Q: Help! My three-month-old baby cries all the time and doesn’t sleep more than three hours at a time. I wasn’t planning on returning to work until after she was older but I’m considering it now because I’m so exhausted and need a break. My husband really wants me to stay home with her, but I’m at the end of my rope. This isn’t what I thought being a mom would feel like.
A: Take a deep breath. Being a new parent is often so different than you expected or planned on that it can be overwhelming. Add to it sleep deprivation and you have mothers and fathers who feel they are at their breaking points. You are not the only parent who feels like this, and asking for help is the best place to start. I would not recommend making a decision about returning to work until you feel more in control.
Let’s look at a couple of specific areas that can be addressed: As I’m sure you know, all babies cry and some cry more than others. The crying can make you feel sad, frustrated, helpless, and perhaps, even angry and resentful. These are common reactions that every parent has. Taking some action may help you feel more effective. Is there any pattern to your daughter’s crying? Patterns may provide an insight as to what is going on with your baby. Is it something in her diet (or your diet if you’re nursing) or colic? It would be helpful to jot down her schedule – including crying episodes – for a few days to keep track. I know that may seem like just one more task for you, but it is usually very informative. You may learn that your daughter rarely cries in the morning. You may see that her crying starts in the late afternoon and continues throughout the evening. That may indicate colic. Colic is usually gone in babies by five months after peaking around six weeks. It may be that she cries after every feeding. That may indicate Some distress related to her nourishment. Discuss patterns you see with your pediatrician.
At three months of age, your daughter may be ready for some sleep training. Develop a bedtime routine that is soothing to both of you, or ask your husband to take over and that could be his special bonding time with the baby. Warm baths, dim lights, sound machines or soft music, and a rocking chair are all common ingredients in a calming bedtime. Babies adapt to new routines and start to self-soothe as familiar elements are in place, like dim lights during nap times.
Finally, look at your support system. Is your husband able to provide some hands-on care so you can rest? Are you connected to a mom’s group where you can meet other new moms? Do you have family or close friends nearby? Knowing you are not alone makes a big difference in your ability to manage your emotions. It is important to find somebody you trust who would be willing to watch your daughter so you can have a few hours to yourself. Or if feasible, hire a babysitter you are comfortable with for help. Having some time to yourself is necessary for you to manage all of the emotions that come with being a parent. Notice what a difference a midday nap or a solo walk through the park does to your mood and your ability to regulate your emotions.
Remember, this is a critical time for taking care of yourself and your daughter.
Denise Noble, M Ed, is a mom of two and lives in Midlothian with her family. She has a Master’s in counselor education and has worked with families for 15 years.