8 Tips to sooth a Crying Baby!
As my five-year old began throwing an epic fit the other day, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could get him to stop screaming the way I used to when he was a baby?!
Although admittedly it never seemed that way at the time, soothing a crying baby– (isn’t always) but CAN be– quite simple. And now that I’ve had even more experience snuggling fussy, unsettled, or crying babies during newborn portrait sessions, I thought I’d share a few tips with moms and dads who may just be at their wit’s end, or even soon-to-be parents who just want to be prepared!
The 5 “S”s of newborn soothing…
The most effective techniques that I use soothe babies I learned from Dr. Harvey Karp’s book The Happiest Baby on the Block. (Here is a link to it in Amazon. Nope, I don’t get anything for mentioning it- I just know that countless parents swear by it. It’s awesome!)
In a nutshell, Dr. Karp describes “5 Ss” essential to soothing a baby: Swaddle, Swinging, Side-lying, “Shhh”ing, and Sucking. I can’t remember if there is a particular order to them- for that you may have to read the book! But I use these all the time during newborn sessions!
I can’t tell you how many times parents in the studio have told me, (as I begin to wrap their baby snugly in a wrap or thin blanket) “He really doesn’t like being swaddled, he always fusses and squirms.” Now keep in mind, I always tell parents exactly what I’m doing during a newborn session (when I’m wrapping them, turning them over, placing them in a prop, etc.) so when I start wrapping/swaddling baby, mom and dad never object. (If they did, I would of course respect their wishes!) They might, however, watch me with skepticism because they’ve not had any success with swaddling before! 😉
The key to a swaddle that a baby will love: Wrap them SNUGLY. Really snugly! And continue to wrap them even if they are fussing or squirming or crying. It’s not until you’re DONE that a nice, snug swaddle accompanied by more of the “S”s will start to settle baby down.
Steps for a successful swaddle…
The swaddle technique that always works for me?? You can use a receiving blanket– (my husband, the King of swaddling babies, always preferred the waffle-knit stretchy ones)– or a simple wrap like I put on babies in the studio! If using a blanket, lay it out flat with a corner pointing “north” and fold that corner down a few inches. Lay baby on the blanket so the top of his or her shoulders are a just below that fold. Take one side of the blanket, pull it across baby’s closest shoulder and arm (keeping it firm and snug the whole time!) and tuck it snugly under baby’s opposite armpit and around their back.
You can then bring up babies legs, cross them over their bottom (to make sure their legs aren’t stick straight) and bring up the bottom corner of the blanket to cover them, tucking it up and over one of their shoulders. (We never did this any fancy way- just kinda took up the excess and tucked it in. 🙂
Next, take the last corner of the blanket, and PULLING IT TAUGHT, wrap it over baby’s other shoulder and arm, and around their body, (as many times as you need to wrap it around) and then tuck it into a fold near the top. Voila! Baby Burrito!
One reason babies may fuss during swaddling is that they may have a preference to how their arms lie. You can swaddle each of baby’s arms so they’re down at their sides, or- what many babies seem to prefer- swaddle them with their arms bent at each elbow, or even with their hands up near their neck. (When our kiddos were babies, they both loved to have their arms and fists up by their faces, like they were blocking a right hook!) 🙂 The secret to a swaddle actually settling your baby (instead of frustrating them) is to make it SNUG. Tight, even! Think of how squished they were in momma’s womb- and perfectly happy to be! A nice, snug swaddle mimics that snug feeling of being in the womb- which is why it’s so soothing to them.
I think this is what Dr. Karp describes in his book… or is it swaying? Either way, holding a swaddled baby in your arms and swaying or swinging them back and forth (just the way baby swings do!) is like the icing on that baby burrito cake! Again, mom’s womb was the perfect little hammock to hang out in- when mom walked, baby was swished back and forth, and doing this with baby can recreate that calming sensation. Another form of this is BOUCNING! The one thing that our son and daughter both loved was when we held them (in a swaddle of course- they were always swaddled those first few weeks!) and sat on an exercise ball and just bounced with them. (Make sure to dig your heels in between the floor and the ball to keep yourself steady.) It’s even calming for mom and dad. In fact, I’m getting sleepy now just thinking about it!
You know the way that so many Dads hold their babies? Kinda like the quarterback just handed them the football they’re going to run it in for a touchdown? Babies love that! Well, many do, that is. A swaddled baby is especially easy to hold this way: just lay baby across your arm or tummy sideways, being sure to support their head completely. Then swing them, sway them, bounce them- they’ll love it!
I think I remember reading an article once on language and how various languages (even those that use entirely different alphabets) all have some kind of sound that its native speakers instinctively make toward a crying baby- and they almost all sound like “Shhhhh.” I think it had to do with recreating the sound that babies hear in the womb- which is quite noisy! So, don’t be afraid to use your regular voice and “SHHHHH” fairly close to their ear. In fact, some moms prefer to save their breath and just turn on the vacuum cleaner or their hair dryer somewhere in the room! In the studio, I have both a white noise machine, as well as a Baby Susher gadget. (Yes it’s a real thing! Here’s another amazon link if you’re interested!) Frankly, a bit annoying for adults, but pure heaven for babies! (Just make sure to keep these things a few feet away from baby and not right next to their ear, to better control the decibel level.)
The debate over using a pacifier can sometimes be a bit of a controversy. But allowing a baby to suck doesn’t necessarily mean giving them a pacifier, (though it certainly is the easiest and a favorite of most babies!) They may just need to be put to breast, or even suck on their own fingers, (or even your clean pinky!) The fact that a non-nutritive source (something that won’t give them food) like a pacifier or finger can actually soothe a baby is evidence it’s babies innately need to calm themselves. And don’t worry- I get it. I was reluctant to give a pacifier too soon because of the fear of causing “nipple confusion.” Luckily, doctors and researchers now largely agree that this is not necessarily the case. So, do what your gut tells you to do, but also go easy on yourselves, Mom and Dad! If you’re at your wit’s end- letting your sweet baby use that sucking reflex a while might JUST be the thing they need to chill out! 🙂
Tip #6: Baby-wearing
Although the term “babywearing” still seems goofy to me– (I mean, I wear clothes, I don’t wear my baby!) I understand the practice and know that it’s an incomparable way to bond with and soothe an infant. I had an infant carrier that our kids LOVED to be “worn” in. I wore it sometimes at home when doing housework and such, but when it really knocked them out was when I went for a walk. When I started walking, I could feel their little feet swaying with each step I took, and that repetitive motion calmed them so quickly they were out like a light in no time.
Tip #7: Burping
My sister-in-law (a day-care provider of nearly two decades and mother of 3 amazing kiddos) can hardly stand to see someone burping a baby too wimpily. (Wimply? is that a word? Wimpy-ish?) When she burps a baby, she firmly pats their back- And it works. A tiny way-too-soft pat of your fingers won’t likely do much to any gas bubbles in baby’s tummy- but a firm pat can. Burping baby with a firm pat can help relive gas they’re experiencing and also give that repetitive feeling that they know and love so well. (Be sure to never “slap” with your flat hand, as that can hurt! But pat firmly with a cupped hand, or with the heel of your hand).
In fact, the repetitive rhythm of patting (even on their diapered bottom) can give that soothing sensation that calms them. When I am posing a sleepy baby on their tummy, for example, I will “Shhhhh” in baby’s ear while patting their bottom- works like a charm! 🙂
And TIP #8 for soothing a crying baby?
8. When you’re too exhausted to do any of the above.