Don't you DARE ask me if he's teething
June 7, 2013 1:39 PM   Subscribe

My 14 month old son cries and screams every waking moment he's with me. This has gone on for months, and it's killing me. Please help me understand what's going on and how I can make it stop.

Jerram wakes up around 5:30am crying hysterically - like, full-out wracking sobs - and barely stops until he's dropped off at daycare at 8am. He is apparently fine all day at daycare, and then cries again from 5pm when I pick him up until he goes to bed at 7pm. There are a few bright moments during the day: he stops crying to nurse (which we do at 6am and right before bed), sometimes he stops to eat meals, he's ok if we go to the park or swimming, and he's usually great for the fifteen minutes between bath and bed. Other than that he's crying and clutching at my legs to be picked up and then thrashing in my arms to be put down, or sitting slumped over on the floor sobbing. I am mostly capable of ignoring tantrums (but don't know what to do when the tantrum goes on and on and on and on). It's the sobbing that gets me though, when he cries like his heart is breaking I have a hard time not doing the same.

He's the same with his other mom, but apparently fine at daycare. He screams when we leave him there but they assure us that he stops crying almost immediately.

We've taken him to our GP and there's nothing medically wrong with him.

I just don't know what he wants or what's wrong. He thinks he wants up, but then fights to be put down. He thrashes and writhes and throws himself around. He's hard to distract, even with food. Everyone asks me if it's teething, but it has gone on for months and months now, and isn't even out of character for him - just a worsening of what has always been his general disposition. I dread spending time with him, which makes me feel like a horrible person. I am so full of anxiety it's spilling into my work and adult relationships. I am going out of my mind. This previous AskMe answer helps with my peace of mind, but mostly I need to make the behaviour stop.
posted by arcticwoman to Human Relations (49 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It's true that kids act out after a long day, but this sounds different if he's pretty much crying the entire time he's with you. Have you talked to your pediatrician? Is it possible something in your house could be irritating him, or that there's something he's allergic to?

[Sorry, just realized you've talked to your doctor. Based purely on my experience with my own kids, the constant thrashing and sobbing sounds like some sort of physical discomfort or allergy problem to me.]
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:44 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does this happen when you and your other mom are with him together? Have you observed him at daycare, unseen?

Are there friends and family with whom he likes to spend time with that can spell you and/or co-parent a while with you if "you alone" seem to be the only trigger? Other observations may point out something you aren't seeing as you're so intertwined with everything.

Other than this, how are his developmental milestones?
posted by tilde at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: Is there any possibility he's tired? Is he really going down and sleeping at 7 or messing around until 8? Our kid slept a lot at that age, twelve or thirteen hours. With daycare, it might be just kind of tough for him to keep up all day and tough for him to decompress so quickly. Maybe he's overstimulated, tired, and needs more downtime?

How is he on weekends?

Also, I'm sorry you're going through this, it sounds really rough and I promise it will pass eventually though I understand how grueling it is right now. And also, 14 months is not an easy age to start with. So it could be nothing, like a growth spurt (growth spurts aren't just physical, they can be developmental, as different milestones are reached, and they can cause a lot of havoc.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:49 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow. This could have been my son at the same age. Multiple doctor visits and she never saw anything.

And then one day, I brought him in while he was screaming and she pulled off his diaper and immediately saw he had a massive bulging hernia that was only visible while he was screaming.

I'm not saying that's what this is, but I'd suggest bringing him in while he's screaming.
posted by kinetic at 1:51 PM on June 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

Wow, this must be so hard, I 'm sorry. I would approach it like a food allergy and try to eliminate different things, maybe start by staying somewhere else for a few days. Start paying attention to temperature and smells and sound. try keeping the house ten degrees warmer, or cooler. I know there are sounds that we lose the ability to hear as we get older, maybe there is something he hears and you don't ? Are weekends any better?
posted by InkaLomax at 1:55 PM on June 7, 2013

The worst sobbing and thrashing of my younger son's life was from consuming a mixed fruit drink that contained a juice he is allergic to. I thought I would lose my mind. Then I remembered the juice, read the label and realized he had the same allergy his brother had. One of the worst nights of my life.

