When you become a new parent, your job is to love your baby like crazy, but in addition, there are two main tasks – to feed your baby successfully and to soothe her crying. Parents who do these well feel great! However, those who struggle feel terrible. Fortunately, there are lots of places to find help with feeding. On the other hand, there is little help for soothing crying. Now, some crying is actually a good thing. It’s a brilliant way for helpless babies to get our attention. But, 50% of babies fuss and cry more than 11/2 hours per day! That barrage can make parents crumble and trigger exhaustion, nursing problems, marital conflicts, depression and even abuse.
Most books advise that inconsolable babies should be put down and allowed to cry. Fortunately, that’s not true and some simple tips will quickly turn you into a world-class baby calmer!
First, you need to know that few babies scream from severe tummy pain (even though that’s what everyone’s told). They cry because, in an odd way, they are so immature that they can’t settle themselves without help. Unlike baby horses, able to run the first day of life, our newborns are smushy little creatures who must be “evicted” from the womb three months before they’re ready so their big heads don’t get stuck in the birth canal.
For centuries, moms have known that babies calm when they’re held, rocked and shushed, but they didn’t realize that by doing those things they were imitating their uterus. In the womb, babies are snug, warm, jiggled a lot, and hear the constant whoosh of blood pulsations (it’s louder than a vacuum cleaner). We think they need a quiet room and a still bed, but that is actually sensory deprivation for babies…and often drives them bananas!
How does imitating the uterus soothe babies? It triggers a phenomenal reflex – the calming reflex – which is the “off-switch” for crying all babies are born with. It’s activated by doing five simple steps that imitate the uterus… the 5 S’s. They are simple, but you must do them exactly right (or else they may not work):
Swaddling – Snug wrapping is the cornerstone of calming, the essential first step in baby soothing. Swaddling is like the soft caresses babies feel during pregnancy. Babies often struggle during the wrapping, but it helps keep them from flailing. And, as soon as you add the other S’s the calming will begin. (Avoid loose blankets around the face and overheating. They are associated with SIDS.)
Side or Stomach Position – The back is the only safe sleeping position. But, it makes crying babies cry even more because they feel a bit like they’re falling. The side or stomach position cancels that feeling and switches on the calming.
Shushing – Shushing is “music to your baby’s ears.” Remember, the sound in the womb is louder than a vacuum, so when your baby is crying you’ll need to shush as loudly as she’s wailing, then gradually lessen your intensity as she settles. (A CD of womb sounds is worth its weight in gold.)
Swinging – Infants love rocking, but crying babies need fast, tiny, jiggly movements back and forth like a shiver when they’re really upset. Swings, slings and rocking chairs help to keep them calm once they settle. Always support your baby’s head and never jiggle her when you’re angry.
Sucking – This wonderful S is the “icing on the cake.” It lulls babies into profound tranquility. Nursing moms offer the breast for soothing and avoid using pacifiers until the baby is nursing well for a couple of weeks.
Soothing your infant is like “dancing” with him… but let him lead! The vigor of your S’s should mirror the intensity of his fussies. When your baby’s crying lessens, gradually reduce the vigor of the S’s… and guide your swaddled baby to a “soft landing.”
Now, you’re ready to have some fun! When your baby cries, just think of it as an opportunity to practice your skills and turn your little fuss-budget into – the happiest baby on your block!
PS: Besides being super for soothing babies, swaddling and strong white noise (all night long) keep the calming reflex working and usually add a wonderful one to two extra hours to a baby’s sleep.
Written by Karp, Harvey, posted on Saturday, 5 April 2008, at www.redorbit.com