Practical Dad

What do you do with a crying baby?

What Do You Do With a Crying Baby? 

Probably the greatest dread of a new Dad is - dah dah duh - the crying baby.  Remember that this is equally daunting to Mom at first, but she’s expected to know what to do about it and has plenty of resources available to her.  So here are some things that you should know about crying babies and what you can do for them.

So…Why is the Baby Crying? 

Understand first that a baby will pretty much cry about everything because that is the only way that they have to communicate with you.  Whatever the reason, they can’t tap you on the leg and say “Yo Dad”, so they’ll cry instead.  Think of it as a jarring, frustrating translation game.  Not all cries are necessarily the same and if you pay attention, you’ll start to recognize what each one means to her.

Until then, what do you do?  Start by developing a checklist of possible complaints to consider. 

1.       Hunger.  She wants fed and if she’s having a growth spurt, her typical schedule will be thrown off.  If she was just fed, then move to the next item on your checklist but if it’s been awhile, then consider this one.  What is an indicator that she’s hungry?  Gently rub the clean tip of your finger against her lower lip and see how she responds; if she opens her mouth and moves to latch onto it as though it’s a nipple, then it’s probably hunger.  If she doesn’t respond to that, then it’s time to move on.

2.      Diaper Change.  She’s telling you that she’s uncomfortable and wants a change.  If she’s dry and not messy, take a moment to check her bottom and groin.  Redness there - or on the penis if a boy - would indicate a developing rash that will cause discomfort.  This frequently happen if you’ve had to use more wipes because of more frequent diaper changes.  If this is the case, you can apply cream and then do follow-up cleanings with a warm, damp washcloth instead of wipes; you can even opt to just let her air out without a diaper.  Put a dry towel on the floor and let her rest there but as always, be careful of what’s within her reach.

3.      Teething.  This typically starts at about four months of age.  Again, use clean fingers to check her mouth for and gums for redness or evidence of erupting teeth.  If this is the situation, you can give her a cold teething ring or cold, wet washcloth to chew on.  You can even let her suck on your clean (do you think there’s a trend here?) finger for awhile if you’re desperate.

4.      Too Cold or Hot.  A decent rule of thumb is that she should have one more layer on her than you are wearing.  After adding more clothing, hold and comfort her until she settles.  This was my particular specialty, if I might add.

5.      Wants Held.  Some kids just want close body contact and just holding her close to your chest where she can hear your heartbeat - a la in utero - might do the trick.  You can’t spoil a child from holding her too much, but remember that babies with minimal head and neck control need to have them supported and stabilized.

6.      General Discomfort.  If everything else appears alright, take a quick look to see if anything else strikes you as odd.  Is the diaper fitted properly or is the sleeper too small and pinching toes?  Both have happened in my experience.

And What About This Dreaded Colic? 

A baby who cries a lot doesn’t necessarily have colic.  A “colicky” baby is one which cries for several hours each day, several days a week and the crying will generally happen at the same time - typically late afternoon or early evening.  It can start as early as four weeks of age and last until the child is about 16 weeks, which makes for the longest three months of your natural life.  There are multiple reasons for colic, including chronic gas and abdominal distension, and any one of these can wreak havoc.

You can adopt several methods to help your child with colic.

1.       Repetitive movement in a carrier close to your body.

2.      Some form of white noise like a vacuum cleaner or radio static.

3.      Gentle infant massage with baby oil.

4.      Gently - and carefully - holding her face down while you cradle her as though she were a football in a handoff. 

If these don’t help, consult your pediatrician or check any number of colic sources online.  Just remember that while it’s an interminable three months, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Dads and Nighttime Crying Babies 

A British magazine surveyed new parents and found that fully 52% of the dads were sleeping through the baby’s nighttime crying.  And yep, there is nothing better for a new Dad than a sleep-deprived, hormonally challenged new Mom.  Although it may be due to a natural inclination on the mother’s part to awaken to the crying, dads should split the effort here mutually.  If mom does hear the crying on your duty night, have her wake you so she can get some rest too.  Mom didn’t just decide to have a kid without telling you first.

You can ascribe night cries to hunger for the first very months, but after the baby is sleeping for five or more hours, any crying out that norm has to be considered for other causes.  Go back to your checklist and work from there before just plugging her up to the pump for a refill.  You want to avoid teaching her to sleep when she has a nipple in her mouth; after she stops nursing, you’ll get into the habit of giving her a bottle for sleep and in many cases, that bottle will have sugar-laden juice.  The cascade effect is that this is considered one of the reasons for the rise in childhood tooth decay.  You might sleep better now, but you will pay for it emotionally and financially down the road. 

A Dad’s Response to a Crying Baby 

I know that it can make you nuts since there were nights that I didn’t think that I would ever sleep again.  But remember first and foremost - crying doesn’t automatically mean you are doing anything wrong and continued crying doesn’t make you a bad father.  Now repeat that five times.  And then repeat it five more times.

While it’s important to work with the baby during this period, she’ll survive in her crib for 10 minutes while you leave the room for a sanity check.  Give yourself a schedule with which to work and stick to it provided that you a secure place in which to put her.  If you feel close to losing your cool outside of that schedule, put her in her spot and leave the room - just don’t lose your cool.  When you have it together, go back in.  If necessary, get someone else to come and relieve you or at least talk to you; on several occasions, I called my own father and had a long-distance sanity check.

Although she’s just a baby, she’s learning at a phenomenal rate.  Just as your learning her cues and the best responses, she’s learning yours as well.  Stick with it and you can become adept at handling the situation on your own, too.

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