Babies, especially infants, don’t have a lot of ways to communicate what they want and how they’re feeling. Until they have enough words — which typically takes a few years — they express their thoughts and feelings through their behaviors.
Every parent knows the fussy baby checklist: hungry, tired, dirty diaper, something hurts. But every parent knows, too, that sometimes nothing works. Sometimes a baby is just really, really upset, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it. At those times, it can be tempting to do everything possible to stop the crying and make the distress go away.
No parent or caregiver ever thinks they could intentionally harm a child. But it happens. An adult loses patience, just for an instant, and shakes a crying baby. That momentary lapse in judgment can bring a lifetime of sorrow. Shaking a baby can cause serious — and sometimes fatal — head injuries or permanent disabilities called shaken baby syndrome (SBS). You can prevent SBS by educating everyone who cares for your child about the dangers of shaking a baby, and how to appropriately respond to crying.
Most of the time, a parent’s best bet is to keep calmly soothing the baby and wait it out — the baby will probably calm down on their own pretty soon. A baby unhinged can be frustrating, though. If you’re getting upset, it’s always okay to set the baby down in a safe place like a bassinet or crib, leave the room for a few minutes, take a break and calm yourself down.
When things have settled a little, it can be helpful to consider whether there may be a pattern of melting down. Does it happen at a certain point in the day or after a certain activity? Was the baby overtired or overwhelmed by something that was happening? If there’s a pattern, there’s an opportunity to change things up and try to prevent it from happening again.
While there is no magic trick to stop baby’s tears, there is help:
- To speak to a caring pediatric nurse any time, day or night, call Children’s Hospital Colorado’s ParentSmart Healthline at 720-777-0123.
- Call the Fussy Baby Network® Colorado “Warmline” at 877-6-CRYCARE (877-627-9227).
- Visit calmacryingbaby.org for information and resources.
— Dr. Ayelet Talmi, pediatric psychologist