Why is My Baby Crying?: The Parent's Survival Guide for Coping with Crying Problems and Colic

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Overview

We want babies to cry. Crying means a baby is robust, is intact, has energy, and can communicate. Parents must try to understand this language of newborns to figure out why their baby is crying and what they can do to help. But one in five babies suffers from colic — excessive crying that can cause extreme physical and emotional distress and is the first crisis in a parent's relationship with a child. Barry M. Lester, Ph.D., the foremost colic researcher in the country, explains in a way that is straightforward ...

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Overview

We want babies to cry. Crying means a baby is robust, is intact, has energy, and can communicate. Parents must try to understand this language of newborns to figure out why their baby is crying and what they can do to help. But one in five babies suffers from colic — excessive crying that can cause extreme physical and emotional distress and is the first crisis in a parent's relationship with a child. Barry M. Lester, Ph.D., the foremost colic researcher in the country, explains in a way that is straightforward and easy to understand that the ways that parents handle this crisis will set the stage for the relationship they have with their child for the rest of their lives.

Barry Lester speaks directly and compassionately to parents who are struggling to bond with and comfort their crying babies. The founder of the Colic Clinic in Providence, Rhode Island, he draws on his experiences with the babies and families he has worked with over the years to give concerned parents hope, comfort, and support. He understands how difficult colic can be for dads as well as moms. In this book, he describes the science of colic, explains the nuances of different kinds of excessive crying, and tells parents what they need to do to take care of themselves and each other during this difficult stage.

Healthy parenting cannot begin until parents understand the science and psychology of crying and its impact on the emotional life of their baby. This book answers the question that is taking over so many parents' lives: Why is my baby crying?

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Western parents are paradoxically inundated with advice yet largely isolated in their attempts to raise their children. This is especially so with colic: convention wisdom says it's normal and that the baby will eventually grow out of it. Lester (director, Infant Development Ctr., Women & Infants Hosp., RI) takes issue with this traditional outlook, arguing that anything that disturbs the family equilibrium over the long term isn't normal and should be addressed. Lester provides insight and tools for parents dealing with colic in a way that seeks to create a guilt-, anxiety-, and abuse-free "safe cry zone" for parents and baby. While parents in a "colic crisis" may not be able to read the entire book, this would make an important resource for parenting support groups and others interested in infant development. Recommended for baby care collections.-Kay Hogan Smith, UAB Lister Hill Lib., Birmingham Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641732331
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry M. Lester, Ph.D., is director of the Infant Development Center at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, which houses the Colic Clinic. He is also professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of pediatrics at Brown Medical School.

Catherine O'Neill Grace is the coauthor with Michael Thompson, Ph.D., and Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., of Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children and Mom, They're Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems.

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First Chapter

Why Is My Baby Crying?
The Parent's Survival Guide for Coping with Crying Problems and Colic

Chapter One

No Language but a Cry:
What Your Baby Is Trying
to Tell You

An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
-- ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

Crying is normal. Colic is not. People who say that colic is normal not only are wrong; they also are doing a huge disservice to families who have colicky babies. Those families know it is anything but normal. Being told it is normal just makes those parents feel like there is something wrong with them. But it is true that to understand colic you first need to understand normal crying. So in this book, we will keep moving back and forth between crying and colic.

Within the first 5 minutes of a baby's birth, the doctor examines the newborn and assigns an Apgar score as a measure of the baby's health. The Apgar is scored on five dimensions: heart rate, respiration, muscle tone, reflex response, and skin color. A baby gets 0, 1, or 2 on each dimension, so the highest score -- the "perfect" baby -- is a 10. A good strong cry rates a 2 on the respiration scale. Getting a 0 means the baby is simply breathing, and this is considered a bad thing.