Is it possible you and his other mom both wear a perfume or something to which he is allergic but which might not be in his environment at daycare?
posted by Michele in California at 1:57 PM on June 7, 2013

Along with some form of to him overpowering scent (including scented washing powder, bodywash, dishwashing liquid etc) might you have something in the house or nearby that emits a high pitched sound that you can't perceive but he might be able to hear? For example if a neighbour has a groundhog scaring device or if there's a large transformer somewhere. Does it happen with you guys regardless of where you are? How is he in the car, in the woods, etc.
posted by Iteki at 2:01 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

How stressful for you and your family. :(

His lack of crying at daycare may not mean the stimulus is gone there; he may be more comfortable and secure at home and therefore more comfortable letting it all hang out. That's a thing that happens, I think.

I would also look for food sensitivities.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:03 PM on June 7, 2013

Also has he been screened for sensory processing issues?
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:06 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you tried switching detergents? I don't know how that would affect the fact that you're told the baby is okay in daycare, but maybe there's something irritating his skin?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:06 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: > We've taken him to our GP and there's nothing medically wrong with him

I'd go to someone other than a GP, like a pediatric neurologist or an organization that helps with birth-to-three services. I can't help but wonder if there's some unusual communication or sensory issue he's trying to deal with.

(One of my kids has special needs, so I see them everywhere... even where they don't exist. Please don't freak out about my suggestion.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

I can imagine this must be incredibly stressful for you. The fact that he only does this at home would indeed seem to indicate there is something in that environment that is bothering him. What kind of structure do you live in? It it an urban or rural location? Old or new? What's the outside environment like around the house? Have you tried varying his diet? Has he been tested for food and environmental allergies?
posted by Dansaman at 2:08 PM on June 7, 2013

> The fact that he only does this at home would indeed seem to indicate there is something in that environment that is bothering him.

I disagree. I know a lot of kids with issues who save their worst for their parents. It doesn't have anything to do with the environment, other than perhaps that they can relax and let stuff out then.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:15 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry this is so incredibly stressful. I can barely handle 5 minutes of crying from my 15 month old, and I can't imagine how I would cope with what you're going through.

I'm going to second the allergies issue. Could be a perfume or detergent - 15 minutes between bath and bed are okay - makes me think of something on his skin. Or it could be a food item (wheat, soy, and nuts are the obvious ones). Or could it be a sensory issue - something in the house, maybe a high pitched sound or buzz? Groping in the dark, sorry.

If you've tried to eliminate allergens, the next stop would be a pediatric neurologist or developmental specialist. Don't lose hope, they really can help sometimes.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:19 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: Anecdotally, my daughter will totally bring out the tears (all the time)whenever she is in proximity to my mom or my sister or her mom. With myself or her uncles, it just doesn't happen. That's not to say there isn't something going on with your son but the little ones learn at a very early age to moderate a mediate behavior based on audience.

Outside of a medical reason which I think you need to follow up on again and maybe once more after that, a lot of this is going to be age related and social interaction related. So ask yourself the following:

1) Is he sleeping without waking as if in pain constantly?
2) Is he eating and drinking and voiding in amounts and volumes that make sense?
3) Is he making eye contact, reactive to external stimulus and are you getting consistent feedback from others he interacts with ?

I will say that we have certainly gone through this, and it's SO hard. A lot of ours, for what its worth seemed to be tied to intellectual and expressive development. Our daughter, now 2.5 brings out the worst for her parents and we believe it's because it's safe for her to do so. She can be expressive and emotional very comfortably with us, and she knows how to read our reactions like a book.
posted by iamabot at 2:25 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: Bring him back to the doctor. Ask a more experienced mom to come over and evaluate your home and your interactions. It sounds like he is in a lot of pain and he is trying to tell you what is wrong but isn't able to. Try everything- change detergents, stop breast feeding, change his diet, change your perfume, get rid of pets, whatever it takes, but keep trying. He isn't supposed to be doing that.

There is a good chance that he is fine at daycare because he is completely shutting down there. Go in during the day and check on him. Often. Have a more experienced mom go to the daycare to check on him. Try changing the daycare. He might be terrified of a worker there so he is quiet all day and freaking out at home. You must investigate.
posted by myselfasme at 2:31 PM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My son had severe colic. Starting early in the evening, and lasting for hours, he screamed. Not just crying, but screaming, often with thrashing. He was generally kind of easily set off, but the screaming was a night-time event. It was incredibly difficult.

Things that work for some people, some of the time:
- Holding him tightly
- Playing soothing music (Brahms, lullabies)
- Playing upbeat music (showtunes, rhythmic music, Bruce Springsteen, Beatles)
- Rocking in a rocking chair or automatic swing
- Driving in the car
- Benadryl
- Elimination diet to rule out food allergies
- Limited sensory 'jostling'
- Warm baths

My son eventually outgrew the worst of the colic, had sleep problems, and is an emotionally intense adult. I sometimes took him on car rides to calm him. Long, long car rides. Babies with colic are often subject to abuse when a parent just loses it because crying is perfectly designed to make you crazy. Every genetically-coded fiber of your being wants to help a baby stop crying, especially your beloved child. All sorts of people treated me like an incompetent 1st-time parent, until they heard my son scream for hours, and their advice was useless.

Make it clear to the doctor that this is a huge big deal, and needs a resolution. Ask about Benadryl, or any other medication that might help. Try taking the long way home; does the car ride help? Eat dinner in the car if that's what it takes. Do you have some low-key kid's shows on dvd? Maybe tape some Mr. Rogers or some old Sesame Street specials. Even if you have strict No TV standards, let him watch tv if it helps the crying. Watch together, talk about the characters, it can still be a form of family time. Give him lots and lots of attention before he asks for attention. If I had it to do over, he'd have slept in our bed, in case the extra cuddle time would have helped.

I'm so sorry you're having to go through this. Sending all 3 of you big hugs.
posted by theora55 at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

My sister was born with severe emotional problems, anxiety disorder, bipolar depression. She is exceptionally functioning as an adult but she is highly medicated to keep level and sane. When she was a child, she cried ALL THE TIME. Now it makes sense, but my parents and everyone else went crazy with her. It breaks my heart to hear her talk about her issues because she can verbalize the emotional pain that a baby just cannot understand. It is PAIN. Back then, doctors couldn't do anything but call it colic and send her on her way. Things are different now so maybe this is worth exploring.
posted by Snackpants at 2:49 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, you have my sympathy. This sounds awful for both of you—all three of you, really.

I am mostly capable of ignoring tantrums (but don't know what to do when the tantrum goes on and on and on and on). It's the sobbing that gets me though, when he cries like his heart is breaking I have a hard time not doing the same.

I know that a lot of the conventional wisdom about raising babies and toddlers encourages ignoring "tantrums" and other acting out behavior, but I've not found that to be an effective method of dealing with my son's upset. I now do my best to empathize with him, and be concerned and available and not do anything else and see if he wants to shout some and then have a hug or show me something or get me to do something.

If your son is reaching out in this way, I don't think ignoring is a good tactic. He is really too young for tantrums, the way that people talk about kids having willful, acting-out kinds of displays in order to manipulate. (I don't really love ignoring those either because I am a hippie, but that's for another day.) A 14-month-old is basically a baby still.

I mean, I don't think that you need to just sit there and take the screaming all the time; breaks for self-care and soothing are critical, but you don't need to feel like you have to ignore hysterics for your son's sake.

