My Baby Won’t Stop Crying!
The hardest thing I’ve ever done? Not medical school or residency. Not parenting three teens. Hands down, the hardest was being a new mother with a colicky baby. It was beautiful to watch my young son grow, but every time he cried and couldn’t be consoled it brought me to my knees. What was wrong? Why couldn’t I help him?
It can be a rough first few months getting used to having a new baby and the lack of sleep, job changes, and financial challenges that can come along with them. And part of what makes it so rough is all the crying most new babies do. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that
“In the first six weeks of life, babies cry an average of 2-3 hours a day. Most babies start crying a lot when they are around two weeks old and continue for about two months.”
And the people who love those new babies can find it very hard to cope. Once, I was home alone with my firstborn while his father was off on a fishing trip with his four brothers. I was nervous to be alone with the baby but wanted his dad to have the time away, because he’d shared the many long nights of trying to help our son.
Everything went well for a while. But then on the third evening, our son just wouldn’t stop crying – and I was at my wits’ end. All I could think of doing was to put him in his crib, walk outside, sit down, and breathe.
Recently I connected with Dr. Tricia Tayama M.D., a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician and child abuse prevention specialist, to understand more about infant crying and its effect on caregivers. First, she explained that babies’ cries naturally evoke very strong responses from adults that can look different in different people. Some may feel anger, guilt, sadness, embarrassment, or shame. Parents can feel:
- Like a failure if they can’t soothe their babies.
- That they’re being judged for not being able keep them calm.
- Pressure to stop the crying from disturbing others.
Adults may attribute meaning to the babies’ cries—the baby is mad at me, trying to disrupt me, or trying to upset me. It’s understandable to just want the crying to stop! But how?
First of all, please start by checking with your pediatrician to look for medical causes of crying. Even colic is something we can often help with.
Sometimes your baby may cry for no reason and be hard to console, even if they aren’t hungry or needing a diaper change. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong with them – sometimes, babies just cry!
But all that crying can be hard on you! Dr. Tayama and her colleague Katya Henriquez, LMFT, shared a calming technique that may help:
Set your baby down in a crib or bassinet for a moment and count your heart rate. Then do one of these activities for a few moments until your heart rate decreases:
- Breathe in for 3 seconds, out for 6 seconds and repeat several times
- Look or go outside
- Repeat a calming phrase to yourself
You can also:
- Use a meditation app, such as Calm or myStrength.
- Text or call a friend for support.
- Do an exercise to expel energy (such as 5 squats, jumping jacks, or push-ups), then focus on your breathing as your heart rate comes down.
- Do a small chore like folding some laundry.
It’s ok to put your baby in a safe place like their crib or bassinet for a while so you can care for yourself. Then, when you are feeling a bit calmer, stronger, and centered, return to trying to soothe your baby.
Or, if you don’t feel calmer and need support, please reach out to your partner, a friend, parent, or neighbor for help. Whatever happens – don’t shake your baby. Shaking can cause serious injury or death.
Before the next crying episode starts:
- Make a plan with your partner or another supportive person for taking turns soothing the baby.
- Arrange a “code word” to quickly get help when you really need a break and some space from the crying.
- Seek out a parenting support group.
- Enlist support from family and friends54—it’s ok to ask! Many people are delighted to support a new parent and baby.
- Talk with everyone who cares for your baby about how hard it can feel when the crying starts. Let them know you understand and consider asking them to read this article.
- Consider what phrases you can use as a mantra to repeat and soothe yourself when your baby is crying.
- Learn all the techniques one can try to calm a crying baby. Most important – know that this period of intense crying doesn’t last forever. After the first 3 months, most babies start crying less and smiling more!
Resources for Parents
KP Thriving Families
The American Academy of Parents
How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome
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