A reality of life as a parent is that babies cry. This is natural and normal. Babies do not do this to annoy you or because you’re a bad parent! The reason that babies cry is because it’s what babies do to communicate and express their needs. Babies cry when they’re tired, stressed, afraid, uncomfortable, and especially when they’re hungry. And sometimes they’ll cry just because they want their mom or dad, and they need to be held and comforted. To learn more about the baby’s perspective on why he or she might need a good cry, read this “letter from your baby” on why babies love breastfeeding.
Many moms discover certain shortcuts to soothing a crying baby – every baby has unique preferences. As you gradually get to know your baby’s personality you’ll learn which techniques work best for her.
If a feed or a hug doesn’t do the job, these 6 suggestions may help to soothe your crying baby:
Use Gentle Sounds
It’s important to remember that the first few months of a newborn’s life are really the “4th trimester” of the womb – newborns are not so different from babies in utero, and the outside world is very new, different, and sometimes stressful to their systems. Babies are used to be in a calm and protected environment with a constant temperature, immersed in amniotic fluid and in sync with the mother’s body. One of the important ways that this difference after birth manifests itself is with the unfamiliar and abruptly changing sounds of the outside world. Babies often feel calmer when their parents can re-create the sounds of the womb. Even simply making a “shhhh” sound while holding your baby can be an effective imitation of the sound the baby heard in the uterus, which was as loud as a vacuum cleaner. Place your mouth two to four inches from your baby’s ear and make the “shhhh” sound loud enough to match the sound of your baby’s crying.
Another way to make the baby feel soothed and comforted is to use white noise. There are lots of great apps that mimic “white sound,” or videos on YouTube that usually incorporate the rhythmic beat of a heart alongside other white noise effects that sound similar to the sounds that the baby would have heard in the womb. Or check out Sound Oasis, a company that offers products for sound therapy for crying babies.
Carry and Snuggle Your Baby
Another way to re-create the womb environment is to hold and carry your baby close to your body so the baby can feel your warmth and heartbeat. Babies like to feel closely connected to their parents, and carrying your baby helps her feel safe and comforted. Get a baby carrier or wrap that lets you hold and cuddle your baby close to your body.
Babywearing is a great way to bond with your baby while freeing up your hands to do other things around the house, or you can wear your baby while out for a walk or while shopping. Swaddling and wrapping is another way to help your baby feel calm and well-cared-for – by making sure your baby is wrapped snugly within a blanket or swaddling outfit, it makes your baby feel magically returned to the womb and it will keep your baby from flailing his/her arms.
Get Moving Together
Babies will often relax and stop crying if they can feel a sense of motion, whether that’s from being carried gently through the house by a parent, or sitting in a special vibrating baby seat or bouncer, or the famous “baby in the car” trick (putting your baby in the car seat and driving around until the baby falls asleep). Whatever works for your baby, they seem to love the sounds and movement. One reason why movement can help soothe a baby is that the rhythmic moving imitates the jiggling your baby felt inside the uterus and activates the baby’s calming reflex. Another way to use motion to soothe your baby is to sit in a rocking chair (there’s a reason why these chairs were so popular and commonly made many years ago, even before the rise of modern “baby technology”) or just hold your baby and dance with them to favorite music. All of these simple “motion” techniques might help your baby feel comfortable and calm again.
One of the best ways to soothe a baby is something you’re probably doing already – breastfeeding. Breastfeeding almost always works to soothe a baby who is tired, scared or hungry. But don’t be alarmed if you find that the baby is feeding more frequently than usual. Babies have very small tummies and this means they need to feed frequently. They also go through growth spurts from time to time, which increases how many feeds they regularly need. This type of frequent “cluster feeding” is a normal part of your baby’s development. Always offer your crying baby the breast, even if he’s not hungry or even if he just recently nursed – sometimes the baby needs some “comfort nursing.” Just the simple act of suckling – whether it’s putting a pacifier, finger or breast into a baby’s mouth – turns on a calming reflex.
Give Him or Her a Massage
Human touch is one of the most powerful ways that we have to convey a sense of care and calm, and this is especially true for babies. Use your hands. Touch stimulates receptors in the brain that calm your baby and research shows that long, smooth strokes tend to work better than short, brisk ones. Try caressing your infant’s cheek, back, legs, or stomach – and of course, be gentle; babies don’t need firm “deep tissue” massage like grownups might receive – instead, just the sensory effects of gentle touch can deliver great benefits in helping your baby relax and feel soothed.
Calm Yourself First
Sometimes it seems like babies cry the most on the days when their parents are under the most stress – if you’ve had a long day at work, you’re feeling tired and short-tempered, the house is a mess and dinner’s not ready yet, it might seem like just too much to believe that your baby is going to have a crying fit all at the same time! But the truth is, babies often mirror our own moods. Babies can sense tension and will respond to your own stress.
Many moms swear by baths to calm their babies. The sound of the running water and the warmth on the skin can do wonders for a crying baby. Draw a warm bath and get into the tub with your baby to add soothing skin-to-skin contact.
It can be hard to take care of yourself while also caring for an infant, but self-care is also important to help provide a calm and peaceful environment for your baby. Practice meditation. Go for walks outdoors. Drink calming tea. Make time for plenty of rest – take a nap everyday if you can, even if that means leaving dishes undone and clean clothes unfolded.
Babies (especially in the first few months) are not yet capable of regulating their emotional states, so it might seem that they are “crying for no reason,” but the truth is, they’re figuring out how to deal with life outside the womb. In time, they will learn how to calm themselves and be more under control throughout the day. Remember that crying is a normal part of a baby’s life – so don’t worry – everything will be OK.
How do you soothe your crying baby? Any tips or tricks that you’d like to share? Join the conversation on our Medela Singapore Facebook page!