I will never forget the frustration and sadness I felt when my newborn son wouldn’t stop crying in the early evening. It lasted from as soon as my husband got home until bed time. I tried feeding him but he wasn’t hungry—there had to be something else I could do! Through a combination of my own experience, training as a parenting teacher, and years of reading and research, I have discovered some tips that really work. If you are going through the same thing here are three of my favourite things to try which may help calm your baby (and you):
1. White noise. For many babies, a continuous loud noise that masks other noises, like a de-tuned radio, works to very quickly calm a crying baby. You can buy white noise CDs, download an app, or try the noise of the vacuum cleaner, or washing machine. The womb is filled with constant noise so this is what your baby is used to, and the better versions mimic the sounds heard by the baby in the womb. When babies are born they can be unsettled by the silence at home. (Just think, they have never experienced silence before, or sudden loud noises.)
2. Tiger in the Tree. This is a way of holding your baby so their body is facing downwards resting along your forearm, with their head in the crook of your elbow. Something about this position is very soothing. Swaying and moving about while carrying the baby helps too. My husband spent many hours dancing around with our son held like this!
3. One of the very best ways I have found to calm a baby is through carrying them in a sling. A comfy stretchy wrap sling is ideal for newborns, and better for your back than carrying them in your arms. It holds your baby close to you, mimicking a whole body cuddle. They can smell you, hear your heartbeat and feel totally safe and secure. It’s the closest thing to being back in the womb.
Please remember, every baby is different and what your friends or family tell you might not work for your baby. The most important thing is to trust your instincts and listen to your baby. Try different things until you find something that works for you. You may not always feel like it, but you are the expert on your own baby.
Why do babies cry?
EVERYTHING changed for your baby when they were born. Suddenly their whole world has been turned upside down. Just think about what life was like inside the womb, and what it is like now. Is there anything that has remained the same for them? How would you feel if your entire life was turned completely on its head?
Human babies are born well before they are ready. To put it bluntly, they are useless. Lovable, but useless. Have you ever seen a baby guinea pig? They are miniature versions of their mother. The pups are born with hair, eyes wide open, a full set of teeth and the ability to run around. They will rely on their parents for warmth and food until they are weaned at 14-21 days of age. With a human baby we’re talking more like 21 YEARS aren’t we?
You may have heard the newborn period described as the “fourth trimester”. This is because during the first three months after birth, your baby should really be considered as simply being on the outside rather than the inside. They really need to experience as close to the womb environment as possible. Any means of calming a baby is basically recreating some aspect(s) of life in the womb. That was all they had known for their whole life until now, and it’s where they would still like to be. It’s no wonder they need lots of cuddles and support!
More ideas for calming your baby
- Babies can get overstimulated by daily life. For some, taking them to a darkened room can help.
- Ensure they are nice and warm, but not too hot. Some babies are very bothered by a dirty nappy and like to be clean and dry at all times.
- Feed frequently and on demand. I cannot overstate the importance of feeding on demand, whether breast or bottle fed.
- Deep bathing (having a bath with your baby or on their own in one of those bucket-type baths)
- Dance and move with your baby – support their head and make nice big movements. It’s great for dad to do this.
- Colic tummy massage – we teach this in Munchkins classes.
- A drive in the car
- Skin to skin cuddles: regulates body temperature, they can hear your heartbeat and smell that familiar smell.
- Swaddle your baby. Ensure you learn how to do this safely, but for a newborn it can be wonderful.
- Get outside in the fresh air. It really does calm down both you and your baby.
Give your baby time to calm down when they are upset. These tips may take 10 or 20 minutes to work. Remember, crying uses energy, so the more they cry the more likely they are to need feeding.
A rod for your back?
Cuddle, feed, rock your baby to sleep. Do whatever you need to do that works. DO NOT WORRY about making a rod for your own back. This is just a phase and it passes. Your baby needs to feel comfortable, loved and secure, and they do this through contact with you. Don’t forget how tiny and helpless they are.
It’s also worth pointing out that babies cannot manipulate you. They do not have the brain development required to do so – they don’t have “wants”, it’s all “needs” for them at this stage.
Babies are designed to be close to their caregivers. This is how our species has evolved and you are fighting against human nature by trying to get a baby to be “independent”. They are highly dependent and being held by another human is one of their basic needs. You cannot hold a baby too much. It doesn’t have to just be mum – any set of loving arms will do.
For further reading we highly recommend these two articles: