sleep deprivation is known to affect cognitive abilities, judgement and the capacity to handle stress. But it also has physical health consequences like increasing blood pressure and increasing consumption of food and appetite leading to weight gain.
Sleep deprivation is no fun, and it is even less so if the cause of the deprivation is your crying baby. The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne estimates that a baby of 6-8 weeks cries on average for 2-3 hours in every 24, generally in bursts interspersed by being settled. Thus crying is a normal, natural part of a baby's life, but that may be small comfort to the parents of a young baby that cries frequently and for long periods.
For first time parents this normal behaviour can seem quite abnormal and can lead them to question whether there is:
- something wrong with the baby
- something they are doing that is hurting or in some other way, failing the baby.
- babies sleep best in a room that is silent and dark;
- picking up a crying baby will spoil it;
- babies should not be allowed to cry as crying indicates that they are in need;
- allowing a baby to cry may cause mental health issues in later life.
- they are hungry
- they are tired
- possibly, because they have a wet or dirty nappy, although this tends to be a later reaction
- their tummies are uncomfortable: colic, wind, digestive problems
- simply because they can!
And when the baby sleeps, new parents need to take very opportunity to catch up on their own sleep rather than spending time on the computer, catching up with friends and doing the housework. A rested parent is in a far better position to respond calmly and confidently to a baby.
Crying and Unsettled Babies, a fact sheet from the RCH
Unsettled/Crying Babies, Clinical Guidelines from the RCH
The Period of Purple Crying, apart from excellent information and advice, there is a section aimed directly at fathers.
Controlled Comforting, from The Conversation
Crying Baby and Newborn Behaviour, from the Raising Children Network