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Since about 10 days ago, our 2-month-old baby started to have some sort of panic attack in the evening. After his evening feed (6pm), he will initially fall asleep or relax, but after a while suddenly wakes up in a panic and cries for an hour straight. Walking around only makes things worse and will cause him to anxiously look around as if he is scared of every object in the house. He seems to be looking at the shadows and lights in the house, but I am not sure. During the day (from 9am until 5pm) he is fine, happy, smiling and feeding/sleeping.

What worries me is not so much the crying but the fact you can see he is distressed and terrified.

Does this have anything to do with his eyesight developing? Or anything else we should know or can do for him?

  • Are you certain he's having a panic attack? That seems like it would be difficult to determine with a 2 month old. I've never heard of this before. – user27219 May 5 '18 at 4:41
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    Do you wrap/swaddle your baby when he sleeps? – Catija May 6 '18 at 17:13
  • @Catija no we don’t – dsfgsho May 6 '18 at 17:46
  • Is he breastfed? Do you offer him the opportunity to nurse when he is crying? If so, what does the baby do? – anongoodnurse May 7 '18 at 15:37
  • Yes, he is breastfeeding, and he does calm down when nursing. – dsfgsho May 7 '18 at 19:24
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At that age, babies aren't actually able to see all that well, so it makes sense to look at light and shadow and other high contrast sights. See this website for more information on what a baby can and cannot see: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/childrens-vision/infant-vision-birth-to-24-months-of-age.

Other than that, it sounds like pretty normal baby behaviour. Do you allow your baby to fall asleep in your arms? If so, he might notice half-asleep that he's not where fell asleep, which might wake him up and confuse him; better to lay him down drowsy but awake. It could also be colic (which might or might not be a real colic), which is a phase of lots of crying at the end of the day that many babies experience. This site may give you some ideas: http://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Child-development-0-3-months

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    Are you sure this is "pretty normal" for a 2 month old? Can you tell us why you think this? (My babies never did this.) Thanks! – anongoodnurse May 6 '18 at 14:56
  • There seems to be a lot of filling in the gaps here: suddenly waking up 'in a panic', looking around 'anxiously'. These might also be interpretations by anxious parents (I def was one with my firstborn). If you omit these, you'll have a baby that wakes up from a (very late) nap and may be somewhat bewildered at its surroundings, either the change of location, or the play of light and shadow, or what have you. Also, my babies would cry for hours in the evenings at that age (see 'colic'), and there was nothing to be done about it; that abated soon after 3 months of age. – Little Ms Whoops May 6 '18 at 20:31
  • Swaddling (see Catija's comment) might be a good idea as well, by the way. Also, if he seems to be distracted or even distressed by light and shadow, I'd at least try to keep him in a dark room for a few times to see if that helps (it might, but it also might not). – Little Ms Whoops May 6 '18 at 20:49
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    What info is in the link that supports your assertion(s)? I don't think this is normal at all. Why am I wrong? Thanks. – anongoodnurse May 7 '18 at 3:46
  • The first one should be obvious. The second one gives an overview of different aspects of development in the first three months, incl. some that could be of interest here, such as colic, vision, startling, overstimulation. If you don't think this is normal at all, why don't you write an answer yourself? – Little Ms Whoops May 7 '18 at 9:00
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Panic attacks are usually psychological in origin, although they do occur with several medical conditions which cause excessive release of adrenaline. You are right, they are terrifying and extremely unpleasant. But your baby simply does not have the psychological wiring yet to have an actual panic attack, so look to other causes for this. It is either a medical condition (and I strongly recommend that you speak with your baby's health care providers about this until you have a satisfactory answer) or is a sleep disorder. I would place colic under "medical condition".

Please read about night terrors, also known as Sleep terrors. See if your baby falls into this pattern. (He is a bit young, but it's a possibility.) To do so well, you'll need to keep a sleep diary, which is not a bad idea in this case whatever the reason.

A baby experiencing sleep terrors does indeed appear to be in a panic, but it is very specific in its patterns.

It might be that the baby is still experiencing startle reflex, aka Moro reflex, which awakens him and leads to his crying.

Another, more dramatic reflex during these first few weeks is called the Moro reflex. If your baby’s head shifts positions abruptly or falls backward, or she is startled by something loud or abrupt, she will react by throwing out her arms and legs and extending her neck, then rapidly bringing her arms together and she may cry loudly. The Moro reflex, which may be present in varying degrees in different babies, peaks during the first month and then disappears after two months.

This is why swaddling helps babies sleep more soundly. If the infant can't throw out his arms, etc., it will greatly decrease the reflex. (Imagine if you were startled by a loud noise while lying in bed. You might jump considerably. Now imagine someone has you wrapped in their arms. You would still startle, but you wouldn't jump as much.

Although the Moro reflex does start to diminish starting at two months, it can persist for another month or two, and if it persists longer than that, a doctor usually starts to evaluate the baby for other problems.

Colic is a distinct possibility, and many babies experience colic. The exaggerated fear you describe is not present in colic; it is 'just' inconsolable crying (as if 'just' can be a consolation; it's not!)

Infantile colic is an ill-defined condition which seems to consist primarily of pain associated with symptoms ranging in degree from general fussiness to paroxysms of agonized crying. The symptoms usually start after feeding and are worse late in the day. Besides the typical unhappiness, as exemplified by clenching the fists and flexing the legs, the infant often makes sucking movements and appears to be searching for food. Usually these infants have a great deal of gas, manifested by excessive belching, flatus, and rumbling. The passage of gas is occasionally followed by temporary relief, supporting the theory that distended loops of intestine from collected air causes colic. It is most common in the first born, usually starting at 2 to 4 weeks of age, and lasting through the third or fourth month.

The timing isn't consistent with colic, but not all colic is created equally.

So you see, we can't tell you what is happening with your baby, we can only offer some possibilities. Try swaddling, keep a sleep diary, if he is breastfed, pay attention to what you (if you are the mom) eat, etc.

Above all, talk to your doctor. If it is colic, they may prescribe drops for the baby.

You can be reassured that the baby is not afraid of his surroundings. Improvement of visual acuity happens to every baby, but not every baby goes through what yours is experiencing.

  • Hi can you please include a source that says babies are not capable of having panic attacks? – user27219 May 7 '18 at 16:44
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    @iyrin - No, I cannot, because it is undocumented in the scientific literature. This is either because it does not exist, it exists but has not been studied, or there is no way at present to design an effective study for it. It's kind of like asking for support for the inability of infants of two months of age to do multiplication. – anongoodnurse May 7 '18 at 17:32
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    @iyrin - I did not say " there are no resources showing that a baby's brain doesn't have the wiring for this". There is a great deal of literature about the developing brain. // I'm also going to assume babies can't do math yet. To me there is a huge difference in believing something because there is evidence and believing something because it suits one's imagination. – anongoodnurse May 7 '18 at 20:30
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    @MartinArgerami - I, too, immediately thought of colic. I stated "Colic is a distinct possibility, and many babies experience colic." I also said not all colic is created equally. Colic often starts at two weeks, not two months, which is why I wrote what I did. – anongoodnurse May 7 '18 at 21:58
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    @iyrin - You can ask over at Cog.Sci; it might be on topic there. Am I correct in assuming that this has something to do with your comments? Just wondering. – anongoodnurse May 7 '18 at 22:10

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