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May 21, 2007 12:21 PM   Subscribe

How do you handle a baby that cries when you put him down?

Our second boy is now almost 5 months old. He's a very good kid and doesn't have any particularly outstanding issues bar one. More than 75% of the time when he should otherwise be completely satisfied (ie clean diaper, rested, fed), he cries like a madman when you sit him down. He'll be perfectly fine if you hold him (sometimes you have to hold him and walk around rather than sit). The second you lay him down he goes from zero to full-on scream. Pick him up...all smiles.

We've tried a ton of things... Double and triple checking to ensure all his needs are met. Watching what Mrs. Toad (she's nursing him) is eating in case it upsets his tummy. And have even just let him cry it out. On the cry-it-out tip, we've gone in every 15 minutes or so just to let him know we're still there but he typically will keep it up for an hour and a half or more and then eventually fall asleep.

We've read the books and whatnot but are basically looking for any input from other parents who may have experienced the same issue. We don't want to traumatize the little fellow by just letting him work it out, but we honestly don't know what else to try. We'd always heard you 'can't spoil a baby by holding them too much in the first X months', but we're beginning to wonder if he's just now gotten accustomed to being held and in the past month or so is now demanding it.

I don't think there have been any other questions to this specific point (I've seen the ones on babies sleeping), so sorry if I missed it in my searching.

Thanks in advance for any input.
posted by MrToad to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Has he always done this, or is it a new development?

The first answer that comes to my mind is that he has some sort of reflux issue going on that makes him uncomfortable when he's lying down. Can you put him down on something with an incline (like a car seat) without him freaking out?

Sometimes reflux has no obvious signs (ie: spit-up, etc) other than they crying.

Also, are you swaddling him? If not, I'd try it. Some babies get very anxious with all their arms and legs hanging out in the world and the snugness of swaddling can calm them.

You haven't spoiled him. Trust me that I know what a totally frustrating and tiring experience this must be for you, but eventually it will sort itself out.

Good luck!
posted by anastasiav at 12:29 PM on May 21, 2007

His crying is definitely communicating something about not wanting to be put down. Is it possible that he associates sitting with boring (lack of brain stimulation) and being held with new information and movement? If so, then maybe sitting him in a bouncy chair would bridge the interest gap for him. Alternatively, holding him on the body via a sling might feel less like spoiling to you -- he's along for the ride, but he's not getting too much undivided attention.
posted by xo at 12:43 PM on May 21, 2007

My son was like this, with the added bonus of him not wanting to be held by anyone but me. I ended up carrying him around everywhere in a baby sling (I bought a half-dozen kinds of slings before falling in love with this style--you can use it in front or in back, it can be tied so the baby is swaddled or, as they get older, have their limbs free). He grew out of the "only Mom" phase at about 6 months and grew out of the "must be held at all times" bit at about 12 months, when he started walking. I tried letting him cry it out once and thought 'screw this, why am I doing this to a baby?'

He's 9 now. Independent, adventurous but always careful to location ping me or his dad on a regular basis. No idea if the two are related but if there is a correlation, I'm happy with the way it's turned out.
posted by jamaro at 12:44 PM on May 21, 2007

I second the reflux issue that anastasiav mentioned. We went crazy trying to figure out what was causing our fourth child to be so apparently needy. He even hated car or stroller rides. Turns out it was reflux, and some diet changes (rice cereal in addition to - in our case - formula) and inclining the crib helped a small bit. Thankfully, he grew out of it by the time he was 12 months old. It was difficult until then, tho.

You can never hold your baby too much! This is our last one and I'm really going to miss having a little one to scoop up and carry around (until the grandkids start arriving *:^)
posted by hrbrmstr at 12:47 PM on May 21, 2007

I' m onboard with swaddling!

Also, he may be over-stimulated when you put him down; i.e., it's too noisy or bright or scary where he sleeps. Tried white noise? Some babies really find that soothing.
posted by misha at 12:48 PM on May 21, 2007

Are you trying to put him down to sleep, or to just rest yourself? Is it his time to sleep, like nighttime or post-feeding?

Our four-month-old daughter is starting to experience this - we put her down on her back and it's all holy hell. BUT, I'm starting to think that when we feel like she should be in her crib to sleep, she's just not feeling it. A nice mobile from her mom gave her something to watch and listen. And sometimes she'll fall asleep watching it, and other times she'll fight the urge and just watch and kick move her arms. But, she's at the point that she's in her crib and safe, while we can clean bottles, take the dog out, etc. And there isn't much protest until the mobile needs to be reset. Short answer: we learned what she wants and how to react, and we're happy.

Not to add fuel to the fire, our pediatrician hinted that Sofia might be a "sensitive" baby during our last checkup. So, her suggestion is to let her cry a little more when left alone and let her figure things out by herself such as in new situations. Now, we shouldn't be absent parents, but to let our daughter learn to cope on her own a bit more. But, that's a point of contention in the household.

