No, it is impossible to spoil a baby by going to them when they cry. To spoil means to ruin or to damage, and despite common wisdom about how children develop, more damage is done to a child’s sense of security and trust in their caretakers by not responding to them than by responding too often. Particularly in the first six months, the most crucial psychological task babies accomplish is building a sense of safety with their caretakers. It isn’t necessary to respond instantly to the baby’s cries, but parents should respond every time. Consistency is the key to building security.
Usually, hunger is the main reason a baby will cry. If your baby has just eaten, burp your baby, as babies do not have a natural ability to get rid of air built up in their stomach which often leads to gas pains.
There are several ways you can soothe your crying baby. Try giving your baby a lukewarm bath or perform other relaxing techniques such as massage, eye-contact or lullabies. To ream more tips, check out our Tips to Soothe Your Crying Baby article.
Soothing can work preventively if the above soothing activities are applied when the infant is not crying rather than just in response to crying.
The Period of PURPLE Crying® describes the normal part of every infant’s development when they cry more than any other time. This period of increased crying is often described as colic, which is confusing and concerning for parents because it sounds like an illness or that something is wrong with baby, when in fact the baby is going through a very normal developmental phase. During this phase of a baby’s life, they can cry for hours and still be healthy and normal. Parents often think there must be something wrong. However, even after a check-up from the doctor showing baby is healthy, they still go home and cry for hours, night after night.
The acronym “PURPLE” is used to describe the characteristics of an infant’s crying during this phase. The word “period” is important because it tells parents that it is only temporary and will come to an end. All babies go through this phase. Some cry more than others, but they all do go through it.
Crying begins at about 2 weeks of age and continues until baby is about 3-5 months old. The amount of crying tends to increase over the first 2-3 months of life. Then it reaches its highest point, and begins to decrease. Although all babies cry, there are many differences between one infant and another. For example, some infants might have their “peak” at 3 weeks of age, while others have it at 8 weeks. For some infants, the amount of crying that they do at the peak might be 1 hour a day; for others, the amount of crying might be 5 hours.
The crying can start and stop for no apparent reason and it is unrelated to anything the parent does. Your baby can be completely happy one minute, and then a minute later cry out loud for minutes or even hours before it comes to an end. We are all uncomfortable with behaviors that happen when there is no apparent reason for them happening. We like to have explanations. We especially like to think we can influence when crying starts or especially stops. For many crying times, you can do that; but for some of them in the first few months of life, you can’t.
Sometimes, your baby will be unsoothable, and nothing you do works. Some things may work a few minutes, but as soon as you are finished, the crying begins again. This is one of the most misunderstood parts of crying. Parents receive advice that if they do a certain soothing method, and find one that works, they will be able to calm their infant every time. The trouble is that they won’t work all of the time. It is important to realize that sometimes you will not be able to soothe your baby.
Crying infants look like they are in pain even when they are not. Whether the infant is in pain because you prick its heel, or if the infant is hungry, the crying will look and sound similar. Of course, if you see the infant being pricked, it is easy to understand that the infant is in pain. But if you don’t see the reason (which is what happens most of the time) and the infant is just crying, it is very difficult to know the cause. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the cry sound, in the facial expression or in the baby’s activity that lets you know whether or not your infant is in pain.
Crying can go on and on for long periods of time. In fact, infants cry more and for longer periods in the first three or four months than they will ever do again. In one study, the average length of crying times was 35 minutes. As with the other features of crying, this can vary a lot between one infant and the other.
For most infants on most days, most of the increased crying will occur in the late afternoon or evening. This can be frustrating and misinterpreted by parents. They may think that it has something to do with coming home from work. Mothers may feel that the infant is getting tired or bored with them; fathers may feel that their infant is doing it “on purpose.” But they are not. This occurs whether or not parents work, and whether or not parents are doing everything they can think of that is right for their baby.
These are the features of crying that can make parents very frustrated. However, it is worth pointing out that not all parents will experience all of these features. If they have a relatively “quiet” baby, then they might not notice that the amount of crying follows a peak pattern. They may notice some unsoothable crying, some evening clustering, and some crying that reminds them of pain, but they may not notice the peak or the prolonged crying as much. That’s fine. Any one of these features, or any combination of them, can be frustrating if parents do not expect them. The main thing is to understand that they happen, that they differ from infant to infant and that, most of all, having these crying features are a completely normal part of infant behavior in the first few months of life.
It is always appropriate for your health care provider to assess your baby to see if there is an illness contributing to the crying. Infants can cry for long periods of time when they are sick. Usually, whatever crying they might do because of the sickness is “on top” of the normal increased and decreased crying. But that is very difficult for parents to know. This is why it is important to take your baby to your health care provider to be examined for signs of illness if you are concerned.