Also, because I am a ridiculous softie, I would spend a set amount of time doing ... well, just whatever makes him happy. Like, every day next week, go to the park or swimming after day care and don't worry about cooking dinner or whatever and see if it lessens the hysterics. Maybe offer to nurse more? Try not to fix the whole global What is Going On With the Baby problem and just do indulgent things to make him happier minute-to-minute, even if they're not sustainable in the long run. That may give you a better sense of whether this is some kind of medical mystery or if there's something going on structurally with the way your life is set up that is making him unhappy.

It is true that this is a hard developmental age, but I do think this seems highly unusual and you're right to be concerned. I agree that you should see if you can observe him at day care. You sound like really good moms, and I hope this turns out to be a rough developmental patch that you will quickly leave behind.
posted by purpleclover at 2:52 PM on June 7, 2013 [21 favorites]

I have vivid memories of crying repeatedly when I went to my babysitter when I was around your kid's age- it was a combination of the scent of her home and the lighting that every time I got there it would trigger a headache, only I didn't know how to explain what a headache was at that age.

If the only time he's ok around you is within a few minutes within when you've bathed him... that is a big red flag to me.
posted by haplesschild at 3:01 PM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm with corpse in the library on this. One of my kids was also a "colicky" kid. Turns out she's on the autism spectrum. When she was younger her triggers were mystifying and it was hard to not take it personally, but now that we know, we're able to better help her. You're son may not be old enough to be able to do anything about it other than endure, but talking to more medical professionals couldn't hurt, and could help you feel less rejected by your child, and less helpless.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:21 PM on June 7, 2013

I'm so sorry. What you're going through does sound like something a friend described and his child had a hernia which was hard to see but definitely the cause of her problems. So, in summary, I think you need more opinions and I agree that seeing a pediatric specialist is your first place to go. And it wouldn't hurt to drop in unexpectedly during the day at daycare and take a peek in. Let us know how it goes....
posted by amanda at 3:44 PM on June 7, 2013

Wild guess here... crying in rooms with ceiling fans vs places without, e.g., the bathtub? Irritating sound + strobe light effect + wind on skin = Distress, for me, to this day.
posted by carmicha at 3:47 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

One way to approach figuring out what's going on could be to teach him sign language. Not many -- just eat, drink, hurt, all done, more... and invent a sign for each mom. Conceptually, it makes the world less overwhelming; in practice, he may be able to tell you what's wrong. Baby Signing Time videos are very clear, or you can just do it around the house.
posted by xo at 4:45 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know that the cultural narrative on childrearing says "Babies are HARD. You have no idea how hard until you have one. It is just so unbelievably HARD." And while that's true for almost all parents, I hope you glean from this thread that what you're describing is beyond what's typical even for difficult children.

I would do a few things here. First, I would drop in on daycare and verify that your child is not screaming there. (And if your daycare doesn't have an open door observation policy, change daycares.)

Armed with that verified data, I'd find another pediatrics practice and insist that your son be tested for everything from hernia to reflux. If there's no result there, I'd seek a referral for a sensory assessment, maybe through your local 0 - 3.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:47 PM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds awful. I am so sorry. Others have covered possible things to look for with a medical or therapeutic professional; my suggestions are going to be based on things to do to cope.

Does he like baths? Can you stick him in the bath ASAP when you get home? My daughter was a screamer, and I could dunk her in 3 inches of water and she would be happy as a clam.

Have you tried a shot of tylenol or ibuprofen? This obviously isn't great from a long-term management perspective, but could help determine if it's physical pain.

Maybe try a sling or Moby wrap? I know he's a big boy, but if something sensory is freaking him out, the closeness and snugness could help calm him. Along those same lines, you can try putting him on the couch, putting a big couch cushion on top of him, and smooshing him.

What about upside down? I know many a complicated child who could be rendered at least momentarily tear-free by being swooped upside down or spun around.

Does he like bubbles? At the child care at my gym, bubbles are the thing that will make all but the most miserable kids stop crying and stare in wonder.

