No two babies are alike and no two parents are alike. One of our greatest gifts is diversity. There is no one right or wrong way to parent your child. As a parent you try to do what is best for your child on that day and in that moment. On another day and at another time you may respond differently and that is the gift of diversity.
Babies respond to social stimuli including eye and body contact, gentle touching, feeding and soothing speech. All of these stimuli are the precursors to communication and future language development. Infants who are raised in environments where constant contact and frequent feeding are the norm have the least amount of crying. Yet, some infants no matter what their level of physical contact is cry excessively without any apparent medical or physical need. No matter what contact and feeding choice you make there will always be some infants who cry excessively. These infants are described as having colic.
With any infant the first response to crying should be to make sure there is no underlying physical reason. The most common issues include hunger, pain, fatigue and separation. Numerous articles and books have been written about these causes. A good approach is to use a checklist system to run through all the common causes. When in doubt about a physical cause including infection, breast milk or formula intolerance you must call your Pediatrician. Remember that something as simple as cow’s milk protein intolerance can be the cause of excessive and inconsolable crying. You should also discuss genetic patterns and tendencies that run in families. At all times, however, remember infants less than 6 months of age cannot be spoiled or over indulged. Hold your child, feed your child, caress your child, dance with your child, swaddle your child, sing to your child, talk to your child and quite simply be with your child.
What should you do if there is no clear physical reason for your infant to cry? Many pediatricians call these infants sensitive babies. Your first step is to look within at your own support system. Parental support and self-care are often the last needs to be met. Mothers may have heightened anxiety and depression as well as isolation from their social support system.
This can be a stressor to your infant. Some stress is acceptable but toxic stress causes emotional and physical reactions in both parent and infant. These reactions are sensed by all members of the family, including the infant. Your infant may become excessively fussy or seem distant and withdrawn. She may have difficulty feeding, sleeping or self-soothing. Look at your diet, sleep and activity patterns. Is there exposure to smoking, alcohol or caffeine? Are you getting the sleep you need and deserve? Are you having time for your own physical needs including movement and exercise? Have you been able to get out into nature or experience the beauty of the arts? Do you have someone to call who will listen to you without judgment? Have you limited your time commitments and responsibilities?
Parents must remind themselves about the importance of relationships. Relationships buffer stress. Following delivery many parents feel alone and isolated. In addition, the decisions and responsibilities that accompany giving birth and beginning to make caretaking decisions are stress inducers. Every parent needs to include in their daily activity ways to lessen their stress burden and increase their access to mature and loving reciprocal relationships. By learning to recognize and respond to your new demands and stressors in a healthy, productive fashion you will be teaching your child how to recognize and deal with emotions. By watching you he will learn by example how to live, cope and thrive in an unsettled world.