Fussy babies overwhelm parents


Program offers help when babies cry excessively


Linda Gilkerson was a fussy baby. So was her son. And her mother. In fact, her mother was so fussy that Gilkerson’s grandmother, desperate to comfort the child, used to drive her around the neighborhood in her Model T. Her neighbors disapproved—it was a time when society thought women shouldn’t drive.

But when Gilkerson decided to start the Fussy Baby Network at Chicago’s Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development, it was her experience as the parent of a fussy baby that inspired her.

“It definitely hits home for me,” says the professor of infant studies. Her son, now grown, was fussy for the first five months of his life. “I felt very alone. You become isolated, you pull back.”

The Fussy Baby Network launches April 3 in partnership with the University of Chicago. The first program of its kind in Illinois and the newest of only a handful in the nation, it is aimed at helping parents survive the trials of a baby who won’t stop crying.

“Some babies are truly harder to soothe,” says Gilkerson. “They cry and cry and cry and that’s one of the hardest things for a parent.”

Fussy babies cry for hours at a time, are sensitive to sound and light, don’t like to be held, are difficult to feed and won’t play. What makes them fussy isn’t entirely clear. Some babies are just extra sensitive, some haven’t yet developed the ability to regulate their behaviors and others cry for no apparent reason at all. What is clear, Gilkerson says, is that parents of fussy babies need emotional support. They often feel discouraged and rejected, get little sleep and can begin to believe their baby doesn’t like them.

Housed at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, the Fussy Baby Network will offer a clinic, support groups, a personalized parent-infant consultation program and a live telephone support line, called the Warmline, all on a sliding-fee scale.

“There’s no one easy answer,” Gilkerson says. “You’re on a bit of a ride. But you can help your baby, you can get through it and you can be strengthened by it.”

Early this year, Gilkerson studied emergency room admissions at the University of Chicago and found 290 infants were admitted for crying. One-third were diagnosed as “colic,” the medical term for excessive crying.

The good news for parents, Gilkerson says, is the crying will stop, usually within two to four months. As they grow older, all babies cry less often as their nervous systems develop the ability to inhibit their fussy behaviors. And in the end you’ll feel closer to your baby. “You faced the challenge and it hasn’t been easy,” she says.

The Warmline is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Drop-in support groups meet from 1-2:30 p.m. every Tuesday. For more information, call (888) 431-BABY. A Web site, www.fussybabynet-work.org is in the works.


-- Matt Alderton

Kids Eat Chicago

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