It seems like mothers are hard wired to respond to an infants’ cries with concern and empathy. We all have the image of a mother cradling her baby, singing or offering soothing words and a soft touch. When the crying is prolonged or can’t be stopped, the empathy may quickly change to feelings of helplessness, stress and anger. A baby with colic or reflux may be difficult or impossible to console and cry for a lot longer than expected.
In the past, doctors and grandmothers used to blame the mother for causing infant crying and colic. It was thought that a nervous new mother passed on her stress and anxiety to her baby and caused her to cry during the early months of life. Mothers were told to ignore their crying babies and teach them to behave properly. Some mothers were offered medication to sedate the baby or tranquilizers to sooth their frayed nerves. My mother complained that my colicky brother used to instantly relax and stop crying when placed on his grandmother’s shoulder. It added to her feeling of helplessness and self blame that she wasn’t doing a good enough job in the baby care department. Perhaps my brother sensed my mother’s tense muscles and racing heart as she tried desperately to sooth him. Maybe my grandmother approached him with confidence from raising ten children. It also makes sense that she was fresh and rested, making her shoulder extra warm and inviting to a very unhappy little boy.
Fortunately, there is a greater understanding of colic and Gastroesophageal reflux so babies don’t have to cry it out. And mothers don’t have to suffer silently during a very difficult but common stage of infancy due to better home care techniques and treatments.
It doesn’t take long for a crying baby to add stress to a household and disrupt routines. A mother may feel tense and worried, passing on her feelings to the baby and other members of the household. It reminds me of the saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Mothers and caretakers often set the tone for the household so it makes sense that a high need baby may have an impact on the baby, spouse and other family members. Research indicates that mothers who care for an infant with colic and excessive crying are more likely to have symptoms of depression. Mothers and caregivers need to find ways to de stress and care for themselves. However, it may be difficult for mother’s to hear the information they need. One doctor told me that it takes a great deal of sensitivity and care to talk with a mother about taking care of herself and getting the help that she needs to cope with a high need baby. Often, the first reaction is anger at the doctor for blaming her for “causing” the problem. He spends a great deal of time talking about the importance of bringing in extra caretakers and finding ways to take a break from the non stop care giving. If needed, he will suggest screening for Post Partum Depression and counseling.
Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out that you ARE a good mother and it is the crying that is driving you crazy, not your baby. One mother told me…" Friends and strangers would stop me and ask, “Is she a good baby?” With my first, I was afraid to say no. I didn’t want them to know I was a horrible mother who didn’t like her baby since she vomited and screamed all the time. When my second and third child came along, I knew much better. I could tell everyone with a laugh, “No, I have miserable babies but they grow up to be great kids”
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