And on preview, reflux or burping/gas might be something, as well.
posted by fijiwriter at 12:55 PM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: We do swaddle. He's good with it when it's bed time, otherwise he wants no part of it.

We've also tried all sorts of things to entertain him during these times. Bouncer, swings, mobiles, sitting him in a Bumbo and placing toys in front of him (he's at the point where he can pick stuff and play with it), etc, etc.
posted by MrToad at 1:12 PM on May 21, 2007

Reflux was my first thought. Another thought is an ear infection. It's a little early at 5 months, but my breastfed baby had his first ear infection at 6 months - it's not impossible. He didn't have a fever, so we thought it wasn't his ears, but we were wrong - both ears, and bad. Lying prone hurts more. Oh, and how does he like being on his tummy?

Do you have a swing, and is he OK while in it? Does he tolerate being propped up in a sitting position? If not, maybe he does just prefer being held - and that's OK! I mean, don't take any crap about it. It's also OK if it drives you crazy. I second or third getting a sling or Bjorn if you don't have one.

If it is a "wanting to be held" phase, it will be gone before you know it.
posted by peep at 1:18 PM on May 21, 2007

Oh, then scratch my whole comment. Should have previewed!
posted by peep at 1:20 PM on May 21, 2007

If a baby is fussy like that when you put him/her down, get some water and purse your lips into an "O" and suck air in. Make the sound that wine tasters make (or if you remember the sixties, approximate a 'bong' in use sound) and for some reason babies really quiet down when you do that. I've tried it a couple times and it has worked 3/4 times, which I think makes it worth a try. This is, of course, assuming it isn't a physiological problem.
posted by indiebass at 1:25 PM on May 21, 2007

Our 8-month-old went through a phase of crying whenever he was laid down and it seemed to relate to teething. Should you find this to be the case with your baby, here are some of the things that we did:

We gave him Hyland's teething tablets and then held/rocked him for a few minutes before putting him down and it made a huge difference.

We bought a vibrating teething toy (namely this one) and put him to bed with it.

We bought an infant gum massager and let him chew on it for as long as he wanted to right before bed.

For the times that he seemed quite uncomfortable, I would give him a homemade "popsicle" (organic pureed strawberries blended with water and a little apple juice, frozen in a plastic sleeve a la Fla-vor-ice-style, only with just a tiny hole cut out on the end so that he couldn't bite off a chunk and swallow it). He LOVES these and he's old enough now to hold onto it himself if i wrap one end in a cloth napkin.

Finally, we also made certain to pick him up when he WASN'T crying so that he didn't make an association between crying and being picked up.
posted by mezzanayne at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2007

Recommend "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Harvey Karp, MD, a pediatrician. You can get it at Amazon as a book or DVD. He teaches 5 techniques, "the 5 S's", to calm almost any baby. Swaddling is one of them. Definitely give this a try if you haven't read his book yet.
posted by cahlers at 1:49 PM on May 21, 2007

You might be interested to know that there's a parenting movement that believes in deliberately holding (or slinging) a baby as often as possible (basically, until the child begins to request to be put down, around age 1). They call this the in-arms phase and feel that it leads to more content babies and more fulfilled humans. It's called the Continuum Concept, and it's based on the observations of Jean Liedlof, who spent time with a South American tribe and formulated some theories after wondering why their babies so rarely cried.
posted by xo at 2:03 PM on May 21, 2007

My son started this around six months. At around eight months my wife and I were at the end of our rope. Pediatrician recommended reading Ferber's (Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber) book. We did and used his method and within a week our son was a different kid.

He was much happier. The first few nights were brutal! First night he cried for 2 hrs 45 minutes, second night he cried for about an hour, third night about 20 minutes, and fourth night it was 5 minutes. After that he stopped crying at all when we went to bed at night. His naps took more like a month to get under control.
posted by crhanson at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2007

I had very clingy kids - people told me it was my own fault for not letting them cry it out. They grew out of it, eventually. But I never ever ever was able to put my baby in his or her cot and have them go to sleep. Never. Occasionally I succeeded in getting them to sleep first, and then transferring them, but mostly not.

