The time I put my baby down and walked away

As mothers, we are pretty much hard wired to respond immediately (sometimes even before) when our baby starts crying.

Is he hungry? In pain? Does he have a dirty diaper?

Does he just need me to hold him, talk to him, or let him be?

We go through this mental checklist within seconds as we gently rock our babes, safe in the confines of our warm and loving embrace.

But, what if the crying continues…and continues…and continues…for hours on end?

It’s heartbreaking, demoralizing, guilt inducing, and downright exhausting.

I vividly remember one particularly exhausting and demoralizing day with my newborn son. I had already become accustomed to him needing my arms 24/7. He was happy, as long as he was there. Taking showers, eating with two free hands, and going to the bathroom alone were luxuries of the past. I had come to peace with it. Mostly.

Then…there was that day. The exhaustion caught up. He was particularly fussy, and I really wanted a shower. All my attempts to place him in his bouncy, his bassinet, or his crib were met with red faced wails. He had been fed, changed, cuddled. I had already ruled out any potential causes for his increase in crying episodes such as food sensitivities or reflux.

I was at a loss. He was just crying. And in spite of my swaddling, swinging, and offering of the pacifier…he continued to cry. As I carried his tiny swaddled body down the stairs, I could feel my body tensing up and my heart pounding in my chest. I abruptly turned right back around, walked into my room, placed him safely in his bassinet, and walked away.

I even closed the door behind me.

I could breathe again. I went downstairs, lay down on the couch, and took several slow, deep breaths.

After what felt like eternity (in reality, less than 5 minutes), I reentered my baby’s world eager to help and hold him once again.

So, when I read this post by a mom wishing someone had told her it was okay to let her baby cry, it broke my heart.

Because here’s the thing about babies and crying: we know all babies cry. Some cry more than others…for hours on end. Some we diagnose with colic which is really just a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning there’s nothing wrong with the baby, he’s just a sensitive little soul (as I like to call them) who needs some time adjusting to the outside world.

Some do end up having food sensitivities or reflux and once addressed, crying may greatly diminish.

But what about these sensitive little souls? Who cry, and cry, and cry in spite of all our best soothing techniques. In spite of the 5 S’s…which I loved, by the way.

For these babies, parents really do need to know that this period of excessive crying is actually normal between 2 weeks of age to 3-4 months old. This is explained so well by Dr. Ronald Barr, a developmental pediatrician who came up with the term, The Period of PURPLE Crying. PURPLE is an acronym to help parents understand this developmental stage in their baby’s life that can lead to excessive crying.

The other thing moms and dads should know: it’s not your fault. You are not a bad mom. Your baby is not a “bad” baby, he’s just sensitive, remember? This doesn’t mean that all that crying doesn’t weigh heavily on your heart. It does, no matter how calm and understanding you are.

So please, above all, remember this…yes, it certainly is okay to place your baby in a safe place, walk away and regroup when you’re in the midst of an intense crying jag. It doesn’t mean you love your baby any less. You are not damaging your baby. Take a few moments for yourself and come back to your beautiful little sensitive soul with a full tank of love and patience.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In efforts to increase awareness about crying in babies and reduce the incidence of shaken baby syndrome, The Period of PURPLE has launched a Click for Babies campaign.

Spread the word. Support a new mom.

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10 Responses to The time I put my baby down and walked away
  1. Lindsey
    April 20, 2012 | 6:49 am

    Great post! My son was a crier. He always cried when my husband got home from work, and he always asked me if he hated him because he only cried when he was around. Reflux was the culprit. However, even though we knew before he was 2 weeks old he suffered from reflux (and later a milk protein sensitivity), our pediatrician wouldn’t prescribe medicine until he was a month old. That was the longest 2 weeks of our lives. Walking the living room floor over and over while my son was in the baby carrier crying until he would fall asleep with his back arched. My muscles ached to keep him from falling out of my arms. However, it was the only position that gave him relief from the reflux. Luckily I have a high tolerance for crying, but there are always those moments when it becomes too much. Yes, it is ok to put them down in a safe place and walk away.

