Baby and Toddlers Behaviors
Listening to your baby cry and cry and not knowing what to do can try the patience of a saint. During the first few weeks of life, most infants spend increasing amounts of time crying. At six weeks of age, for example, crying time tends to peak at about 2.75 hours a day, nearly 30 percent of a baby’s waking time. This amount of crying comes as a shock to first-time parents, who are often devastated by having to cope with it all day, every day. Most of an infant’s crying occurs in the late afternoon and early evening. By 12 weeks of age, babies are apt to return to the more bearable one hour a day of crying they exhibited at one week of age.
Read on to learn more about what your baby’s different cries mean and how you can soothe them. Babies use different types of cries to express their needs. Learning to read a baby’s cries is a skill that all parents should acquire in order to respond effectively to the child’s needs.
Hunger is the most common cause of crying. Babies say "I’m hungry" with a low-pitched, rhythmic cry that repeats a pattern of short cry, brief pause, short cry, pause. The sound is less shrill than other cries, and sounds demanding rather than desperate. This cry is often preceded by finger sucking, lip smacking or nudging.
The fatigue cry is a wailing sound with a definite vibrato. This cry gradually builds up in intensity and often has a continuous and nasal quality.
Babies say "I’m lonely and bored" with a cry that is whiny and whimpering; sometimes it almost sounds like a moan. This cry stops abruptly when the infant is picked up.
This cry begins suddenly and is high-pitched and shrill. The cry is loud and long (as long as four seconds), which leaves the infant breathless. This cry is followed by a dramatic, lengthy pause (as long as seven seconds) as the baby catches her breath again. The baby’s arms and legs may flail and then jerk tensely back into the body. This cry is nonstop and uncontrollable.
Sick babies signal their discomfort with a prolonged cry. The cry sounds weak, whiny and nasal. It is generally lower in pitch than a pain cry. The cry can more readily be identified as a signal of illness when it is considered together with changes in the baby’s appearance and behavior. The baby may have a flushed face, appear listless, refuse to eat, have diarrhea and avoid cuddling.
Colic crying is readily identifiable because it generally occurs like clockwork every afternoon or evening, lasts for several hours each time, and the baby is not readily consolable.
Irritable babies cry on and off all day long and often wake crying during the night, as well. Soothing techniques work better with these babies than with colicky infants.
Babies sometimes cry for no apparent reason. After you’ve checked to see that your baby is not tired, sick, hungry or in pain, you’ll want to try some of these common soothing strategies. When you do, remember these general guidelines:
- When your baby cries, go to him as soon as you can. A baby who gets "worked up" or hysterical is much harder to soothe.
- Try one of the following soothing techniques for about 10 minutes. If unsuccessful, try another for 10 more minutes. Keep this up until either your baby becomes calm or you feel as if you need a break. Then it’s time to find someone else to calm your baby or for you to let the baby cry it out. You must know your breaking point so you can avoid acting out your feelings of resentment, frustration and hostility.
While there is no single or sure way to stop a baby from crying, the following interventions have been found to have a much higher success rate than other approaches.
CARRYING: Studies indicate that babies who are carried by a parent in his or her arms or in a carrier for at least three hours during the day cry less than infants who aren’t carried as much. The warmth and close physical proximity during carrying is calming to your baby and enables you to respond quickly to his cries.
RHYTHMIC MOTION: Many babies stop crying when in motion. Rocking chairs, infant swings, carriage rides, car rides and dancing chest-to-cheek across the floor are all comforting motions. Some experts believe that these repetitive, rhythmic movements satisfy a baby’s need for predictability. Being able to rely on what comes next–that a chair will rock forward after it rocks backward–seems to help a baby feel more secure and safe.
SWADDLING: In the womb, babies grow accustomed to the constant feeling of snugness and something enclosing them, a sensation they lose at birth when they’re thrust into the wide-open air. Swaddling–being wrapped very tightly in a lightweight blanket–can restore this safe feeling, and it also prevents arms and legs from flailing about, which can be startling and upsetting to newborns.
To swaddle at home, take one corner of a receiving blanket and fold it down six inches. Place the baby on the blanket with her head above the fold. Next, take one side of the blanket and draw it across the baby’s body. Fold the bottom section up over the baby’s feet, then fold the last section across the body. Finally, turn the swaddled baby onto her stomach. A few weeks after birth infants may cry harder after swaddling because they find this confining rather than comforting.
SOOTHING SOUND: Babies are comforted by rhythmic, repetitive sounds that remind them of things they heard in the womb: sounds of the ocean or a waterfall, the hum of a laundry washer or dryer, the sound of a heartbeat or the hum of a vacuum cleaner. Babies also like slow, lilting music and the soft sound of a parent’s voice crooning a lullaby.
COMFORT SUCKING: Babies have a strong sucking urge that is not related to their desire for food. Their crying is often controlled by sucking on their fingers or fist or a pacifier. Follow these time-tested tips for successful pacifier use: Give your baby a pacifier before she reaches a screaming pitch, and to avoid tooth decay, don’t sweeten the nipple with honey. Try to wean your baby off the pacifier by six months of age–a time when the urgent sucking need is diminished. For young babies, up until about six months of age, there is no need to worry about bad habits forming from too much sucking. On the contrary, providing opportunities for non-nutritive sucking for as long as a young baby wants can reduce crying and help the infant settle easier at sleep time.
MASSAGE: Touch is one of a baby’s most highly developed senses at birth. Stroking your infant’s skin can calm the baby and help her sleep better. A good habit is to massage your baby from head to toe for 15 minutes once daily before bed or at bath time. Simply pour a little baby oil into the palms of your hands, rub them together; then using your fingertips, draw circles in a rhythmic motion over your baby’s body. Don’t forget his hands, feet, face and head. Next, hold an arm or leg, and gripping softly with your open hand, gently move it back and forth using long, slow strokes.
Be sure to apply just enough gentle pressure so that you don’t tickle. Observe your baby for cues about whether she likes being touched. If she doesn’t like the sensation, she’ll fuss, arch her back, breathe harder and turn redder. Chances are, though, she’ll enjoy the loving massage. Apart from enjoyment, stroking the infant’s skin sends messages to the brain to increase levels of beneficial hormones and chemicals, including those that help the baby absorb food, bear pain and regulate levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
CUDDLIES: Many babies love nestling with something soft like Mom’s nightgown, a soft blanket or a plush toy. Typically, they don’t begin to grow attached to an object like this and actively seek it out until around eight months. Prior to this age, keep a soft object next your baby when you cuddle with her, so she’ll associate the object with your loving touch.
ROUTINES: A repetitive, predictable pattern of care may be more comforting to your baby than any single soothing technique. As soon as you bring your baby home, establish a few simple routines, like bathing at the same time each day or hearing the same lullaby before bedtime each night. Being able to count on some things day in and day out is consoling to an infant who is exposed to so many new things the first year.
RELIEF HELP: Constant crying is bound to make you feel tense and upset. These negative feelings are likely to be picked up by your baby who will cry all the more. You may be surprised when your spouse, a friend or a grandmother cradles your "inconsolable" baby and magically calms the screams. After a break you’ll feel calmer, more refreshed and better able to respond to your baby.
CRY IT OUT: Babies sometimes need to cry out inner feelings of fatigue or tension at sleep time. This can be a self-soothing activity for the infant. So, if external soothing techniques prove ineffective or overly stimulating, consider whether your baby just needs to cry for a brief spell by herself to release tension and settle down.