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  • Writer's pictureDr Nicole White

Why does my baby cry so much?

It seems a long time since I have had a little baby. My youngest baby is now 7 years old but the memory of pacing the hallways or sitting in a rocking chair for hours on end to settle my little darlings are still etched firmly in my memory. I can still recall the overwhelming emotions that come with this territory – fear that something is wrong, frustration that the baby won’t settle and sheer exhaustion due to lack of sleep. This is in fact one of the most common reasons that parents seek consultation with a doctor in the early months of a baby’s life.

How much crying is normal?

All babies cry. Let’s face it even very happy and contented babies will cry sometimes for no apparent reason. Certainly the duration and the intensity of the crying varies – some babies are more sensitive than others.

Researchers have done studies to look at patterns of infant crying. It has been found repeatedly that there is an of escalation in crying in the early months. Crying increases gradually in the first 4-6 weeks before peaking and gradually settling down by 3-4 months. At the peak babies can be expected to cry for 1-5 hours per day, sometimes more. This is part of normal infant behaviour and development. We know that 98% of babies who have excessive crying at this time have nothing wrong with them. Babies can cry for many hours at a time and still be very healthy infants.

Often as parents we assume that our baby is crying because they are in pain related to wind or some other cause. This is where the term “Colic” has come from. Babies with colic are those who cry excessively. Colic does not actually describe an underlying medical condition. We know that some babies cry more loudly and intensely than others, they are more sensitive but not necessarily in more pain.

What is Purple Crying?

Dr Ronald Barr is a paediatrician in the USA who has conducted a lot of research into patterns of infant crying. From his observations and study results he has described what we know well as purple crying. This is a normal period which occurs in varying degrees in all babies and will pass.

How do I know if there is something wrong with my baby?

There are some features that we look for which can be a sign of an underlying problem, if your baby has any of these please see your doctor.

1. Poor Feeding – often babies want to feed constantly at this time for hunger and comfort. If you baby is not interested in feeding or not feeding well they may be unwell.

2. Diarrhoea – baby poo can vary enormously. The occasional green stool or tiny bit of mucous is often normal. However, if your baby has frequent green or mucousy stools or there is blood present in their nappy they could have an illness or be reacting to something in their diet.

3. Excessive vomiting – all babies have a weak valve at the opening to their stomach. This means that milk is easily regurgitated, this is not reflux. If your baby is vomiting large amounts or appears to be distressed by the vomiting then other causes should be considered.

4. Poor weight gain – in the first 6 months of life we like to see babies gain around 150g or more each week. Babies who are not gaining enough weight may not be getting enough milk or may have a problem with their digestion.

5. Temperatures – a temperature of more than 38 degrees in babies under 3 months of age can be a sign of serious illness.

When these features are not present and your baby is otherwise well we can be reassured that there is nothing wrong.

How can I help my baby?

There are a number of different preparations on the market to help with irritability including Infant’s Friend and Infacol which seem to be the most widely used. These are safe and some parents do find that they help, in others there does not seem to be any benefit. Bio Gaia is a probiotic designed for babies which has been shown to reduce infant colic.

Please take your baby to see your GP to exclude any concerning features as discussed above and to provide you with some reassurance and support.

Coping with an irritable baby is exhausting regardless of whether you are a first time parent or whether this is a subsequent child and you have older siblings to care for at home. Having an unsettled baby and the sleep deprivation and exhaustion that goes with this is a risk factor for post natal depression. It is vital that you look after yourself at this time and seek assistance and support from others whenever possible. This period of irritability will pass but can be a risky time for families. Unfortunately the greatest risk to infants who cry excessively is caregiver frustration which can sometimes lead to unintentional harm to the baby. Make sure you talk to your doctor if you feel that you are not coping.

Good Luck!

Most babies who cry excessively are healthy but are often very difficult to live with. This period will not last forever but it sure can feel like it at the time. Before you know it they will be 7 like my baby and the anxiety and exhaustion will be a distant memory. In the meantime keep in regular contact with your GP and your local child health nurse.


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