    • Melissa
      April 21, 2012 | 7:47 am

      I think those moments with our babies will be seared in our hearts and minds forever. It pains us to see our babies crying and us feeling like there’s not much we can do. So glad your little one got treatment for his reflux. Thank you for sharing your story, Lindsey.

  2. Adriel
    April 20, 2012 | 8:55 am

    Yes, there is a big difference between doing cry-it-out (which I’m not a fan of) and walking away from a crying baby because you seriously need to for both of your sake. I personally don’t believe babies should be left alone to cry, but if the other option is an unstable mother who might do something she regrets that’s harmful to the baby (and haven’t we all been “her” at one point?), then we mustmustmust have permission to go and breathe and regroup and make a call if we need to. I’ve never felt “rage” until I became a mother and the power of those emotions scare and shock me. I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve needed to walk away and pray and center myself, or even call my husband just to hear him reassure and encourage me. I know that doesn’t make me a bad mom… it makes me a good mom. We all need to give ourselves permission to walk away when we need to. (In the context you’re talking about.) Very important message.

    • Melissa
      April 21, 2012 | 7:54 am

      Thanks Adriel. Yes, the context is SO important. CIO is a whole other issue and not one I used with my own children. There’s just something about crying babies as moms. If we can’t seem to “make it better” it really eats away at us, doesn’t it? I just hope more moms realize that it’s okay to ask for help and to take a few moments for themselves to regroup if needed. And…that it gets better with time. It really does.

  3. Amy
    April 20, 2012 | 8:24 pm

    I am so glad you wrote this article! My youngest daughter had colic for 5 months and cried every single night at 7.30pm for a minimum of 3 hours. (Sometimes we would watch the clock in shock of how she seemed to ‘know’ it was 7.30pm!) I was feeling so overwhelmed, lost, hopeless, helpless, frustrated, and seemed never ending! I wish I had read this then..I never put her down but perhaps if I had, I would not have been so resentful of her at the time. To any mother going through this—stay strong and find support! It truly doesn’t last forever!!

    • Melissa
      April 21, 2012 | 8:03 am

      I think that’s the thing, Amy, when we can’t seem to “make it better” it eats away at us and resentment can definitely build up. We want so badly to be able to comfort and console our babies. When, the simple truth is…many will still cry and that’s okay. We can be there without having the goal of making the crying stop. It took me SO long (long after my son and I went through this) to realize that. Also, the simple fact that I gave myself permission to put my baby down, even for those few short minutes (which felt like an eternity) made such a huge difference in how I looked at the whole situation. It allowed me the distance and perspective to view his crying as something “he” is going through and not necessarily something I need to “fix”. Then, I was able to be there for him. To love and support him through it all. And yes…Moms going through this…it doesn’t last forever. It DOES get better and please ask for help and take care of yourself.

  4. Jessica
    April 23, 2012 | 8:09 pm

    What an important post for all new mothers. Before we left the hospital, our pediatrician gave us this advice and while I only needed it once, I was happy to have ‘permission’ to put my son in his crib, leave the room and regroup. Sadly, not all people have heard this- just the other day this came up in conversation and another mother looked at me like I was a demon with 2 heads when I mentioned that I had once put my son in his crib for a few minutes when I felt like I couldn’t handle any more of an extended bout of crying.

  5. Amy @ Anktangle
    April 26, 2012 | 6:51 am

    Thank you for writing this post. It is very important to know that we must take care of ourselves to be able to care for our children. Sometimes part of adequate self-care is taking a moment away from our precious, screaming baby to regroup and calm our own nervous systems so that we can help them more effectively when we return.

    I had to do this many times when my son (diagnosed early on by our ped as “colicky”) screamed all. day. long. Turns out he has sensory processing issues, and the screaming did not stop after 3-4 months, it only got more intense (eventually up to 7 hours during the day before we found an OT to assess him). I wish our pediatrician had considered sensory as a possible cause before telling me it was my fault for stressing out my child and that I should hire a nanny.

  6. Craig Canapari MD
    April 29, 2012 | 6:15 pm

    Melissa– you were really brave to share this. I think lots of new moms will benefit.

  7. […] overwhelmed or frustrated, it is always okay to ask for help or to put your baby in their crib and walk away for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths and wait for the feeling to […]