My two kids are now 7 and 4 so nowadays,the kind of prolonged crying is usually due to tantrums which are easy to handle, because I know that they are just being naughty. But when they were newborn it was very different. I was a young medical officer in the hospital undergoing training then, and did not know as much as I know now. So when my 1 month old son, James started crying incessantly, I panicked like any first time parent would.
What Crying Means
Before my son was born, I remember being worried about being a parent. It is not as if you go for courses to prepare for such a thing. I am the kind of person who would read through the instruction manual for my handphone before using it, so I was hoping my son would come with an instruction manual! But no, parenting is "on the job" training. By the time you get proficient at taking care of your newborn, they become toddlers and you start "on the job" training again. The skills you learn are only useful for your second child, which is why by the second child, when the pacifier drops on the ground, you simply rinse it instead of sterilizing it before sticking it back into the baby's mouth.
Anyway, I learnt that looking after a newborn is pretty straightforward. They only do five things. Eat, sleep, cry, pass motion/urine and breathe. So as a parent, you only need to learn how to feed, get them to sleep, pacify their crying, change their diapers and bathe them. Now, crying is the only way the baby communicates with the parent. And at that age, the baby only communicates a few things with you. So when the baby cries, he might be saying:
1. I'm hungry, feed me Mummy
2. Time to change my diaper
3. I am in pain eg teething and colic
4. I am lonely, play with me
5. I am sick
So if you always go through the checklist, you will find some reason for the crying and rectify the problem accordingly.
What is the normal crying pattern?
Up to about 6 weeks of age, the average baby would sleep and when awake will start crying or fussing. They might cry for about 3 hours a day. By about 6 weeks they begin to have periods where they will be awake without crying. By 6 months they will be able to smile and play with you.
Infant Colic (Crying on and on and on.......)
In the first 3 months of life, the baby may have prolonged periods (more than 3 hours) of incessant crying where a cause is not found. He may look like he has abdominal pain and draws his arms and legs towards the body and cries till he is red in the face. It is a distressing condition for most parents especially first time parents or even for 2nd time parents experiencing it for the first time.
It is important to make sure your child is not sick before assuming that he has infant colic. So measure their temperature and look out for signs that the child is sick, then go through the checklist of why the child is crying. If in doubt, always bring the child to the doctor for a proper assessment.
What to do after I have gone through the checklist?
Remember the "Rule of 5 Ss" by Paediatrician Harvey Karp who rediscovered the ancient techniques of soothing the baby:
1. Swaddling: Make sure you learn how to wrap baby up firmly
2. Side or Stomach: Lie your baby on the side or stomach
3. Shushing" as loud as they cry
4. Swing (Sway) them from Side to Side
5. Sucking: Use the Nee Tu (Pacifier) or Bottle
For more information on Infant Colic, please click here
Remember that most cases of infant colic only lasts for up to 3 months after which things get better. Once you ensure that the baby is not sick and that everything else on the checklist is covered, DON'T STRESS! Prolonged crying is not going to cause long term harm to the baby, despite what the older folks will say about the testes dissappearing if the baby is allowed to cry for too long. Our Chinese Culture does not look favourable upon a parent who does not try to stop the baby from crying, so aside from looking after the baby, we also have to please our family members and this adds to the stress levels. Just understand that it is not your fault that the baby has colic and there is not much else that can be done except to be patient and go through it!
Reference: John Murtagh: Patient Education 4th ed, McGraw Hill, 2005