Parenting a baby who’s always grumpy is a huge challenge for a new mother. It is natural for babies to cry once in a while, because that is how they communicate; but what would lead to a baby’s constant crying, even in the wee hours of the night?
Allen Birungi, a first-time mother, narrates how her joy on being a parent was soon turned to despair over her baby’s constant crying.
“When my baby turned three weeks old she started crying nonstop. It was extremely difficult to bear, because she would cry on and off for almost six hours. My husband and I tried everything we could to make her sleep, but nothing worked,” Birungi says.
After a few days of the same, she took her baby to the doctor, to find out what was making her baby cry so much. Tests revealed that her baby had colic, a mysterious condition that tends to affect babies around two weeks after birth, and usually stops on its own three to four months after birth. However, it can be a nightmare for parents and has the baby crying for long spells every day.
Luckily for Birungi, she soon figured out a combination of tricks that helped her handle her baby’s crying.
However, colic is not the only cause for incessant crying in infants. Elie Niyibizi, a paediatrician at Muhima hospital, says that a baby’s crying could mean a lot of things, for example hunger, a need for cuddling, or dirty diapers which could be causing discomfort.
He adds that other causes could be related to health problems like allergy to formula milk or cow milk, or a pain in the tummy, in which cases the parent has to see a health provider.
“Some babies will cry because they are not feeling well, whereas others just cry even when there seems to be nothing making them cry, a condition termed as colic. Others may cry because they need to be held, and need some physical contact as a way of reassurance,” Niyibizi says.
According to Dr Rachna Pande a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri hospital, the sleep-wake cycle of a baby is not yet set as it is in adults, because the hypothalamus circuit-which is partly responsible for regulating the sleep cycle- is still developing.
She explains that a baby pushed to sleep may be irritable and hence end up crying. Hunger may also make a baby cry, especially if they did not suck adequately, or after they have had a long call.
Finally: “In babies on the bottle, being exclusively milk-fed can lead to abdominal bloating since the baby has no fibre to aid digestion. Some of them may even be allergic to cow’s milk or proteins in the mother’s diet which can also cause indigestion,” Dr Pande explains.
How to deal with the crying
Niyibizi advises mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively at least up to six months to prevent health problems that could make a baby uncomfortable.
“For a parent to handle such a situation, they need to be creative: for example, look for soothing positions, hold the baby in a cosy position, et cetera. However, this only works for babies that are simply in the habit of crying and not for those with health problems. For the latter, a visit to a doctor is recommended.”
He advises nursing parents to do soft massages of the tummy, make a warm bath as a way of soothing the baby. If the baby is inconsolable, he adds, one has to consult a doctor, especially if the crying is accompanied with signs like difficulty in breathing, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever among other signs.
“Keeping the baby dry and warm helps to keep them calm. If bottle-fed, utmost hygiene is needed to avoid infection and if allergy to cow milk is suspected, soya milk can be tried as another option,” Dr Pande advises.
She also says that mothers should avoid milk products or processed foods that can in the end cause colic in babies due to allergy. There are also indigenous preparations like gripe water for reducing colic.