OMG BABY WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU? AKA newborn troubleshooting, to avoid shooting yourself
Stroking my pregnant belly, I would daydream about the magical moments to come with my tiny progeny. She would snuggle me on the couch while we watched Disney movies; we would look lovingly into each others’ eyes while she drew nourishment from my body. With gratitude in her eyes and a beatific smile on her face, I would gently lay my yawning child in her crib and watch her drift peacefully to sleep.
<insert wistful sigh here>
Are you laughing at me yet?
In all seriousness I knew there would be work involved and sleep deprivation, but I was not prepared for how bothered I would feel by the sound of my child’s seemingly endless crying. This checklist may seem really simple (all the ones I read leading up to the birth extracted the same response from me “Duh”), but when you are functioning on 15 minute power naps you will FORGET these things and swear that your child is broken beyond repair and that it’s all your fault.
So your newborn is crying? Let’s troubleshoot before you try to heave yourself off the roof…
1. Is the baby hungry? Now here’s the stuff they don’t tell you: even if your answer to this is “no way, I just took her off the boob” the answer can STILL BE YES. The second night home my daughter she wanted nothing but to be stuck onto my boob from 1am to 5am. Welcome to the glorious world of cluster feedings. When in doubt, offer the kid some boob/bottle. You will be surprised how often that is the answer.
2. Baby’s gotta burp! Every kid is different, but most are born with underdeveloped digestive systems. Everything is scary to them, they can’t see for shit and they’re having to function in a world where everything used to run on autopilot. I cannot tell you how many times my kid would be screaming bloody murder, and then suddenly “Errrrrrp” and the drama was over. I was told by many a nurse that a gentle stroke is sufficient for burping, or that (my favorite) "breastfed babies don't need to be burped." LIES! LIES LIES LIES! Every kid is different, but the burping my kid needed would verge on child abuse to the uninitiated.
3. Baby needs to fart/poop. Those underdeveloped digestive systems mean that every fart your child has to squeeze out can potentially be BT (Baby Torture). You can avoid some fart drama by being thorough with your burping, but they still break through. I recommend simethicone drops (up to 12 times a day, taken during/just after feeding). You can also give gripe water a shot, but whether either of these things will work for you is a crap shoot. Heh, crap shoot. Get it??
4. Baby is overstimulated. No really. I thought surely this was a myth, but it’s absolutely true. Baby toys? Lots of noisy rattles? Your newborn wants nothing to do with these things. Or maybe she’s just been staring at the same spot on the wall for too long and she is OVER it. Try picking her up and moving to a new location (highly recommend hiding the baby’s face in your chest and bouncing on a pilates ball).
5. Baby is tired. The problem with #5 is that if #5 is true (and it is 90% of the time in those early days), it makes your baby’s capacity to deal with #1-#4 that much less. The same fart that your baby passed first thing in the morning with nothing more than a grunt becomes screaming drama at 7pm. Get your baby napping/sleeping. And avoid letting her become “overtired.” This is the most ridiculous concept in the world to me, but when baby passes just sleepy and gets into "overtired" it is actually HARDER to get them to sleep. Ridiculous, I know, but true.
So you’ve come to the conclusion that you’re probably just #5. So now what? I’m a big believer in the 5 S’s of Harvey Karp so make sure to give them a shot [Swaddle (!!), Shhhhh (sleep sheep!), Suck (finger, pacifier), Swing (or jiggle), and Side/Stomach hold].
You may have done all of these things, and your kid may still be screaming. I reached this point several times, jiggling and swinging my child in my arms as I paced around the house for hours on end, sobbing my heart out, questioning if I was cut out for motherhood. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have wrapped my head around back then: the kid is fine, and is just not willing to take the soothing I have to offer. It doesn’t make me a bad parent, it makes her a grumpy baby, but she’ll get over it and so will I. Don’t beat yourself up; some babies just need to cry sometimes. If you’ve exhausted all the troubleshooting points (and the kid is not sick, when in doubt take that temperature to reassure yourself), there is absolutely NO SHAME OR GUILT that should be associated with taking your well-fed, swaddled baby, sticking it in the swing with a white noise machine blaring, and WALKING AWAY .
Around the end of week 3 the husband and I reached this point. We were both about to collapse from exhaustion and I was crying right along with my kid. My husband tucked our squalling infant into the swing in the living room and we huddled against each other in our bed with the door open watching the Colbert Report, trying to be distracted. Fifteen of the longest minutes of my life later, the screaming stopped. We tiptoed back out to the swing and the kid was sound asleep. We tucked her into her crib and she proceeded to sleep soundly for the next 6 hours. 100% true story.