Cries at Bedtime, Naptime

Question: My 3 1/2 months old is very grumpy/cranky every time wants to sleep. She cries it out “loud” every time even when I am holding her. Why and what can I do? J.

Answer: Crying is one way for a baby to “let off steam” before falling asleep. Sadly, it makes mothers feel so helpless. Your baby is still very young; she is still adjusting to the stimulations of the world and her place within it. Try to remember that her crying is not a reflection of your mothering and continue with confidence to support her.

You will need to experiment with what works for you and what works for your daughter. If she cries the same length of time whether she is being held or not, then do whichever feels more comfortable for you. Be sure that if you are holding her, you are not adding to her stressfulness by your body language. (Sometimes, when we hold a crying baby in both our arms facing the baby to our chest, we “clench” a little too tightly.)

Vimela Schneider, a renowned infant massage therapist, recommends lying the baby chest down across mom’s legs while mom is sitting. In this position, mom can provide comforting contact to the baby but gain some distance from the stressfulness of the crying. By the way, I absolutely recommend including infant massage in your daily schedule, especially one hour before any fussy periods. This will not only help with the crying episodes but is invaluable for overall development. There are many excellent books available and classes through area hospitals.

If your daughter cries a little less when she is laid in her crib, it’s better not to hold her. Some infants, just like some adults, prefer doing it alone. Infants will often show a preference for different ways of relaxing; some prefer to calm themselves visually with a mobile or an overhead fan, others prefer soothing music, and others prefer motion like rocking. It appears your daughter is not in the last category so fortunately you will not be one of those parents driving the baby around the block in the car. Experiment with different sensory experiences to find the one that is most calming to your daughter.

This is a wonderful time to learn a great deal about your daughter’s individuality and about what works for both of you. This is a very personal exploration that is the essence of “bonding.” To paraphrase Brazelton in “On Becoming A Family,” bonding may very well happen at first sight but it is also the on-going process of knowing yourself and your baby. Learning through and with the tears is your first badge of motherhood. Congratulations and many successes to come!

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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