Can you get down on the floor with him and hug him? Maybe take him into a dark room and lie down with him? I know you have things you need to do in the evening, this is more diagnostic than anything. If nothing else, being able to hold him while he sobs is better.

This is really hard, really really hard. And really not typical. My child was a yeller, as I've mentioned, and we're just now learning that she has some kind of painful GI thing going on that's probably been happening since birth. I just thought I was a terrible mother, though. There are no words for the depths of my empathy. I hope you find solutions soon.
posted by KathrynT at 4:51 PM on June 7, 2013 [14 favorites]

It could be there is something Wrong, so getting a second opinion (third, etc.) seems good.

But when I was in 8th grade or so I babysat for a family down the block, and apparently their 18-month-old would scream for hours - but only with his parents. I'd show up, he'd be screaming, they would leave for dinner or whatever, and he would immediately start to babble happily at me, draw pictures, play at bath time, and go down for story and bed like a champ. His parents were sort of relieved (because they knew he wasn't screaming with me and they didn't owe me hazard pay) and sort of resentful, which was totally understandable.

I'm sorry you're going through this. I send you all peaceful, happy thoughts.
posted by rtha at 5:12 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Agentofselection was the same way your son is when she was a baby.
She was inconsolable 90% of the time. She calmed down when she learned to talk, and could tell people what was wrong. FWIW, she also has bipolar that manifested when she was 13.
I was nicknamed "The King of Cry" when I was an infant. I got better when I got mobility.
What I'm saying is, there may be some simple thing that your child is missing because he just hasn't developed it yet, and which may solve most of his problems once he achieves it. Good luck.
posted by agentofselection at 6:27 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: My brother did this. It took my parents until he was three to figure out he was super sensitive to certain fabrics (wool, acrylics, basically anything except super soft untreated cotton). He didn't get rashes - it just itched and hurt. As an adult he still has that sensitivity.

He and my parents always had a really strained relationship when he was a kid. He seemed clingy and scared of abandonment, and they got so irritated with him very easily for things that didn't bother them when I did them. I really think, looking back, that those problems stemmed from those three years of him screaming and crying and wriggling away from them when they tried to soothe him, and him feeling like they weren't helping and them feeling like he hated them.

So I agree with everyone else that it's really important to figure out whether there's some physical issue going on, even if that means changing doctors or pushing your current one hard, and I also think you should try to monitor your own emotional reactions to him later when things are easier to make sure you aren't letting this trying experience (understandably) influence you. Maybe seeing a therapist to talk through your feelings about it all would be a good idea.
posted by lollusc at 6:29 PM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am not a doctor, but I think you need a second opinion from a great pediatrician. What you describe does not sound like a kid who hates his mom or is acting out. He sounds like he is in pain. Your description reminds me very much of how my daughter (now 17 months old) acted before we had her acid reflux treated. It also sounds like how the son of a friend of mine behaved, before his hernia was diagnosed and repaired (at closer to age 2, iirc). In my friend's son's case, their regular pediatrician did not catch even though she kept asking about the crying, the writhing, the inconsolable wailing. It was the substitute ped at one appointment who found the hernia. So it could be something relatively minor and fixable like reflux or a hernia, or something more complicated like a sensory processing disorder, but you need a second set of expert eyes on him.

I think the fact that your son seems "ok" at daycare doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a physical cause for his unhappiness. My daughter doesn't cry around adults other than me and my husband. We can be out and about with her and people think she's doing well, but we can tell that she's tired and hungry, and then as soon as we are alone with her she'll start sobbing. I think many children express their feelings only in environments where they feel especially safe and loved (aka, home). It's my understanding that by 14 months, children do have some ability to self-soothe, so that may be what's getting him through the day when he's away from you. The action at daycare may also be very distracting from whatever other discomfort he may be feeling. But when he gets home, that's a safe place to let loose and show the number one people in his life how bad he feels.

