Newborn Crying and Newborn Colic
By Loraine Stern, MD
cry for many reasons - hunger, fear, tension, pain, and it is not always
clear in the first days which cry you are hearing. You will quickly
learn to distinguish a hunger cry from the others.
When your baby cries excessively, how do you
know if it is newborn colic? Dr. Stern's rule of thumb is that you know
your newborn has colic when you have an irresistible urge to get him his
Newborn colic is diagnosed when an otherwise healthy infant cries
inconsolably for a total of 3 or more hours a day. Walking, bouncing,
singing, feeding - nothing seems to help. Nobody knows what newborn
colic is but we do know that it seems to have no long term effects. It
usually starts around one month and goes away by itself by 3-4 months.
During that period you may need to see your pediatrician a few times to
make sure that something else is not going on.
You will need some help to give you a
respite from constant crying. Grandparents, other relatives or a
neighbor who has faced this herself can give you an hour or two away
from it. Sometimes if there is nobody available and you are at the end
of your rope trying to comfort your child, leave the newborn in the crib
for a few minutes, take a hot shower with the radio playing and renew
This is the time that some parents may be so
frustrated that they shake their baby, which can cause brain damage or
even kill. If you feel this way, you must walk away from your newborn
and call someone for help. The
care video will cover newborn colic in more detail.
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taking the place of a newborn class. The newborn DVD and guide were
created by two pediatric doctors and a clinical psychologist with over
50 years experience.
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All babies cry. Newborns, at first, cry mostly because they are hungry
but also because they are over stimulated and need to relieve
tension. This is sometimes to shut out noise and visual stimulation or
sometimes because they just want to be picked up. If a hungry newborn is
not fed, the cry can change from simple hunger to a more distressed cry.
Over the first weeks of life, you will learn
to tell the difference between newborn cries. Sometimes you will feel
baffled. You try to feed, to change a wet diaper and/or do a host of
other things you think need to be done and your newborn baby still
cries. If you repeatedly hear a high pitched screaming cry for hours and
you cannot calm the newborn, you may be dealing with colic. Most of the
time, however, crying is a way for your baby to tell you he or she needs
When Babies Cry
Newborns go through several states of consciousness cycles every day.
This ranges from deep sleep, lighter sleep and drowsiness to the "quiet
alert stage" when they are most responsive to you. The "active alert
stage" is when they are moving around and not quite as responsive. This
crying period, when diversions such as the toys they liked during the
quiet alert stage have little soothing effect.
Parents get the most gratification during
the quiet alert stage when the baby may look deeply into your eyes and
even begin to show the beginnings of a smile. The crying period may not
be the most rewarding time unless you can soothe your newborn.
What To Do
Let nobody tell you that you are spoiling your newborn if you hold and
carry her often. Studies have shown that the more you hold and cuddle
your newborn the less crying you face down the line. The advice to "let
her cry it out" is only appropriate under 2 circumstances:
You have tried everything, nothing has
worked and you are frustrated and angry. This is the time that some
parents may lose control and hurt their newborn. Under those
circumstances put her down and walk away.
The other is that some newborns need to cry
for a few minutes before they go to sleep in order to settle themselves
down. This crying is more fussy than painful and usually fades after a
few minutes. Let your newborn learn to settle herself.
If you have a fed, dry and warm newborn who
is still crying, there are a variety of traditional ways to comfort:
Swaddle the newborn
tightly in blankets
Rock in a rocking chair or sway back and
forth (the "baby dance")
Sing a quiet song or make shushing
noises or play soft music while holding
Walk around the room or the house
Give your newborn a warm bath/In desperation, take a ride in the car
A swing can soothe older babies but do not
put your newborn in a swing. The baby should be able to sit on her own
before you leave her in a swing.
Temperment and Crying
We have learned over the past 5 or 6 decades that newborns have
temperamental characteristics that are inborn and unchanging. A few of
these characteristics include:
Regularity - eating,
pooping and sleeping at regular intervals
Sensitivity - an initial reaction to a
new situation may cause distress or just make your child observant
for a few minutes.
Sounds or voices may startle or distress one
newborn more than another
Basic mood - some newborns are happier
Some children are more energetic and some more cautious
Some are easily distracted while others
can shut out sounds and other people easily
Many of these traits seem to run in
families. Often, as parents get to know their newborn, they tell us that
the baby is just like the father, an uncle, or the mother when she was a
The point is that as you get to know your
newborn, you will sense when something is difficult or disturbing for
her. It is not your job to change these traits nor can you. It is your
job to help arrange her environment and her relationships to make her
life as easy as possible. If she takes a while to warm up to strangers,
for example, do not deliberately give her to the grandmother that she
does not know but give her a while to get used to the stranger.
Yes, your infant has to learn to live in
your home and in the world, but the newborn period is a time for you to
learn what she is like, what her particular needs are and how you can
accommodate those needs. Creating a comfortable environment for your
newborn is not spoiling; it is being a good parent.
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