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The first time you hear your baby cry is a thrilling experience; it's a sign she's entered the world healthy with a great set of lungs! But as the weeks go by, the thrill may quickly give way to concern and frustration.
As you will inevitably learn, babies cry a lot. Sometimes, the reason is obvious: Baby is hungry, wet, or tired, and wants you to address her needs. Other times, getting the tears to stop is not such a simple process. That's why figuring out how to soothe and calm a baby when nothing else seems to do the trick is so important.
While no single method works for all babies, you'll soon develop a repertoire of techniques that's perfect for your child. In the meantime, read on for some time-tested ideas to help your little fusser feel better.
Loco for Motion
For baby, spending nine months inside Mom's belly is literally like living in a mobile home. Even when you sleep, your body is moving, so when baby enters the world, lying quietly in a bassinet may seem oddly still and unfamiliar. Shaking things up a bit may make her more comfortable.
1. Rock-a-bye baby: Place baby in your arms, stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart, and swivel back and forth at the hips. Your movement can be fairly vigorous as long as you're holding baby close. When you get tired, use the rocking chair.
2. Swing, swing, swing: Baby swings offer soothing, rhythmic motion that helps calm baby down. Just make sure the swing is designed for a small baby, as little ones may slump over in a large one.
3. Get some good vibrations going: The vibrating motion of a washing machine or dryer has saved the sanity of many a frustrated parent. Place baby in an infant seat, put it on top of the appliance, and hold on to it firmly so the seat stays in place.
4. Tool around the block: The smooth, consistent motion of a car or stroller ride, in addition to the snug comfort of a car seat or stroller, lulls many fussy babies to sleep.
Papa Bear Hug
5. Dad is king: Or so say many moms, when it comes to soothing. Maybe it's because his strong arms can rock her more quickly. Maybe it's because he swaddles her more tightly. Or maybe he's just bigger and warmer. But who cares what the reason is? Get him to help and give yourself a break.
Wrap It Up
A womb is not a roomy piece of real estate. Your baby is used to being packed closely in a warm, cozy environment. Emulating it stops tears and makes her feel secure.
6. Swaddle away: Wrapping baby cozily in a thin, lightweight blanket with her arms across her chest has a wonderful calming effect. Swaddled babies often sleep longer and more soundly, too.
7. Snuggle up: Try kangaroo care. This technique is especially good for preemies. Undress baby, lie down, place her against your naked skin, and cover both of you with a warm, soft blanket.
8. Strap on a sling: It's not surprising that the warm, dark, close comfort of a baby sling is a surefire soother. An added bonus: You can breastfeed anywhere undercover.
Bring On the Noise
A pregnant belly is not the serene sanctuary you might imagine. The inside scoop: Your baby can hear the pounding of your heart, the rush of your blood, and the gurgling of your stomach. For some newborns, silence isn't golden.
9. Turn on a fan: The soft whirring is music to a fussy baby's ears.
10. Vacuum up: Some kids are calmed by the jarring combination of noise and vibration.
11. Hush with a "Shush!": Your "shushing" sound mimics what baby heard in the womb. Say it directly into her ear, over and over again.
12. Try white noise: Any machine with a consistent rushing sound has a soothing effect; recordings of waves on the beach, rainfall, or the sound of a waterfall will work as well.
Getting Rid of Gas
13-15. Letting it go: Some people think infants smile when they have gas; others know better. If you suspect your baby is crying from gas pain:
- lay him down across your knees and gently rub his back
- bicycle his legs while he lies on his back
- talk to your doctor about using infant gas drops
Could It Be Colic?
One-fifth of babies develop colic, which means they cry inconsolably for three hours or more a day for three weeks or more; it peaks at six weeks and usually resolves itself by three months.
16. Watch your diet: If you're nursing and regular soothing tips don't help, try eliminating:
- other potentially irritating foods from your diet
17. Try the colic hold: Lay baby facedown on your forearm, cradle her close to your body, and rock her back and forth.
Many moms wonder, "What's the deal with pacifiers? Should I use one, or will my baby develop a bad habit?"
18. Offer a binky: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there's nothing wrong with giving a newborn a pacifier. Some children have strong sucking needs and are quickly soothed by a binky. Most babies give up the paci on their own around the seventh month. If yours doesn't, don't worry. The AAP says it's unlikely to harm his development.
Nothing Is Working! Now What?
All is not lost! There are still a number of tricks you can try to jolly your little one out of his cranky mood.
19. Go outside: A change of scenery can be distracting enough to calm your newborn's cries.
20. Give baby a massage: Some babies find stroking soothing.
21. Dim the lights and shut off the TV: Too much stimulation can jangle a newborn's nerves.
22. Check the temperature in your house: Baby could be too hot or too cold.
23. Check baby's clothes: Hot, tight, or confining clothes can cause tears to flow.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.