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Few sounds penetrate our ears in quite the way the sound of crying baby does! Just spend a little time on a flight near a bawling newborn or screeching toddler to feel the levels of tension and panic rise for all nearby.
As a mother, you are preprogrammed to respond physically to your baby’s cry. You may find that your blood pressure rises, milk letdown can be induced and your heart beats a little faster when you hear your baby cry.
New parents are relatively unprepared for the amount babies cry and the feelings it will induce. It may amaze you to know that on average young babies (under four months old) cry for three hours a day! That is an enormous amount of crying a parent has to contend with. But stats mean nothing until you are face with a fussing baby!
In the stressed moment of dealing with your crying baby, you need a simple 3 step approach to stop the crying.
Step #1 Try to figure out what is upsetting your baby by process of elimination establish whether your baby:
- Is hungry
- Needs to burp
- Is uncomfortable
- Has a wet nappy
- Is in uncomfortable clothing
- Is too hot or too cold
- Is sick
- Is running a fever
- Is in pain
If you have ruled out these obvious causes of fussing and your baby is still not the happiest kid on the block, you need to move onto step two to calm your baby.
Step #2 Try Soothing Sensory Strategies
1. Sensory awareness Be sensitive to your baby’s sensory world and his sensory load. When your newborn starts fussing, take notice of the smells and sights he is being subjected to.
Longer than 10 minutes under a mobile which your baby can’t escape can be enough to over stimulate a newborn.
Don’t wear overwhelming smells such as perfume or after shave in the early days
Watch the sounds in the environment – your baby is sensitive to loud or unpredictable sounds
Watch your baby’s world for too much stimulation. As the first year progresses, your baby will cope better with stimulation and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking more stimulation is better. If your baby shows the following signs he may have had enough and need to be removed from the stimulus or have the stimulus removed from him:
- Rubbing eyes
- Sucking hands
- Tugging ears
- Looking away
To prevent toddler melt down, watch the social situation you subject your toddler to carefully. Toddlers have a tough time socializing with each other because toddlers are unpredictable group. They fall on each other, touch each other with sticky hands and may for no reason bite or bang each other.
As a rule of thumb limit social situations, such as an outing or a party to 1 hour per year of your toddler’s life. For example a one year old may only cope for one hour, a three year old for three hours.
Make sure your toddler is well rested before birthday parties. Keep parties small and manageable
2. Sleep times An overtired baby of any age will battle with over stimulation and become fussy. To prevent colic, crying and chaos watch your baby’s ‘awake times’. (See Baby Sense for details for age appropriate awake times.)
The newborn (0-12 weeks) can only be awake for very short times: 40 minutes for the first few weeks, stretching to 90 minutes by three months old. From three months onwards, your baby will start to develop a nice day sleep routine of their own. Encourage this routine as it will prevent crying due to over stimulation.
Toddlers still need day sleeps and you need to ensure that your toddler has one good midday sleep if you want to avoid chaos!
3. Self calming At birth most babies’ self calming strategies are largely underdeveloped. One of the first tasks of the first three months becomes to develop self calming strategies. What do self calming strategies look like?
- Hands to mouth
- Looking away
- Looking at mom
- Grabbing security toy
- Sucking pacifier or hand
- Bringing hands to midline
Give your baby space to develop self calming strategies by not popping his pacifier or your breast into his mouth just to calm him. Obviously if your baby is crying so much that he is unable to self calm, particularly newborns, you will need to help him find something to suck as sucking is a wonderful strategy for calming.
Recognize self calming for what it is, don’t think that when your three month old is sucking his hands vigorously he is teething; he is probably self calming to cope with all the stimulation of the world. Teach your baby self calming strategies by wrapping him with his hands near his face when you swaddle him or holding his hands to his mouth.
4. Soothing touch Swaddling for the newborn and deep pressure as your baby gets older work well. We all know how good and calming a hug feels or how tranquil we feel after a deep massage. That deep touch is exactly what babies need. Swaddling is the best way to mimic the soothing pressure of the tight womb walls, to keep your newborn calm.
As your baby gets older he may not like to be swaddled as tightly and may push his arms out. For sleep times you can continue to swaddle under the arms. Massage is wonderful for this age as they will lie still and benefit in many ways from the touch.
For toddlers and even through to the teen years, nothing works as well as a big hug from mommy. When your toddler is feeling chaotic and about to throw a temper tantrum, give him a containing hug before the melt down begins.
5. Soothing movement Movement like the lulling movement of the womb world is calming for babies. For the newborn use a sling to carry your baby as your baby will be well supported and feel calmed by the deep pressure and calming rocking motion.
If your older baby has a typically cranky time of day or is over stimulated, a good walk in a pouch, sling or pram works well.
For toddlers a ride in a swing is a wonderful way to calm the chaos, especially at the end of the day when a late afternoon nap is out of the question.
6. Sounds Soothing sounds are an excellent way to calm a cranky baby and toddler. The newborn responds amazingly to the familiar sound of the womb. White noise, such as intrauterine sounds and ambient world sounds, masks the noise of the world and thus calms fractious babies. In recent research on the effect of white noise it was found that playing white noise at a volume similar to a babies’ cry decreased time spent crying by 30%.
Older babies and toddlers love the sound of your voice and lullabies work wonderfully. Tapes with songs of children’s voice are also useful.
7. Slow down Sometimes in the panic of trying to calm a crying baby, we tend to try too many solutions at once. All the added stimuli are enough to make matters worse if your baby is already over stimulated. In addition to this you become flustered and at the end of the day don’t know what actually made the difference. Slow down and try one of the above mentioned strategies for 5 minutes before moving onto the next one.
Step #3 Take care of yourself Caring for a colicky newborn, crying baby or chaotic toddler can take its toll on you. If you feel you are unable to go on or are not coping with the crying it is vital for your sake and that of your baby that you seek support. The two major risks of burning out are postnatal depression and shaken baby syndrome. Both are equally serious and have potentially long term devastating effects for your baby.
If you have had enough of the crying and no strategies are working: Put your baby down and leave him safely in his room for a short period while you gather yourself together with deep breaths
Call for the support of your mom, husband or an au pair for a few hours each week to give you time out
Make sure you sleep when your baby does as sleep deprivation adds to the feelings of desperation.
As tough as the early days of crying are, they do pass but when your baby fusses, you will find the three step strategy works well. Look for the reason for the fussing by going through the process of elimination, use sensory soothing strategies and take care of yourself.