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The Informed Parent

The Night Crier

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Dec. 17, 2012

This young mom and her 2 ½ year old toddler ambled in to my office the other day. Their purpose was to exclude any medical problem that could cause the child to have night wakenings with crying every two hours.

The obviously tired mother relayed the following tale: ”Since Samantha turned two years old she awakens every two hours crying. The only was to stop it is by holding her, and talking to her. After 20 minutes she falls back asleep, only to repeat the episode two hours later. I can only guess that she must be in pain. At any rate, I am exhausted!”

Carefully examining the child, from head to toe, I found no evident occult disease process. During the history mom at first denied any changes at home which might have occurred approximately six months ago.

Then, on second thought, she remembered that she had resumed going to work--six months ago. Further questioning revealed that the baby was placed in child care during working days, from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. The baby routinely was then fed, bathed and put to bed! Mom now remembered that the crying behavior began after she went back to work. A clue to the cause of the problem came from the fact that the baby always stops crying when held and comforted. Any baby in genuine pain usually does not stop crying to play. 

When asked why mom went back to work at the same job she had prior to the pregnancy, she replied, “We want to take an extended vacation. My job will finance it.”

“Are you sure that you don’t use the money for food or housing, or transportation?:” I asked.

“No. My husband makes enough money for what we need.”

A short discussion later mom suddenly understood the problem. The baby needed interaction with her. If it was NOT received in the daytime, she would seek it out at night.

The enlightened mother left the office to share the visit with her husband. Six months later, when Samantha was now three years old, they returned to the office for her well check. Mom was happy and rested. Samantha was satisfied and playful. The last six months had been marked by calm sleepful nights. Most important, both mom and dad were confident that the missed vacation was less important than the psychological well being of their child.

Lessen learned: Be sure that both parents are working for necessity, NOT luxury. Some of you may feel that vacations are necessary. And let me tell you, I do too! But only a vacation that can be afforded without disrupting your child’s mental well-being. 

Originally published on December 10, 2001

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