A good cry indicates that a large part of the baby's physiological system is intact and functioning well. Crying requires a baby to perform a complicated and sophisticated set of physiological activities that involve the brain and the respiratory, motor, and vocal systems. Crying helps physiology by increasing pulmonary (lung) capacity. The baby gets more active when he cries, which increases muscle activity, generates heat, and helps the baby regulate his temperature. (What do babies do when they're cold? They cry. This generates heat and they warm up.)

We want babies to cry. Crying means a baby is robust, is intact, has energy, and can communicate. Physicians even talk about an infant's "respiratory effort" -- a strong, lusty cry. When babies don't cry or when their cry is abnormal, this can mean there is something wrong.

Little babies can't talk with words, so for them the cry is their language. We are used to thinking that communication means language, as in words and sentences, and that you have to have language to communicate. (In fact, the word infancy comes from the Latin infans, which means "speechless.") But speech, or language, has two components. The first is the words themselves and their syntax (the grammar and all that stuff we hated to learn in school but which turns out to be quite useful because, after all, we are able to communicate). The second component of language is its prosodic features: pitch, loudness, melody, and intonation. In a sense, these prosodic features carry our feelings. Cry is all prosody. Babies don't have the words, but they sure have the feelings—and they communicate their feelings, their needs, and their wants through the prosodic features of pitch, loudness, melody, and intonation. Crying is a baby's first way of communicating. It is the language the baby uses before words.

Our job as parents is to understand our babies' cry language. We need to correctly interpret it so that we can figure out what the baby wants and respond accordingly. Our job is much more complicated than the baby's is. First we have to interpret the little tyke's screams. Then we have to figure out an action plan -- what he needs, how to implement it, and how to provide the right kind of parenting. The baby's job is simpler. (After all, he's only a baby.) The baby has to tell us what's on his mind, what he needs, and make sure that he is communicating well by sending out clear and unambiguous signals so we can tell from his cry what's up. The only way he can mess up (and I'm not talking diapers) is to have an unusual or even ab-normal cry. Right from birth, a baby is crying to tell us about his medical or neurological state.

What is an abnormal cry? A very high-pitched cry usually signals abnormality and can mean that the baby has a neurological problem—a problem in the brain. For example, there is a syndrome called cri du chat (the term is French and means "cry of the cat"), a very rare genetic problem in which the cry is high-pitched and almost hollow-sounding. But the sound is so distinctive that the condition is virtually diagnosed from the cry. Fortunately, this is a rare chromosomal disorder. I have only seen and heard three of these babies in my career, but the sound of their cries literally sent chills down my spine.

There are a few other situations when we know that something is wrong with a baby from the cry. Sometimes, and this too is rare, babies are asphyxiated because of lack of oxygen during birth, and the brain is damaged. These infants also have very high-pitched cries.

There are important parallels between abnormal, normal, and colic cries.

Think about why an ambulance siren gets our attention. Humans are particularly responsive to higher-pitched sounds -- the maximum acoustic response of the ear is above 800 Hertz (cycles per second). And sirens are not only high-pitched; they change, they are dynamic. So are baby cries. What gets us going in a baby's cry is its high-pitched, warbling sound. Sounds at certain frequencies make people sit up and take notice. This is part of the biology of the human auditory sys-tem. In fact, there are evolutionary biologists who argue that a baby's cries are programmed to be at certain pitch levels to ensure the baby's survival! When parents hear that loud, highpitched cry, they can't help but look around to see what's wrong.

The cry is an information transmission system that sends affective messages -- hunger, pain, and need for attention. Crying has been called an acoustical umbilical cord that keeps the infant close to the mother ...

Why Is My Baby Crying?
The Parent's Survival Guide for Coping with Crying Problems and Colic
. Copyright © by Barry Lester. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2006

    Something I wish I would have had earlier.....

    I read this book after my daughter was 6. She was a REALLY FUSSY, VERY UNHAPPY baby. I thought it was me, despite having a easygoing happy child first. If I would have read this book earlier perhaps I could have saved our family a lot of anxiety, tears and frustration.

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