Crying is the infant’s way of signaling an overload or an unmet need that requires the caregiver’s prompt attention.
Crying is the only way newborn infants can tell parents about their needs. The infant is signaling distress; however, the source of that distress may be difficult to interpret – hunger, too cold, too hot, tired, need to burp, discomfort, or too much stimulation. In the newborn period crying may indicate feeding problems such as problems latching onto the nipple. Crying tends to increase between the first and the 6th to 8th weeks of life. Total crying is generally about 2 hours per day in this time period, dropping to about 70 minutes per day by 10 to 12 weeks (Douglas & Hill, 2011). Infants in this period are becoming more aware of sights, sounds, and movements around them. Although brains are developing rapidly, they can’t process and store all this new information. Some experts believe that crying helps to release energy and reduce overloading of the immature brain. Most infant crying typically occurs in the afternoon and evening hours, which parallels a rise in general activity in this part of the day.
To deal with crying behavior in your baby, some soothing measures may include: holding the baby and simply swaying back and forth, rocking gently, reducing environmental stimulation, placing infant in a swing, gentle touch and massage, singing, talking softly, and swaddling. In responding to crying it is important to try an approach and stick with it for a while. Babies eventually learn to use the soothing intervention to calm themselves. Changing rapidly from one technique to another may actually add to overstimulation.
As distressing as crying can be, parents need to focus on keeping themselves calm while trying to soother their babies. While some babies can get from an upset state to a more neutral state on their own, the majority will need help from an adult. The best way to deal with crying is to attend to the crying, and the second best method is to anticipate or prevent it.
Excerpt from Beginning Rhythms: The Emerging Process of Sleep Wake Behavior and Self-Regulation, Kathryn Barnard, RN, PhD and Karen A. Thomas, RN, PhD