If your new baby cries inconsolably for many hours a day, take heart. The soothing help you need is here.
Renowned pediatrician Dr. Marc Weissbluth knows firsthand how stressful life can be for a sensitive, fussy newborn?not to mention the child?s frantic, exhausted parents. His own firstborn, like more than a fifth of all babies, was a colicky child, causing him and his wife to suffer many sleepless nights. Your Fussy Baby is Dr. Weissbluth?s gift to other sorely tired mothers and fathers, written to help them comfort their newborns without disrupting their own lives. Even extreme fussiness, he says, is not dangerous and usually stops when the child is about four months old. In the meanwhile, however, life can be tough for the whole family. But whether your baby cries for as long as eight hours a day, suffers from gas, refuses to sleep, or all of the above, Your Fussy Baby will gently guide your little one?and you?through this mysterious phase of infant growth. Inside you will discover
? Why your baby cries so much: The most up-to-date research, including some fascinating possibilities that researchers are just beginning to explore.
? Dangerous myths about fussiness: Facts and fiction about diet, mothering, proper medications, and much more that even your pediatrician may not know.
? The emotional effects: Avoiding the guilt, anxiety, and frustration that having a fussy baby so often stirs up.
? What to do when your baby fusses: Specific recommendations for what parents can do to minimize the distress that prolonged crying causes the whole family.
? Expert, step-by-step advice on establishing healthy sleep habits for your baby.
With this reassuring, down-to-earth guidance, you can help your fretful, fussy newborn to become the sweet, happy baby he or she was meant to be.
Common Fussiness and Crying
Some of the things we know about ordinary, brief, or common fussing and crying shed light on extreme fussiness/colic. This information is often comforting to parents who are distressed by their child’s fussing or crying. (If you have skipped the Introduction, you may want to go back and read it now. The Introduction explains how to use the book and describes what I mean by “fussiness.”)
As a pediatrician, parents often ask me why their babies fuss or cry—and often during such inconvenient hours! While it is true that babies often “melt down” during the evening and sleeping hours, these behaviors also occur during the day. During the day, though, their fussing is less bothersome, making less of an impression. Step number one in understanding your baby’s fussiness is to try to become sensitive to all of your child’s fussy times and even to gradations between the best and worst fussing or crying. It might be worthwhile to keep a detailed diary so that you can separate your child’s actual behavior from your perceptions, which can be affected by your own tiredness and frustration. And even the fussiest babies have good times, too, which may also be helpful to record.
I admit it can be hard to be objective about fussing and crying. Crying is an irritating sound. It seems to suggest misery and pain. It is virtually impossible to ignore. There is something about it that, as one mother put it, “poisons the atmosphere.” You cannot sleep, enjoy a meal, or concentrate on anything else when you can hear a baby crying. Crying might be a survival mechanism that developed in the process of human evolution. It certainly seems to be nature’s way of making sure a baby gets the attention she needs.
What Does Crying Mean?
Tennyson wrote in “In Memoriam”:
But what am I?
An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light;
And with no language but a cry.
Of course, crying is one of the only ways a newborn infant can communicate. But the meaning of a baby’s crying is open to interpretation. We think that a crying baby is hurting, frightened, or angry; this crying is taken as a form of criticism, loneliness, or tension.
There is something in each of us that identifies with a baby’s crying. Who has not felt alone in a strange world, cold, confused, and unable to communicate? We project onto the sobbing child all the despair of the human condition. But it is important to recognize that we really do not know what a baby’s crying means. Though babies do cry when they have been hurt or frightened, it is incorrect to assume that a crying infant is either hurt or scared. We cannot even be certain a crying baby is unhappy. Some researchers have observed that stress hormones do not increase during some spells of crying as they do during, for example, circumcision or the drawing of blood from an infant. On the basis of this they concluded that during extreme fussiness, babies were not experiencing pain. Perhaps there is some truth to the folk wisdom which claims that babies cry “to exercise their lungs” or because it’s one of the few things they know how to do. Birds fly, babies cry.
Whatever the case (and we will return to the important problem of why babies cry), remember that a screaming infant is not “doing a number” on you. Infants do not cry to manipulate, influence, punish, control, or intentionally annoy you. Infants of one to four months do not realize that their crying can get results. They do not even know that they are a separate person from you. They are just crying. And they may not even realize that!
What Should Parents Do About Crying?
