Crying babies sure do take a toll on new or even experienced parents. It used to be that the father was the relief parent: the one who came home from work at the end of the day and took the crying baby from mom’s grateful (but weary) arms. But today it’s different. In some cases, the father is the stay at home parent and it is the mother who works. In any case, in a home where one parent stays at home with the new baby and the other parent works, the relief afforded at the end of the day by the working parent, however brief, is crucial.
Shut away from the world and other adults, a parent with a newborn is plunged into a world of unending crying and baby care. There’s no adult conversation to stimulate the mind and the baby can do little more than cry. Once the baby begins to smile, it’s a bit better, but not much. Babies still cry more than they smile, at least in the early weeks.
Parents are not one-size-fits-all and have varying levels of tolerance for crying. Meantime, it has been documented that healthy babies must cry for a minimum of two hours daily. A parent with a low tolerance for crying may sometimes feel close to an emotional breakdown and may even want to give vent to his or her own tears!
A parent may hold it together all day, knowing that the “relief parent” will soon be coming home and will take over with the baby. Even if the relief parent is biologically incapable of offering nourishment, he can still hold, rock, and sing to the baby, while the usual parent on call gets a break. She can shower, take a walk, or sit down and eat without having to push and pull a baby buggy and without a baby crying stereo in her ears. If she’s lucky, she may even get a nap!
Single parents have it hard because there IS no relief parent. A single parent may want to co-opt a friend to stand in and offer relief from childcare for at least an hour every day. The power of an hour off to refresh a flagging parent’s spirits cannot be underestimated.
As for the parent on call, it’s important to recognize that sometimes babies cry because they need to cry. If you’re satisfied that you’ve done everything possible to satisfy your baby’s needs and she’s still crying, she may just need to cry it out. You can let her cry for 15 minutes, and then try to soothe her.
If she continues to cry, give her another 15 minutes to cry on her own and then try to soothe her once more. Eventually, she’ll cry it out and be ready to be comforted. She may even simply and suddenly fall asleep in her crib—which may have you running into the room to make sure she’s still breathing (shhhhhh, don’t wake her!).
It’s true that babies take in air when they cry and that this may lead to the painful stomach contractions known as colic, in and of itself a reason for crying. On the other hand, it’s completely normal for healthy babies to cry. It’s how they release tension and frustration.
Knowing that a baby must cry at least two hours a day should reassure you. Try keeping track of the times your baby cries during a 24-hour period and see how close it comes to the magical number of 2 hours. The results may surprise you.
A new parent and even one with a lot of experience, can feel a bit undone by the crying, and may come to feel self-doubt about her parenting abilities. It’s good to have a checklist for those times so you can feel your parenting pulse: know you’ve done everything possible to figure out why your baby is crying and to soothe her. Here are the main reasons babies cry except for the most important one—babies cry because healthy babies cry a minimum of 2 hours each day for no other reason than to release tension:
Hunger—Babies need to eat every few hours and hunger pangs hurt. Nurse your baby or give her formula as soon as she wakes up to stave off the pain and crying. But keep in mind that feeding may bring stomach contractions that hurt, too. When baby cries during feeding time, burp her before continuing the feeding.
A Need to Suck—Just as babies need to cry, they also need to suck. Sucking comforts them. If your baby isn’t hungry but wants to suck, offer her your finger or a pacifier.
Fatigue—Babies need to sleep some 16 hours daily. A tired baby is often a fussy baby. She may be crying because she needs to sleep. If rocking doesn’t help, she may need to cry herself to sleep.
Wet or Soiled Diaper—A wet diaper can be uncomfortable and bring on the tears. If your baby is getting enough fluids, she will need to have her diapers changed frequently. The state of a baby’s diaper is the first thing to check when a baby cries.
A Desire for Movement—Babies like to be rocked or carried as you walk around. Some babies will take to a baby swing which can be a great boon to parenting because it gives the on-call parent a break. If you have a car seat, the movement of a car will often help a baby drift off to sleep.
A Need for Swaddling—Some babies are scared by the movements of their own limbs. Restraining them by wrapping them firmly in a lightweight baby blanket can give baby a break from feeling a little out of control.
Over or Underdressed—Mothers are often urged to put more clothing on their babies, to the point where a baby is overdressed. If baby’s hands and feet are warm, take off some of her clothing. If your baby is lightly dressed, check to see that her hands and feet aren’t cold. If her extremities (hands and feet) are cold, she needs to be dressed more warmly.
Loneliness—Sometimes babies just want company. If she stops crying when you pick her up, it’s not because she’s spoiled but because she’s in need of companionship!
Overstimulation—Remember that babies cry to release tension. When you’ve gone through this checklist and done everything you can to stop the crying, it may be that she has had enough company and needs to cry off her tension.
You can try putting her in a room with a radio playing soft music or even with a fan going to offer her some white noise which can help lull her to sleep. If it’s hard for you to take the crying, try grabbing the time to take a shower. The running water will cover up the sound of the crying. As long as you know she’s safe in her crib, it’s perfectly okay to let her cry for 15 minutes while you shower.