The crying baby

Having a baby is a wonderful and frightening thing. You are sent home with a tiny person who seems to need so much care and attention. You’re completely in love, but it can seem overwhelming. And while we all know babies cry, some babies cry A LOT. About 30% of babies will have “excessive crying”, the type that can last for hours, and cannot be soothed. This is incredibly frustrating, heartbreaking, and bewildering for parents. Aren’t we all told that babies “only cry for a reason” and all they need is milk and cuddles? Then there is the sense that you must be doing something wrong, because other babies don’t cry the way yours does.

My daughter (I’ll call her Star) was one of those excessively crying infants. The crying (or screaming, rather) started at four weeks and ended at nine weeks, quite suddenly. It often lasted hours, and one day she cried for EIGHT HOURS. I am not kidding! In between she was flourishing and was adorable, of course.

She wasn’t a chucker, so “reflux” wasn’t diagnosed. However, this seems to be a very common diagnosis these days in unsettled babies. While some babies undoubtedly do suffer inflammation and pain from reflux, in the most case a “spitter-upper” is not crying because of reflux. Studies have demonstrated that episodes of crying are not related to episodes of reflux. There is little evidence to support the use of popular anti-acid medications like Losec, with studies showing that babies do not become less unsettled or cry less on these medicines. Yet reflux continues to be a convenient label for an unhappy baby.

I came across a wonderful new website called “The Purple Crying period“, which I highly recommend to all parents with crying babies. Written by paediatricians and child psychologist researchers, it provides a reassuring, balanced and evidence-based approach to the crying baby. The website presents the excessive crying period as a normal part of infancy, and discusses some of the common techniques to calm babies such as swaddling, white noise, movement, baby-wearing etc. The experts make the point, which has been confirmed in clinical studies, that there is no one magic technique that works all the time. Time helps, with the excessive crying abating by 3-4 months. In the vast majority of cases, babies are perfectly healthy and are free of disease. However, all babies should be examined by a doctor if they are crying excessively, especially if they are unwell, not gaining weight, or have symptoms like fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Parents of babies who cry excessively are more prone to depression, stress and anxiety. It’s vital to understand that it’s “normal” or usual for babies to cry like this, and that it does not reflect parenting abilities. All too often parents are accused of being “too stressed” about their babies, indicating that relaxed parents don’t have crying babies. If your baby cried for hours on end at any time of day, of course you would be stressed! Stress is usually the result of, and not the cause of, the excessive crying – but in the same token, mums and dads need to pay attention to self care and seek help if they are struggling.

When parenting gets tough, take time to have a cup of tea with friends.
When parenting gets tough, take time to have a cup of tea with friends.

It does come to an end, of course, but I remember those days and nights as though they were yesterday. I believe it served a purpose – to make me stronger; to acquaint me with the myriad of techniques that can help soothe babies (white noise, jiggling the baby, positioning, I know it all!) and most importantly, create compassion and empathy for other parents. Hang in there to all of you doing it tough. It WILL end. 🙂

Music and your child’s brain

I have a confession to make. I listen to ABC Classic FM. It’s my little secret. Every Tuesday morning, at 8:45am, I get into the car after dropping the kids off at daycare and have my half hour of bliss listening to Beethoven, Stravinsky, Debussy et al. On the way home from work I have another blissful thirty minutes. What small pleasures us mummies treasure!

One morning Margaret Throsby was interviewing someone who talked about how learning a musical instrument had enormous benefits for children, including using both left and right brains, developing fine motor coordination, and learning to concentrate and work towards a goal. I tend to agree. I learnt the piano from the tender age of five, and continued right up til I was seventeen and finished high school. It’s taught me the benefit of practice, and brought me immense pleasure during my final year in high school, which was particularly stressful. Listening and playing music didn’t seem like “study” for me, even though it was one of my Year 12 subjects.

Recently, a new study confirms these benefits. Researchers from China found that early music training (before the age of seven) actually changed certain areas of the brain that control hearing and self-awareness. The lead researcher commented, “Early musical training does more good for kids than just making it easier for them to enjoy music; it changes their brain and these brain changes could lead to cognitive advances as well. Our study provides evidence that early music training could change the structure of the brain’s cortex”.
The link between early musical training and higher intelligence has been proven, but the associations are complex and not completely understood. While it appears to be independent of socio-economic status, one of the reasons that music students perform better in IQ tests may be that they may be “unusually motivated to learn, able to concentrate, confident of their own ability, cooperative, interested, and so on”, says another researcher in a great review article. Hence, a particular type of student might gravitate towards musical training and keep going with this instead of losing interest.

I have been thinking of starting Star on a musical instrument, perhaps when she is four or five. At this stage I am not sure if she is “unusually motivated to learn… and so on” but it can only benefit her, I think.

Apparently the first few years of a child learning this instrument are rather torturous to the ears.
Photo credit: By Pianoplonkers (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons