August 2001
Ask the Nurse: Soothing a Crying Baby

Judi Edmonds, RN My 2-month-old daughter cries and cries every night. She pulls her knees up to her tummy and clenches her fists and really seems to be in pain. I feel so helpless—what can I do to make her feel better?

Judi Edmonds, RN, of The Nursery in The Birthplace at Bridgeport Hospital, responds:

All babies cry, of course—it's their only way of communicating. But it can be upsetting when you, as a parent, can't immediately make it all better. The first thing to do is check for obvious causes. Does your baby have gas? Is she overtired after a stimulating day? Try burping her, carrying her around, rocking, singing—all the things your own instincts are probably telling you to do. (If she has a fever, though, do call your pediatrician.)

If she continues to cry inconsolably, longer than three hours a day on more than three days a week, it might be what we call "colic." Colic isn't an illness—it's just a catch-all term we use when babies cry more than usual, and we can't pinpoint a cause. But that doesn't mean you should ignore it! The first thing you need to do is check with your baby's pediatrician to make sure she's healthy. If no explanation can be found for her crying, you're probably in for a few tough months.

If you're bottle feeding, try a different formula. If you're nursing, there might be something in your milk that's giving your baby gas pains. Try eliminating spicy food, wheat products, nuts, strawberries, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), garlic, caffeine, and alcohol from your own diet for a few days. If this helps, you can re-introduce the foods one at a time until you find the culprit, and then stay away from that food until you stop nursing.

Here are a few practical ways to help your daughter feel better:

  • Try massaging her. Massage feels as good to her as it does to you! (Bridgeport Hospital offers infant massage classes to show you the technique. Call 384-3510 to sign up!)
  • Sucking on a pacifier can help to soothe her.
  • Gentle motion may help. Pick her up and carry her, rock her. One magical trick: a ride in the car.
  • Run a hot shower and bring your baby into the bathroom; rock her or walk back and forth while the shower runs. The steam and the rhythmic sound of the water might help to calm her.
  • Consult your child's physician if symptoms continue.

And remember, colic doesn't last forever (though it can seem that way when you're pacing the floor with a red-faced baby!) Most babies are through the worst of it by three months, and almost all are better by four months of age.

For answers to questions about crying, colic, and almost any other mystery of parenthood, join other parents and new babies at Bridgeport Hospital's New Moms and Dads Club, Tuesdays at 11 a.m. at the Medical Arts Center, 15 Corporate Drive, Trumbull. For more information, or to register, call 384-3510. Out-of-area: 888-357-2396.