All babies cry. Most babies cry a lot from two weeks to two months of age. Some cry more than others, and some cry longer than others. For many new parents, crying is one of the most stressful parts of coping with a newborn.
In some cases, extreme stress and a temporary lapse of emotional control in a caregiver can lead to actions that result in abusive head trauma. In fact, the most common trigger for abusive head trauma is simply a crying baby. As an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement points out, actions that lead to abusive head trauma often happen when caretakers experience stress and get to the end of their rope.
However, there is a bright side: The key to preventing abusive head trauma is to understand how common feelings of frustration, isolation, and exhaustion are during the first few months of an infant’s life.
Coping with a newborn during COVID-19
Usually, new parents can seek out social supports and external help—but what when we are all restricted in our movements and our contacts? What happens when families face child care challenges and more ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are a few suggestions:
Try all the soothing tricks. Crying babies want to be soothed. You may need to try a few things, over and over, before they calm. Try holding them, feeding them, swaddling them, gently rocking them, singing to them. If these don’t work, put the baby down and take a break. Be sure your baby is in a safe sleep environment (on their back on a firm sleep surface with a tight-fitting sheet, away from soft blankets, toys, pillows, and other bedding materials). While some babies cry for a long time, many parents are surprised at how rapidly babies will cry themselves to sleep.
Pay attention to your own needs. Particularly for breastfeeding mothers, babies’ demands feel relentless. Rest as much as you can—try sleeping when the baby does. Find time for yourself when your partner watches the baby. Put on your headphones, call a friend or relative, have a cup of tea, or just relax.
Connect with others. Social distancing can be isolating. Try video chats or social media to stay in touch. If you’re a friend or relative on the receiving end of these calls, listen first before offering suggestions. Imagine you are with the young parent, they are crying on your shoulder, and you are offering reassurance without any words. Keeping this image in mind can help you provide the social support that all new parents need.
Use your “helpers.” Engage older siblings as much as you can by encouraging them to be your special helpers, so they can help out in developmentally appropriate ways.
Seek help. Depression is the most common mental illness in the United States. If you had a history of depression before your baby was born, you are at higher risk for postpartum depression. Speak with your provider sooner rather than later to help foresee this potential problem. Many doctors, nurses, and mental health providers are now set up for telehealth video visits and might be able to help you virtually.
Reach out. If you are a friend, relative, or neighbor to a family with a newborn, this is the time to reach out. Think about ways you can help. In addition to social support, can you buy diapers or other baby supplies? Can you drop off food or treats for the siblings or adults? Can you safely supervise older children outdoors? Maybe they could come along with you when you walk your dog!
Help a co-worker out. If you are a co-worker of a parent returning to work (especially during social distancing) after parental leave, be kind and supportive. If you see or hear the baby on the call, say Hi!
Find a forum. New mothers may find it helpful to discuss their experiences with other new mothers. In addition to seeking help from friends, relatives, neighbors, and medical professionals, look for discussion forums and communities of moms dedicated to sharing problems, stories, and tips with each other online (see the list of resources below).
Your pediatrician is here to help. Never hesitate to call for advice. Your pediatricians is an excellent resource for understanding your baby and your own needs, including those related to postpartum depression.
For more information
Adapted from the HealthyChildren.org article Tips for Coping with a New Baby During COVID-19 by Robert Sege, MD, PhD, FAAP (1/13/2022).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
In all aspects of its publishing program (writing, review, and production), the AAP is committed to promoting principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.