They turned out pretty good, in the end.
posted by b33j at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2007

I say let him cry. He is learning to associate screaming with you dropping everything and giving him attention. Once you break this connection, both of your lives may be improved.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:57 PM on May 21, 2007

All good advice, but by the time you read the books, ask your friends, check on the internet, and come up with something that "works", the kid will be too old to hold anymore. Enjoy this time, the time of complete control, of holding your baby as long as you doesn't last long, and you won't be any less the parent.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 2:59 PM on May 21, 2007

Seconding everything in Happiest baby on the Block. I had one other trick that worked sometimes for my son. While approaching the crib, we'd be rocking and jiggling him. Then, while putting him down on the mattress, we'd start bouncing the mattress underneath him. Sometimes we'd do it rather energetically, then ease off after a few minutes to nothing. It seemed to ease the transition from being rocked in our arms to being in a still, quiet crib.
posted by saffry at 3:01 PM on May 21, 2007

If you like the Continuum Concept xo mentioned and want a sling you can use for a good long time, check out this one. I have a 15 month old (asleep on my chest in the sling as I type this) and he basically lives in the sling. Walks, shopping, doing dishes, working at the computer-- he's in it. He can face forward or into my chest, and he can be on my front or back.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2007

Wrap baby well (swaddle if accepted), hold horizontally (as if laid down), put heating pad or hot water bottle in baby's bed just to warm it. Make sure bed is NOT HOT. DO NOT Leave heating pad in bed. Cross fingers, toes, and say any magic incantation you can come up with. Put baby on warm spot. Hold baby snug on warm spot, then gradually let go. Hope for the best. When this fails, try anything at least once.
Good luck.
posted by kch at 5:41 PM on May 21, 2007

I feel for you. My first was like this. We stuck some textbooks under the head of the mattress (less risk of GERD, and can help the ears drain so fewer ear infections). I have no idea if it helped but it made us feel like we were doing something. We used the sling a lot. I think it was just his temperment. He's 4 now and still pretty high drama. My younger son is nothing like that, and we haven't changed our parenting style at all. I really do think it's just personality. Babies have as much personality as adults. On the plus side, "high need" babies grow into fun and hilarious toddlers - everything is done on a grand scale. I feel like the mom in Calvin & Hobbes.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:29 PM on May 21, 2007

My little girl did the same thing. This included all sleeping times. Long story short: after trying everything we could think of, three things helped. The first was that I was able to hold her most of the day, and a strap-on baby carrier made it possible to do other things as well. That's not exactly the remedy you're looking for, but it was what she insisted on from the beginning. Holding her gave her the comfort and security she wanted, and had no negative effects down the road. Several months later, she's incredibly independent and content. The holding stage didn't last long at all.

For naps and nighttime, we finally found something other than my husband's chest for her to sleep on: the Amby. O, sing praises to the Amby. It cuddled her body, kept her head raised, and bounced and swayed when she moved. After continually refusing the cradle, crib, car seat, and swing, she fell asleep immediately in the Amby.

The third thing had to do with the sleeping schedule itself. We thought she was getting the sleep she needed, but her demeanor completely changed when I did some research on infant sleep and put it into practice. There were no more nightly, hours-long meltdowns, and she stopped the continual fussing during the day. Granted, she still insisted on being held most of the time, but she became a quiet, focused, cheerful baby. I can't even begin to scratch the surface in this comment, but there are some basic guidelines:

- An infant's body generally tolerates a maximum of two hours of wakefulness. This means that a baby should be asleep before those two hours are up. That's incredibly general, and it's best to look for other signs of tiredness that a baby will give once he's better rested.

- Bedtime for a little one is a lot earlier than many people think. I was putting my daughter down around 5:30 until she was a little better regulated. Bedtimes should be around 7-8p at the latest.

- Nap times and bedtimes should occur at approximately the same time every day, and should have a leading routine.

The above looks like a complete tangent, but I was so shocked at how changing my daughter's sleep patterns improved just about everything, I cried in relief. For the record, I used a combination of methods from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and The No-Cry Sleep Solution.
posted by moira at 8:00 PM on May 21, 2007

In this case, I'd say hold the baby if that is what he needs, or else keep trying new things (have you tried one of those doorway bouncers or an exersaucer? My baby doesn't like to sit down either, she likes to be play in things that allow her to stand up/jump/etc.) I would be willing to bet that this behavior will go away sooner than you expect. By next week, he might be over it. I remember thinking that my daughter would never be able to sleep at night without being swaddled and then all of a sudden she started resisting the swaddle and sleeping without it. Also, we never thought she'd sleep through the night (i.e., going back to sleep on her own whenever she had awakenings during the night) and then it just starting to happen and now she is really good at it. They grow up so fast and their behaviors are always changing. Don't get too discouraged.
posted by daser at 7:22 AM on May 22, 2007

Kids with reflux typically are not consolable when simply held.

Your situation is identical to our first daughter. A solid year. Were it not for the sling mentioned earlier no chores would have been accomplished. She's almost seven and one of the happiest kids on the planet, and scary creative. I see parents go through this periodically. It's worse, too, when family or friends imagine you are exaggerating, or somehow to blame [nervous first parents, etc.] The second child was so easy we couldn't stop laughing sometimes at how simple caring for her was. The study in contrasts was surreal.

Hang in there. It gets better.
posted by docpops at 1:15 PM on May 22, 2007

Also, she loves for us to tell stories about what an absolute demon she was as an infant.
posted by docpops at 1:16 PM on May 22, 2007

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