Dear Dr. Gwenn:
I have a 2 week old baby boy. Until last night, he was nursing and sleeping really well. But last night we had a screaming child and nothing seemed to work. We could soothe him but when we put him down he woke up and screamed again. Is the honeymoon just over or are there things we can do next time this happens? I’ve read about colic – could it be that?
AC, Medfield, MA, mother of a 2 week old infant son
Those are difficult nights to get through! You are most certainly in good company as there is not a parent among us who hasn’t grappled with a crying infant. Your OB likely gave you the tip "nap when the baby naps”. On the days your baby sleeps well, a nap may not be what you have in mind when there are so many other things to do around the house. But, when the midnight oil starts to burn, having those zzz’s stored up can really make a difference.
T. Berry Brazelton has a theory that babies leap back a few steps before they jump forward developmentally; changes in sleep are one manifestation of this concept. Additionally, many babies, especially newborns, have some uneventful days then let it all out at night. It’s not too different than when you have trouble sleeping after a busy or hectic day. Crying is really the only way for your son to let off some built up steam.
But two-week old babies are also unique. They have just adjusted to one of the biggest changes in life, being born. By two weeks of age, babies are in the midst of a growth spurt and are often ravenous. So, it’s not unusual for many babies to cry more simply due to hunger. You may notice his schedule changing with more cluster feedings. This is normal as well.
Fussy moments often occur for no reason but there are some simple things to consider that may help easy the moment when it next occurs. First, take a look at your diet. Did you happen to eat any broccoli or cauliflower or a lot of dairy?? Any new or spicy foods? These foods are notorious for making breast fed babies gassy and often fussy.
Sometimes babies cry because they are over bundled. Dress your baby like you would dress yourself – if you are not wearing 4 layers, your baby should not be either. Rocking and swaddling help each many fussy moments. With some trial and error, you’ll quickly figure out how your baby likes to be held and develop strategies of your own to keep him calm when he’s fitfull.
If the pattern continues, your baby may have colic, which occurs in both breast and formula-fed babies. All babies have colicky moments from time to time and some more than others. Colic is repeated fussy moments similar to what you described. It tends to be more common in first born males and is often outgrown by a few months of life. It’s hard to tell which comes first the crying or the gassiness but once the cycle start both propel each other because the baby swallows air which is uncomfortable.
Finally, excessive crying can sometimes mean your baby is sick. Here’s a list of symptoms that could mean your baby is sick and not just having an off moment. If any of these symptoms occur, call your pediatrician for further advice: a rectal temperature of 100.5 or higher, lethargy, crying that won’t stop with attempts at soothing such as picking him up, vomiting, or just not being “right”.
Sometimes all we can do is fall back on time tested truths about babies. The first day of my internship, the residency director looked as us and proclaimed “Ladies and Gentleman, all babies spit, sleep and cry. Those are things you can always count on.” Parents have an amazing 6th sense for when their infants are sick – trust that instinct and call your pediatrician if you are worried.