A well-known British pediatrician, Dr. Illingworth, once claimed that one cause of crying is fatigue. This might suggest that you should let a crying baby alone to sleep. But Illingworth also added, categorically, that during the first few weeks of life an infant should be consoled rather than left alone. He claimed that picking up a baby when he or she cries results in less crying later on. This claim was later verified in a direct observational study by American researchers Silvia Bell and Mary Ainsworth at John Hopkins University. They disproved the notion that continually responding to a newborn’s cry encourages crying behavior.
You Cannot Spoil Your Newborn
Bell and Ainsworth focused on twenty-six middle-class infant-mother pairs. Data were gathered by observing these mothers and children at home. First, observers confirmed that all infants have some crying spells. They noted the number of crying episodes that a mother ignored, the number she responded to, the length of time it took her to respond, what kind of response she made, and the overall effectiveness of her response. Picking up the baby and holding him proved to be the most effective way to terminate crying. Talking to him or gesturing at him from a distance was the least effective.
Bell and Ainsworth observed that, during the first few months, some mothers were deliberately unresponsive when their babies cried because they feared they might spoil their babies. Data over an entire year, however, showed that mothers who consistently and promptly responded to their infant’s crying were rewarded at the age of one year with infants who cried less frequently, and for shorter durations, than those infants whose mothers ignored crying or delayed responding.
The authors of the study concluded, therefore, that infant crying is so disagreeable or “changeworthy” to adults that it probably serves a useful evolutionary function. They added that infant crying should be viewed as an “attachment” or “proximity-promoting” behavior because most often it served to bring a parent closer to a child. Furthermore, Bell and Ainsworth acknowledged the extreme difficulty of a mother or father ignoring a baby’s crying. They recommended that a mother not struggle to overcome the natural impulse to comfort her crying child. An infant less than three months of age is, according to their study, at no risk of being spoiled.
The conclusion of this study is similar to others that suggest that conditioning or training an infant is extremely difficult even in a carefully controlled laboratory environment. Spoiling, after all, is simply encouraging an undesirable behavior. But babies under a few months of age cannot “learn” a crying habit because they are not neurologically mature enough (neurological maturity is a necessary precursor to what later becomes psychological development). After all, at three weeks of age a baby is not even neurologically mature enough to learn to smile specifically at her mother. This suggests that it takes time for a baby’s brain to develop before it can recognize you and respond to this recognition (and melt your heart with her fantastic smile). Specific social smiling at parents normally develops at about six weeks (in premature deliveries, this occurs at about six weeks after the expected date of delivery). The logic follows: If you cannot teach a baby to smile before she is neurologically ready, why assume you can teach her to cry? Actually, during the first several weeks of life, babies do smile when they are asleep. But this is not a socially responsive smile. Interestingly, they can cry when they are asleep as well.
However, studies performed after the Bell and Ainsworth study strongly suggest that you can teach a crying habit to children over six months of age by indiscriminately responding to all vocalizations—always picking them up and/or soothing them. These children—having reached a sufficient level of neurological maturity—learn to cry for attention. For infants over six months of age (in contrast to newborns), parents who respond only to cries that appear to be intense or related to hunger or soiling and do not respond to quiet whimpers, mild calls, and other types of low-level whining sounds have children who at one year of age cry less. By the way, many parents do not realize that even the best babies may exhibit quiet whimpers, mild calls, low-level whining, or whimpering sounds while they remain sound asleep!
Frequent and Infrequent Criers
Bell and Ainsworth also concluded that in children between nine and twelve months of age, frequency of crying (how often a crying spell occurred) was a sign of “individual stability.” Babies under nine months of age displayed fewer patterns of crying, but after nine months a baby could be identified as a frequent/long or infrequent/brief crier, an identification that often held as the child grew older. Logical conclusions from this study are, then, that infrequent criers after nine months of age were those babies whose mothers responded promptly to crying during their early months, becoming increasingly discriminate as they matured. These conclusions may, however, be too simple. Might there be biological differences among certain groups of babies that cause some to cry less and others, more? To begin to investigate this question, more background is necessary.
Similarities Between Common Fussiness/ Crying and Extreme Fussiness/Colic
Several studies of common fussing/crying show that the line between normal fussiness and extreme fussiness/colic is indistinct. Specifically, common fussiness mimics patterns associated with extreme fussiness/colic in five fundamental ways.
1. All Babies Cry Some of the Time
Crying in infants was studied intensively by a group of researchers at the Mayo Clinic. In their first study, they observed seventy-two babies in a newborn nursery. They worked in shifts so that each baby was observed twenty-four hours a day. The observers recorded start times of any and all crying as well as the duration. They attempted in each case to attribute a cause to the crying—wet or soiled diapers, hunger, cramped positions, chill...