It it possible to have all-day colic? If not, why does my baby cry all day?
Prior to having kids, you might have imagined parenthood something like this: You bring your baby home from the hospital, still slightly hungover on adrenaline and hormones, and prepare for your new life together.
You already know babies cry quite a bit, and don’t usually sleep through the night for at least the first couple of months You’ve even heard of colic, and although you desperately hope your baby won’t have it, you know that even if he does, it won’t last forever. Armed with plans of attachment parenting strategies like babywearing and co-sleeping, you hope to be able to avoid most of the normal baby fussiness.
All in all, you feel your expectations of parenting a newborn are pretty realistic.
And then, one day, maybe at the hospital, maybe at 3 weeks old, or maybe even when he’s older, something happens. Suddenly, it occurs to you that something here isn’t normal; or at least isn’t like you expected or imagined or knew to be possible.
You do everything in your power to keep your baby happy. Everything the baby books told you, everything that worked with your nieces and nephews or older kids. And yet, your baby is never content.
You don’t understand it. You know babies can be fussy at times, and you know some babies cry or even scream in the evenings due to colic.
But here’s the thing: Your baby cries All DAY LONG. How is that even possible? He’s been fed, changed, cuddled, rocked, swaddled, and carried 24/7, and yet he’s still grumpy, fussy and discontent most of the time.
What’s going on here? Could this be all-day colic? Is it even possible for colic to last all day? Clearly, there must be something medically wrong. Babies don’t just cry for no reason, right?
Your online research reveals a number of possible causes, including:
In researching these various causes, you start to wonder whether you’ve been seeing some of the symptoms in your baby. He does cry whenever he feeds (although he cries most of the time, so maybe that doesn’t mean anything). Maybe her poops ARE a bit mucousy…kind of hard to tell since you don’t have anything to compare them to.
You’re starting to drive your partner (and yourself) a little bit crazy with all your research, but it’s just not possible for a baby to cry (and scream, and screech) THIS MUCH and still be perfectly healthy, right?
That’s the question that nearly sent me over the edge when Sammy was a baby. I just KNEW that there was something wrong with him. He didn’t just fuss all day, he screamed. He didn’t just cry, he screeched. He pulled his little legs to his chest, clenched his fists, and screamed as if to say, “Mommy, why can’t you fix me?“.
One of the hardest parts of having a baby that cries all the time is the worry that there’s a serious underlying condition that’s causing the crying. Parents find it difficult to imagine that there’s nothing wrong with their baby when they appear to be in so much discomfort.
However a study published in 2009 in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics offers some – I think – reassurance to worried parents. The study looked at 237 infants under the age of 1 who were brought to an ER because of unexplained crying, fussiness, screaming, irritability or colic. Of the 237 babies, only 12 (around 5%) were found to have an underlying medical condition, with 3 of these being urinary tract infections.
It’s important to note that serious underlying conditions were accompanied by an ‘unwell appearance’. While the abstract doesn’t go into detail about what constituted ‘unwell’, I can imagine it may have included symptoms such as pale skin or lethargy.
The researchers note that in follow up studies, no missed diagnoses were found.
So to summarize, only 5% of babies brought to the ER with unexplained crying were found to have a serious underlying condition.
The thing is, looking back, I’m pretty sure I know what was wrong with Sammy. There WAS a reason he cried all day, and sometimes even all night. And that reason wasn’t, in all likelihood, because something was medically wrong with him.
Sure, he may have had silent reflux, as the dr. believed and treated him for. Yes, he very likely was a bit sensitive to the dairy I was consuming. But even once those conditions were treated, he continued to cry and scream for most of the day.
He continued to need constant carrying and comforting pretty much all day until he was 3 months old (and even then, he would cry). He never seemed to be content, and was most definitely what I would consider a ‘grumpy baby’.
He continued to need entertainment and distraction most of the day until he was 8.5 months old. And that only changed because he could now crawl and get where he wanted to go.
He continued to need tons of activity and stimulation until he was 3 years old, and tantrums were a daily (hourly sometimes) occurrence.
Looking back, there wasn’t anything physically wrong with him. He had a big personality…a super-sensitive temperament, and he reacted to ‘normal’ baby thing with gusto. When he was overtired, he screamed bloody murder and then finally passed out from exhaustion. When he got a mild earache, he screeched so loud the triage nurses at the ER pushed us to the front of the line. When he experienced what I think was ‘normal’ infant reflux, he screamed and howled and absolutely refused to sleep (while another baby may have simply fussed).
If your baby cries all the time, I would highly suggest first considering the possibility of a medical condition like reflux or a food sensitivity. This will involve consulting with your physician and running any necessary tests.
But if it turns out there’s nothing physically wrong with your child (as is the case in the majority of cases of unexplained crying in infants, as we saw above), consider the possibility that your baby is simply expressing his discomfort, overstimulation or overtiredness in the only way he or she knows how.
If your baby never seems content, needs constant holding, movement and distraction, and seems to cry all the time (or most of the time), it’s possible your baby may have a high need temperament. While medical conditions like reflux or an allergy can cause high need behaviours, the majority of babies who cry all day do so because of a sensitive temperament.
For more on this, see my post The Complete High Need Baby Resource Guide.
This doesn’t mean, however, that your baby will always be like this!
As he or she becomes more mobile, more communicative and better able to cope with the world around them (and most of all, their BIG feelings), they tend to become amazing, compassionate little people.
All the hard work you do now to calm, comfort and support your baby or toddler will pay off in a big way as they get a little bit bigger and a lot more comfortable in the world.
Wondering what ACTUALLY works to soothe and entertain a high need baby? Or how you’re supposed to parent a child who is more fussy, more active, more sensitive and more persistent than other kids? The Fussy Baby Survival Guide covers everything yo need to know about parenting a high need baby – from birth to 5.
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