I am repeating what many other people said above. But I wanted you to know that you're not alone, and it's right to seek out help. Please let us know how it goes.
posted by stowaway at 7:33 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First off, I'm sorry this is happening to you.
Things you might try:

2nd opinion on the doctor. Print out this post and take it with you. Show them you are not just over stressed new parents.

Nurse more, if nursing soothes the beast and you don't mind doing it... do it more often.

Observe the day care, not just to see if they are truthful (which they very likely are) but to see what sort of situation he is in that is keeping him calm. Music playing? White noise? other kids? See if there are any variables there you can bring home.

Try some pain killer, just to see if it IS teething or a growth spurt. That will buy you at least a few hours here and there.

Try some "bad" parenting distractions, TV, YouTube, Candy... these are not long term solutions but whether or not they work may prove insightful to what is really wrong.

Again, hope this works out, sounds crazy tough.
posted by French Fry at 8:38 PM on June 7, 2013

God that sounds terrible. I don't have much more to add that hasn't already been said: this doesn't sound like normal, irritable toddler behavior; try taking him to a pediatrician and really laying it all out; see if other family members can hang out with him for a day and compare notes; yes, maybe it's something sensory but it's hard to know so best to leave it to the experts; I'm so so so so sorry that you're going through this.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:06 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: I know a lot of kids with issues who save their worst for their parents. It doesn't have anything to do with the environment, other than perhaps that they can relax and let stuff out then.

This was exactly my experience nannying.

How are his communication skills? If you ask him a simple question, can he answer you? We had problems like this with our son when he was a bit older (22mos) and cranking up the baby sign brought it down a billion percent.

When he's not nursing, does he drink cow's milk? We found out that our son is lactose intolerant because he would happily drink milk and wouldn't necessarily get diarrhea... but THE SCREAMING. It obviously hurt his belly to digest.

Other posters' suggestions of an environmental cause seem likely. Don't change everything at once or you'll never know what it is, but try making small changes every day. Do you have pets? Pet dander wouldn't be present at daycare.
posted by sonika at 9:16 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: Parents of children I know have gone through very similar things/symptoms that you describe and this is a short list of what I remember each toddler having, after months of the parents not knowing and being driven mad;
Allergy to pretty much every food under the sun to the point where anything the baby ate would produce instant screaming and discomfort
A dislocated arm
Teething (I know, I know)

Nthing what has already been said about the child appearing fine at daycare yet having a meltdown when with you. My 18 month old son is very stoic in the face of pain with doctors, other carers etc to the point where you would think he's fine but once he is with his father and I, he's a sobbing mess just because he feels safe and loved enough to be able to express it and know he doesn't have to be brave. I'm so sorry you're going through this, but keep looking and get a second opinion because it does sound like he's in pain. Good luck.
posted by Jubey at 9:25 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just throwing this out there; I really have no idea: I'm wondering if since he's with you 4.5 waking hours a day, but at daycare 9 hours, is it possible he's just more comfortable there?
posted by FlyByDay at 10:10 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

"he's ok if we go to the park or swimming"

What about other times you leave the house? Is it something in the house? Obviously he wears different clothes for swimming, what about for the park?

"and he's usually great for the fifteen minutes between bath and bed"

Is it: you take him out of his day clothes, dunk him in water, and put him in sleep clothes and he is fine during that time?

What in his environment changes just before the crying stops? Sound, light, smells, fabrics touching his skin?
posted by tel3path at 2:50 AM on June 8, 2013

Poor kid (and I mean all three of you). I can offer no better suggestions than the great ones in this thread, but I will reiterate that I would try some ibuprofen as a short term fix. From a recent major pain study, it seems to address deeper kinds of "pain" and may, at least, offer all of you a break for a few hours!

