A Parent's Guide: Understanding a Crying Infant

A crying, unsettled infant can be a new parents most challenging experience. As parents ourselves, we understand that constant crying can induce feelings of frustration and exhaustion. It’s important to understand that most infants experience periods of crying that starts at around 2 weeks and this can last until 4 months of age. It doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with your infant, it is part of their growth and development.

So, if they cry—especially for long periods of time—how do I know it’s not because of pain?

This is a question that a lot of parents ask. Let’s take a look at why your infant may be crying:

Crying is an infants first point of communication.

They cry because they are hungry, wet, ill or bored.

    Sometimes they even cry for no reason at all.

    Many infant have a normal fussy period during the day which can quite often be in the late afternoon or evening. These bouts of crying can last for long periods of time until they eventually cry themselves to sleep. If your infant has times of the day when they are perfectly happy, cooing, giggling, and being wonderfully responsive, then this indicates that your infant is normal and healthy and most likely not in pain.

    Signs of illness in an infant:

    A continuous high- pitched cry (some people say ‘screaming’)

    An infant that cannot be soothed (no periods of quiet)

    When an infant arches their back when they cry

    An infant with other symptoms such as temperature, diarrhoea, vomiting, cold and flu symptoms.

    Difficulty breathing

    A rash, or pale or blue skin

    Poor feeding or little interest in food. Refused two feeds in a row.

    Less amount of wet nappies

    When to see a doctor?

    It’s important that you see a doctor if:

    You need reassurance that there is no medical cause for your baby’s crying
    Your baby is refusing feeds or is having less than half their normal feeds
    Your baby does not seem to settle or continues to cry for long periods, no matter what you try
    You feel you are not coping
    You feel the crying is impacting on your relationship with your baby or you are finding it hard to feel positive about them
    Your mental health or your relationship with your partner is being affected
    You are worried for any other reason.

    More information can be found here: www.rch.org.au 


    How do I settle my infant?

    Certain types of sensory stimulation can calm and quiet infants and help them get to sleep.
    Important characteristics of this sensory stimulation — whether tactile, vestibular, auditory, or visual — appear to be that the stimulation is mild, slow, rhythmic, and consistently and regularly presented.
    Tactile stimulation can include, warmth, patting, and back massage.
    Swaddling provides widespread and constant tactile stimulation and a sense of security.
    Vestibular stimulation is especially effective and can be accomplished by mild rhythmic movement such as rocking or by holding the infant upright and on your shoulder.
    Although you may not be able to stop the crying, you can help your baby to cope with their distress. Try to stay calm even though we know it’s hard when you are exhausted. It is hard to think clearly or provide reassurance to your baby if you are feeling panicky as they will pick up on your energy.
    Let your baby suck at the breast or bottle as it may help them to settle for a short period.
    Offer a dummy as sucking may provide comfort and help your baby to settle.
    Some infants respond to being held in a body carrier and calm down being close to your heat beat. The movement of walking in the carrier can help settle them.
    Rhythmic sounds can provide auditory stimulation; parents can use devices that provide white noise or sounds resembling the mother’s heartbeat. Try playing some soft music.
    Continue to speak softly to your baby. Your voice and presence may help soothe them.
    Give your baby a gentle warm bath followed by a massage.

    It is understandable that parents can sometimes feel extremely frustrated when nothing they try seems to help stop their baby’s crying. If you are feeling very frustrated, angry or overwhelmed, place your baby in their cot or a safe place and have a few moments to yourself to calm down. Take a few deep breaths, this will help calm your mind.

    It’s important to note: Never shake a baby. Shaking babies, even gently, can cause brain damage and life-long disability. If you feel like shaking your baby, seek medical help immediately and call a friend or family member for support.


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