Put your child in his/her crib, leave the room, take a deep breath and return a few minutes later when you are calmed down. If you are unable to calm yourself down, ask someone else to take over.
Babies will often respond positively to Kangaroo care** or being swaddled. Trying either or both techniques may help calm a crying baby.
Letting a baby cry through the event on his/her own is not a good idea. Picking up a crying baby as early and calmly as possible for cuddling can prevent things from escalating. Humming or shushhhing gently into baby’s ear may help him/her calm down.
If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, bundle babies into their carriage and walk around the block or go to the park. Talking to other parents can be helpful for you and fresh air and a changed environment with new interactions, will often settle babies.
If your baby or babies continue to cry excessively for no apparent reason and do not respond to cuddling, Kangaroo care or swaddling, make an appointment with their doctor to ensure that the babies are healthy and there is not some underlying reason for their feelings.
Ask for help if you need it.
**Kangaroo Care: Baby or babies are placed naked, except for diaper, onto Mom or Dad’s bare chest and securely/warmly wrapped onto the chest. Babies are generally calmed by hearing parent’s heartbeat, as well as the warmth and feeling of security with the closeness. The position simulates being in the womb and can be soothing for them.