"Pain extends beyond tissue damage and hurt feelings, and includes the distress and existential angst we feel when we're uncertain or have just experienced something surreal. Regardless of the kind of pain, taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong," said Daniel Randles from the University of British Columbia.

posted by thinkpiece at 3:56 AM on June 8, 2013

Just for clarity, Tylenol is acetominophen, not ibuprofen (that's Advil). And obviously ask a doctor if it's okay to give to toddler.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:26 AM on June 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for all the support and great ideas. Seems pretty clear that the first step is to ask my GP for a referral to a pediatrician. I'll do that, thank you for the reassurance that this is not normal and I'm not being crazy if I push hard for some help.

Milestones: Jerram's been walking since 13 months, is VERY physically active and coordinated. Says one and only one word "Up," and not super consistently. Doesn't even say "Mama." We've been doing baby sign with him for six months or so, but he's not really picking it up. He gets excited at the sign for "milk" (which means nursing, for us) and he'll sometimes copy "All done" after meals. We'll keep working at this.

Yesterday I picked him up at daycare at 5 and, motivated by you, had a good talk with one of his daycare teachers. She told me that Jerram naps MUCH less than the other toddlers his age - usually 45-60 mins, when the other kids are sleeping twice that. They try take him for extra long walks, cuddle him more, etc, but he just doesn't sleep at daycare.

He seemed tired, and so I decided to drive around until he fell asleep instead of going straight home, and would you believe that kid slept until 6pm? When we got home I nursed him (which I don't usually do at that time, but I'm following the advice you gave upthread) and he was so happy all evening. The nap and the nurse bought me two lovely hours with my son. I'm sorry, I'm tearing up right now thinking about it. I needed that so much. He went to bed an hour later than usual, and slept in until SEVEN AM!!! I haven't had a sleep-in like that since mid-way through my pregnancy. And then this morning has been the best day we've had together in memory.

Obviously, one day is just one day, so I'll still follow up on your other excellent recommendations. I think we need to consider moving him from our beloved daycare to a quieter dayhome, in the off chance he would nap better in that environment. I'm really uncomfortable with dayhomes though, so I'm not sure what to do.

His poops have been really soft for awhile, so he may actually be reacting badly to a food. That's worth following up on. He doesn't really drink cow's milk (for the simple reason that I'm a little lactose-intolerant, so we only buy soy), but he eats lots of dairy in other forms. Maybe I'll start there.

Again, thank you for all the support and ideas. I have been trying to live with this miserable child for so long, with everyone just dismissing my experiences, that I was starting to go out of my mind. I figured it must be me, I must be overreacting, and I just have to get through it like every other parent does. It's incredibly reassuring to hear that this is unusual and worth taking action on.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:27 AM on June 8, 2013 [37 favorites]

I am tearing up with you. God, I have so been there. You are a great mom, you are a great mom, you are a GREAT mom. This is not normal, but it is probably something you can fix or at least ameliorate. We are here for you and we believe you.
posted by KathrynT at 11:57 AM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Given your follow up, could it be something as simple as lack of sleep? By the time he gets home from daycare to you, it sounds like he's exhausted, manic and playing up. How is on the weekends, when he's home with you and can have as many daytime naps as he needs? Don't discount the sleep thing, it really can make all the difference.
posted by Jubey at 4:11 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, I hope you found the answer! Ferber's book on baby sleep has lots of stories about apparent behavior problems being caused by lack of sleep.

Does he nap well with you on the weekends? If so, I'd definitely do whatever I could to get him in a better situation for napping during the day. Where I live, nannyshares are common -- you team up with another mom in your neighborhood with a similarly aged kid and hire a nanny for both of them. That's what we do, and it works out well. The cost is more than daycare, but not impossibly so. You could also try adjusting your schedule so you can pick him up earlier and do an earlier bedtime.

Before I read your update, I was going to suggest that it was overtiredness in combination with the transition between home and daycare. Our son (11 months) sometimes goes through phases when he is super cranky in the two hours I have him at home before bedtime. Usually happens when he has not napped well that day.

