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What Do I Do When My Baby’s Crying?

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I can remember so vividly my first daughter's early months of life. She cried and cried and cried. The doctor told us it was simply colic, a common baby problem. Alycia was only comforted when her mom or I held her face down with a hand under her little tummy and cradled in our arms. From about 8:00 p.m.. to 11:00 p.m. every night we would walk and walk with her in that position. Julie and I joked that if she was ever kidnapped and we had to identify her, we'd need to look at the back of her head for a positive ID.

Patience is a virtue for new fathers, and learning how to work with a crying baby takes an extra measure of patience. But education and understanding the issues around a crying baby can be a big help in the process as well.

Why Babies Cry

Crying is a new baby's first means of communication. As time goes on, parents get a little more attuned to the type of cry and what the baby is communicating, But at first, every cry seems the same. A cry from your baby probably means one or more of the following:

  • Baby is wet
  • Baby is hungry
  • Baby is bored or lonely
  • Baby needs attention
  • Baby has had too much attention
  • Baby is in pain
  • Baby is tired
  • Baby is waking up
  • Baby needs to have a stool
  • Baby is uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, too constricted)

What Should I Do?

Pediatricians and experienced dads and moms recommend the following strategies for dealing with a crying baby.

Respond to the cry. If the baby is by himself and starts to cry, pick him or her up. Or go to him or her and talk or sing in soothing tones. It's important to be responsive-it builds trust that you will really need later.

Get close. Get your face right up close to baby so that when the baby opens his or her eyes, they see your eyes and face. Often the security from seeing dad up close can calm a baby right down.

Check the environment. See if the baby needs a diaper change. When you check the diaper, check for diaper rash or if a diaper's tape or pin has come loose. If it has been a while since feeding time, take him or her to mom or get a bottle ready. If the baby is really warm or cold in a crib, change the blankets or sleeper.

Get moving. Many babies tend to settle down with a little walking, patting, or moving about. If you have a baby swing, you might try putting him or her in the swing and starting the motion. If you think about it, while baby was in the womb, he or she was moving constantly as mom moved about. We have even had success at desperate times with putting the baby in a car seat and going for a drive to get him or her to stop crying.

Try a little noise. We know that babies can hear sounds from outside the womb during the late stages of pregnancy. So a little noise like a radio turned down low, a fan, or other constant dull noise can sometimes comfort a crying baby.

Give baby something to suck on. Babies are a little weird sometimes-they want to suck, but they don't want to eat. A pacifier can sometimes just do the trick.

Put him or her down. Sometimes we found our babies got overtired or over-stimulated and needed some alone time to calm down. Or if you are getting stressed about the baby crying, it's important and safe to let the baby cry while you get some space. Trade off with mom. Call a neighbor to help.

Do not shake the baby-ever. Sometimes parents get too stressed with a crying baby and are tempted to shake the baby to get him or her to stop crying. This is an extremely dangerous approach. A baby's neck can't yet support its head, and shaking can result in brain damage, spinal injuries and death. Never, never shake a baby.

How long is too long? Different babies cry differently. The key is to watch for a crying pattern that is outside your baby's normal pattern. The general rule of thumb is if a baby is crying constantly and uncontrollably for two hours, it's time to call the doctor.

By exercising patience and gentleness, and using the techniques for quieting the baby, you should find some ways that work to help your baby find comfort, and you to find some occasional peace and quiet.

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