Soothing your baby

by | Jun 11, 2020

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A crying baby can be very distressing, especially for first-time parents. Doula Donna Bland gives parents helpful pointers on how to soothe your baby’s crying.

Crying may be a baby’s way of communicating with its parents, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely scary, nerve-wracking and confidence crushing.

Babies cry for all sorts of reasons. Most often, all it takes is a feed, a nappy change or a cuddle to make the tears stop. On other occasions, however, your baby may cry uncontrollably, which can leave you feeling frustrated and desperate for a solution.

First, I would recommend a process of elimination. Go through a list of the more obvious reasons.

1. Is your baby hungry or thirsty?
During our South African summers, it gets very hot and just like us, babies may often become thirsty. If you are breastfeeding, you may need to give top-up feeds in between your baby’s normal feeding routine.

Remember that babies also go through growth spurts and therefore there may be times when you need to feed your baby more regularly than usual. These growth spurts are shortlived, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you are bottle feeding, your baby may need small amounts of water in between feeds. Be careful however, not to give too much water at once, or your baby may not be able to finish their next feed.

2. Does your baby have a wet or dirty nappy?
Some babies are quite averse to the feeling of even a slightly wet nappy, so bear this is mind when checking the nappy.

3. Is your baby tired, possibly even overtired?
Overstimulation is a common cause for a baby to become overtired and even a little irritable. Be aware of how many stimuli your baby is exposed to, keeping all five senses in mind.

4. Does your baby need more burping?
Sometimes you might think you have burped your baby enough or even heard a burp escape, but occasionally they may still have a fair amount of trapped wind and this can cause tremendous discomfort.

5. Is your baby hot or cold?
Adding an extra layer in winter is easy, but summer can be trickier. If your baby is crying and irritable, try wiping them down with a damp facecloth, or if it’s very hot, putting them into some lukewarm water in a basin.

6. Does your baby want to be held?
There is a lot of research that supports the fact that a baby cannot be spoilt by being held. Sometimes it’s all that’s needed to calm a crying baby.

7. Is your baby sick?
Be aware of fevers or any other indicators that your baby may be unwell, and seek medical assistance immediately if you’re concerned.

When nothing seems to be working
These are the most common reasons for a baby crying and will most often be solved easily using these methods. At other times however, soothing your baby can seem like an impossible task.

Here are some other things you can consider trying:

  • Swaddling is a wonderful way to make a baby feel safe and secure. When a baby is in utero they are in a perfectly warm, comfortable, safe, loving environment. Swaddling mimics this atmosphere and often helps a baby to calm down and even fall asleep. In a young baby this may even lengthen sleep times. Start by keeping your baby’s hands near to their midline (the centre of their body). Don’t be afraid to swaddle your baby quite tight – remember the last couple of months in utero were a tight fit.
  • Play music or sing to your baby. Sometimes a pleasant sound can calm a baby and help them to settle.
  • Put your baby into a sling or wrap and “wear” your baby while you get on with other tasks. Babies love to be held and love the rocking motion that your body provided while you were pregnant. Wearing your baby in a sling or wrap may help soothe an otherwise inconsolable baby. I particularly advocate skin-to-skin care, having baby’s skin directly against yours. This way they can hear your heartbeat, smell you, feel your breathing and hear your voice. This makes a young baby feel completely safe and loved.
  • Encourage sucking. Babies are born with a few primitive reflexes, one of which is the sucking reflex. It is necessary for a baby to suck in order to feed, but babies also need non-nutritive sucking to calm them. If you are breastfeeding, you may try calming your baby at the breast, but that may become exhausting, and in the early hours of the morning may leave you at your wits’ end. Consider trying a pacifier (dummy) to soothe your baby, when all that seems to calm them is to suck. This could give you some much needed rest while keeping your baby happy. I know that there is a lot of controversy around pacifiers, but in my experience, it can sometimes be a lifesaver. If you are concerned about it becoming a crutch as your baby gets older, try using it only as a sleep association tool.

Of all the advice I can give, try to remain calm, and remember that you are not alone: all parents go through this at one point or another. If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help. Having a good support system makes all the difference.