Another factor is that I know I sometimes have a harder time getting into a groove with the baby when I pick him up from the nanny share. I'm exhausted, he's exhausted, and he picks up on my tension. (Same thing for the morning rush out the door sometimes.) At one point I started to worry about this, but I realized that our weekend evenings were just fund. So I figured out that it was really a question of transitions (for me as much as the baby!) because when I spent all day with him, we were golden.
posted by yarly at 4:58 PM on June 8, 2013

I decided to drive around until he fell asleep instead of going straight home, and would you believe that kid slept until 6pm? When we got home I nursed him (which I don't usually do at that time, but I'm following the advice you gave upthread) and he was so happy all evening. He went to bed an hour later than usual, and slept in until SEVEN AM!!! And then this morning has been the best day we've had together in memory.

I am so, so glad you got this day you so badly needed. That's fabulous. But frankly, if short naps at daycare and an afternoon post-daycare nap look like they may work as a better schedule for all of you, I'm not sure I'd touch that with a different daycare setup!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:11 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sleep was our main issue. I had a sensitive, crying/screaming baby who would not sleep more than a few minutes at a time, and only in certain circumstances, and it was utter hell. I finally found the life-saving book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" and bought a crazy setup she would actually sleep in. We were gradually able to get her on a sleep schedule that worked for her, and as soon as she started getting more sleep, her demeanor completely changed. A single missed nap meant a crappy week for all of us, so I was uncompromising about her sleep for her first years. Some people made comments, but I had peace, and it was well worth the sacrifice of my own schedule.

I think that she was still taking 2 naps at one year.

I wish you luck getting to the bottom of things.
posted by moira at 9:15 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so glad you had a good day with him! Apparently there are sleep coaches and clinics that look at infant sleep issues. Might be something to look into more. The bottom line here is that "mama knows." I have had a few health care professionals assure me that if something feels "off" to me about my baby, I shouldn't hesitate to get it checked out. You know your child better than anyone else.
posted by amanda at 9:28 PM on June 8, 2013

Response by poster: You could also try adjusting your schedule so you can pick him up earlier and do an earlier bedtime.

That's a great idea. Maybe I'll ask my boss if I can start and end my day an hour earlier!
posted by arcticwoman at 5:22 AM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm so happy for all 3 of you, that you've had some progress, some happy times, some sleep.
posted by theora55 at 6:23 PM on June 13, 2013

Have you considered teaching him some baby sign language? It has helped quite a few kids I know (and their parents :-) because the kid is able to relay some basic needs, long before a huge meltdown occurs. Once you get things under control again, look up the baby sign videos, or search through the archives here. Even 10 or 12 signs can be really useful.

Now that it's getting warmer, are swimming lessons a possibility? Or even just a warm pool with one of you? Some kids love love swimming, and it's very soothing, fun, and exhausting. Just make sure not to overdo it, stop long before he's exhausted or hungry, get changed and fed, and watch him pass out. It's a really lovely bonding time. Warm water is key for everyone.

Remember that he's falling apart when he's with his parents not because he doesn't like you, but precisely because he does love and trust you so much. It certainly doesn't feel like a badge during a meltdown, but I've found that when I'm able to send the child infinite gratitude for trusting me with their needs and worries, my own mindset is very different throughout the process. It's somewhat counterintuitive, and gets even more so as the hours drag on. But maybe it can bubble up within a few key moments and offer your exhausted self a respite from worry.

You're all doing an amazing job in a really difficult period. Would love to have an update when you have a minute sometime.
posted by barnone at 7:15 PM on June 13, 2013

Just saw that you commented about baby sign - sorry!

In terms of the allergy, if dairy doesn't seem to be a trigger, investigate soy. Too much soy can be hard on little bodies and it is seemingly in everything these days. It's worth consulting with his pediatrician as well as a proper allergist.

I have a feeling that once a few of the bigger issues are sorted out, everything else will fall into place. One step at a time, Mama! Best wishes and hope things ease up for you soon.
posted by barnone at 7:20 PM on June 13, 2013

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