Crying in infancy
Infants have a cry reflex that is a normal response to stimuli, such as pain or hunger. Premature infants may not have a cry reflex. Therefore, they must be monitored closely for signs of hunger and pain.
A cry is the infant's first verbal communication. It is a message of urgency or distress. The sound is nature's way of ensuring that adults attend to the baby as quickly as possible. It is very hard for most people to listen to a crying baby.
Almost everyone recognizes that infants cry for many reasons and that crying is a normal response. However, parents may feel a high amount of stress and anxiety when a baby cries frequently. The sound is perceived as an alarm. Parents are often frustrated at not being able to determine the cause of the crying and soothe the baby. First time parents often question their parenting abilities if a baby cannot be comforted.
WHY INFANTS CRY
At times, infants cry for no apparent reason. However, most crying is in response to something. It may be hard to figure out what is bothering the infant at the time. Some possible reasons include:
Crying is probably part of the normal development of the central nervous system. Many parents say they can hear a difference in tone between a cry for feeding and a cry caused by pain.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A BABY IS CRYING
When you are not sure why your baby is crying, first try to eliminate the sources that you can take care of:
Here are a few ways to soothe a crying baby:
If the crying continues for longer than usual and you cannot calm the baby, call a health care provider for advice.
Try to get enough rest. Tired parents are less able to care for their baby.
Use the resources of family, friends, or outside caregivers to allow yourself time to recover your energy. This will also be helpful for your baby. It does not mean that you are a bad parent or are abandoning your child. As long as caregivers are taking safety precautions and comforting the baby when necessary, you may be sure that your child is well cared for during your break.
Call your provider immediately if your baby's crying occurs with symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, breathing difficulty, or other signs of illness.
Ditmar MF. Behavior and development. In: Polin RA, Ditmar MF, eds. Pediatric Secrets. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 2.
Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Crying and colic. In: Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM, eds. Nelson's Essentials of Pediatrics. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 11.
Taylor JA, Wright JA, Woodrum D. Newborn nursery care. In: Gleason CA, Juul SE, eds. Avery's Diseases of the Newborn. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 26.
Review Date: 10/18/2017
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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