By Dawn Papandrea
Every night, 6:30 p.m. was the “witching hour”—the time when my infant son would begin crying uncontrollably. I’m not talking about “feed me” and “change me” cries—I quickly became a pro at addressing those. This was a whole other kind of crying, for which nothing I did seemed to matter, and the only thing I could do (and did!) was join the crying chorus myself.
“Crying, even a lot of crying, really is normal and is not an indication that you are a bad parent or have a bad baby,” assures Jennifer Margulis, parent educator and author of Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained. “As hard as it can be sometimes to find the patience to soothe them, it’s our job to try our best.” So if you can’t figure why the tears are flowing, consider this list of unusual, yet normal, crying triggers.
A Hairy Situation
After Lisa Collier Cool of Pelham, NY, tried everything she could think of to calm her wailing newborn daughter, she removed her socks thinking she might be hot, and discovered that somehow a hair had gotten wrapped around one tiny toe. It sounds weird, but it’s more common than you think. “Babies will get little strings or hairs wrapped around their toes, or, for boys, around their penis, that can actually cut off circulation if it goes unnoticed for too long,” says Jennifer Walker, R.N., a pediatric nurse, infant-care consultant, and co-author of The Moms on Call Guide to Basic Baby Care.
Solution: During your nighttime bath routine and diaper changes, be sure to closely inspect fingers, toes, and other hidden areas, Walker says.
Everyone loves making a fuss over your new baby, but all of that loud coochy-cooing from Aunt Selma, plus the bright lights, TV noise, and variety of new smells add up to sensory overload. “Remember infants are still adjusting from the dark, unchanging, rhythmic comfort of the womb to a bright, noisy, unpredictable world,” says Vicki Panaccione, M.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of the Better Parenting Institute in Melbourne, FL.
Solution: Take everything down a notch during fussy time by dimming the lights, turning off the TV, and retreating to an area with fewer people. A good rule of thumb: Newborns need to be in a relaxing environment for one and a half out of every three hours, Walker says.
Hot and Bothered
Even the slightest discomfort—elastic that’s too tight, footed pants that are twisted, or a tag or zipper poking his skin—can be a cry-inducing culprit. Parents also have a tendency to over-bundle their little ones, Walker says, who reminds moms that babies have the same thermostat as adults.
Solution: Dress your newborn for comfort not for show (think cotton instead of lace), and put her in the same number of layers as you’re wearing.
A Need for Noise
Michele Thompson of Bozeman, MT, came upon a strange discovery while trying to get her sobbing baby boy Tanner to sleep. “He prefers noise to quietness. At night, we keep the window cracked so he can hear the night animals or traffic,” she says. That’s actually quite normal, Walker says. “There’s this misconception that we have to tiptoe around our babies; but remember that when baby was in mommy’s womb, it was pretty loud in there.”
Solution: Try calming your baby with background or white noise (a loud, constant sound). Experts recommend playing ocean wave recordings or running a fan or vacuum cleaner. Walker’s recommendation: Conair’s Infant Sound Therapy machine ($28, conair-store.com), which has 10 soothing sounds designed especially for babies.
It’s in the Genes
“Some babies cry more than others because they have extra-sensitive temperaments,” says Ann Douglas, a pregnancy and parenting author of numerous books, including The Mother of All Baby Books. “Even being held by a number of different people (excited grandparents, aunts, and uncles) may throw an extra-sensitive baby out of whack,” she warns.
Solution: Stick to routines as much as possible and allow extra time to warm up to visitors before handing her off. Also, get to be a pro at swaddling, Walker says. “Once you get those arms controlled down by her side, she will calm down and relax.”
The Witching Hour
Yes, there is such a thing! Actually, it’s your baby’s way of releasing a day’s worth of pent up energy before she gets ready for a longer stretch of sleep. “You know how it feels when you are sick in bed all day and then try to sleep at night? You can’t because you’ve been lying around all day. Babies are the same way,” Walker explains.
Solution: Give baby two 10-minute sessions of supervised tummy time daily. You’ll not only tire her out, but she may achieve the developmental milestones of lifting her head and rolling over sooner as a result.
“It’s very important for parents to have a plan in place for situations when their baby is crying and they have exhausted their bag of tricks,” says Beth Warrick, certified child life specialist at the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.
Here’s the plan:
• Cut yourself some slack. “Give yourself permission for this to be hard,” Walker says.
• Phone the doctor. “It’s perfectly appropriate to involve the pediatrician,” Warrick says, especially if the crying is inconsolable, high-pitched, continues for two hours straight, or your gut tells you there’s something really wrong.
• Call in the troops. “If the baby is making you impatient, you need to hand him off to someone calmer,” Margulis says.
• Give yourself a time-out. “If you’ve made sure baby’s needs are met, it’s OK to put her safely in the crib or playpen and go into the other room so you can regroup,” Panaccione says.
• Don’t think twice. If you’re losing control or have thoughts about harming the baby or yourself, call a local hotline or support group and get help fast.
Dawn Papandrea has written for Parenting, Fit Pregnancy, and Hallmark magazines and blogs at ParentSociety.com. She’s delighted that her four year old has finally outgrown crying…well, almost.