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Parenting a crier – by Carolyn Tate

Crying Baby

Is your baby a crier? I’ve always looked on with envy as other parents enjoyed a coffee, went out for dinner, or even conducted meetings while their wee one sleeps blissfully beside them. That has never been my reality. I was always the one rocking and soothing and patting and holding all day long.

I’ve had three beautiful, healthy babies, all of whom required attention around the clock. I couldn’t peel a banana without having it accompanied by cries for attention, and I have gone to the toilet with someone on my lap more times than I can count.

There are many reasons that babies cry, but Dr Luisa Dillner says there are certainly babies that cry more than others. Some call it colic – which is loosely defined as an unexplained condition that causes babies to be unsettled and cry for long periods. Why? Nobody really knows. Just like there are adults that complain more than others, or some who are more effective at verbal communication than others, some babies let you know how they’re feeling by crying. A lot.

Jessica has encountered this challenge with her son, Jake, born at the start of the year. “He cries all the time. If he’s hungry, if he’s tired, if he’s cold, if he’s uncomfortable in any way. It just seems to be his way of communicating,” she says. “He doesn’t start with a low grumble and gradually escalate to a wail – everything is of disastrous proportions straight away.

Jessica says the one thing that has saved her sanity is that Jake is her fourth baby. “If he’d been my first, I would have assumed it was me, that I was doing it all wrong. But my others have all been happy contented little things. I guess that’s just the way he communicates.”

Priscilla didn’t have that sort of perspective when her first baby, daughter Mia, came along with all guns blazing nearly two years ago. “From day one, Mia was unhappy. I thought I must be the worst parent in the world!” she laughs. “And everyone was telling me different things: let her cry it out, I’m picking her up too much, I’m not picking her up enough … Everyone else in my mothers group was sympathetic, but I always felt like they were judging me. Like I was doing something wrong and I was making my baby miserable.”

Priscilla admits that in hindsight, she was probably putting that negative chatter in her own head. But her experience has caused her to be cautious about going back for a second baby. “I don’t know if I could do it again. It was the toughest time in my life, no doubt.”

Of course, it’s important to rule out any causes of the crying – especially if it’s not their usual behaviour. Eloise learnt this with her third baby, Noah, now 18 months. She says he was a crier from the start, but she noticed it was worse after feeds and when he was put in his cot. “I knew something was off,” she says, “It wasn’t just that he was a misery guts – he was in pain.”

Noah’s paediatrician initially dismissed Eloise’s concerns, but she pushed and was eventually given reflux medication to try. “The improvement was immediate. The poor little guy was in pain and it was such a relief to be able to do something about it,” she says. Although Noah’s reflux has now long passed, Eloise also notes he is a natural crier anyway. “Oh, he still complains about everything!” she laughs. “But I can tell the difference between his pain and his constant complaining.”

So what’s the right way to treat a chronic crier? Dr Dillner says babies under six months should never be left to cry because they may be ill or legitimately require a feed – and at that age they are too young to learn to behave any other way.

Beyond that, Dr Dillner says it’s a matter of personal choice, as there are studies that will prove or disprove just about any method or technique. But one thing all of these studies have in common? They all find that this time of crying will pass, and that the temperament of the crying baby generally has no bearing on the temperament of the toddler, child and adult they will become.

I worked through the gamut of techniques with my own children: I was methodical with the first, and used controlled crying as a technique to teach her to sleep. With my second I was a bit softer, but my third has been the most vocal and challenging – and also the one who has enjoyed perhaps my most indulgent parenting. At the age of almost two, she comes with me everywhere and even sits on the kitchen bench while I prepare dinner. Have I encouraged this behaviour? Perhaps, but it’s an arrangement I’m willing to live with – although I ensure I get regular breaks away from her for my own mental health.

I’m a big believer in doing whatever works for your circumstances, trusting in your own parenting, and remembering that old saying: “This, too, shall pass.”