For crying out loud . . .

It’s 2 a.m. and cries from the room next door begin again for the third time tonight. You have tried everything but nothing seems to work. You are at the end of your rope and pleading for just a few moments of sleep before you have to settle into another long, stressful day. Will the crying ever stop?

Crying is a normal part of an infant’s everyday life. In fact, most babies cry two to three hours every day as a way to communicate with their caregivers. Many infants cry because they are hungry, sick, hot, cold, tired, in pain or in need of a diaper change. Up to 30 percent of otherwise healthy infants have colic, a condition defined as excessive crying that can be very loud and last for many hours each day.

It’s common for parents and caregivers to become frustrated, angry or feel inadequate when caring for a crying infant. Frustration often grows during times of stress or if a parent or caregiver tries to comfort a crying child without success. While frustration is a normal emotion, it is important to manage it in a healthy, safe way.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your cool when the crying just won’t stop:

  • Put the child in a safe, secure place, such as a crib, and leave the room. Give yourself space to cool down. Pick up the phone and call a friend, neighbor, relative or parent helpline. In many cases, these people will be willing to come to your home and offer help. If that is not the case, just talking to another adult can help calm your nerves.
  • Walk with or carry the child to a trusted neighbor’s home and ask for help.
  • Never shake or harm the baby in any way. Each year, more than 1,000 infants in the United States experience severe or fatal head trauma at the hands of an abusive caregiver. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has seen seven cases of shaken baby syndrome since Jan. 1, 2009. The kids who survive this abuse often suffer from brain damage, loss of sight or hearing, paralysis, seizures and learning disabilities.
  • Learn breathing techniques to help calm yourself. Breathing deeply and slowly can help you calm down. Practice deep, slow breathing when you are not in a stressful situation so that when your baby’s cries frustrate you, you know how to calm yourself.

For your child’s safety, it is important to keep an eye on his or her caregivers. If you know someone who has a hard time managing anger or who handles children roughly, do not put your child in his or her care. If your caregiver reports a lot of frustration with your child or has a hard time dealing with your child’s crying, listen and make other plans for your child’s care.

For more information about keeping your cool around a crying baby, visit www.capfund.org.

Lynn Sheets, MD, is medical director of the Child Protection Center.

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