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 own apartment.
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 yourself temporarily.
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 newborn care video will cover newborn colic in more detail.
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 something.
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 than others
- 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 baby.
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.