As a new parent, you’ll find yourself beset with the overwhelming need to meet your baby’s needs. This means feeding, cleaning, and loving, of course. It also means soothing him when he becomes overstimulated or starts fussing. Luckily, seven principles are all you need to calm a frenetic baby.
1. SENSORY ENVIRONMENT
When your baby is fussing, examine the sensory environment for any stimuli that may be bothering or overstimulating him. Remove him from, or change, the environment to help him calm down. If you have a mobile, don’t place it over his cot – this should an area that has no stimulation, which is necessary around sleep time, so rather put his mobile over your changing space. Block-out lining on window blinds and a light dimmer are essential for limiting light stimulus around sleep time.
There are more sensory receptors in and around your little one’s mouth than anywhere else on his body. Almost all babies derive pleasure from and will soothe (and later self-soothe) by using their mouths. There are three ways you can soothe your baby using his mouth – you can breastfeed your baby whenever he is fretful, you can offer a dummy, or you can help your baby to find his hands.
Breastfeeding your baby on demand, so with every cry, will certainly result in establishing a good milk supply and will settle your baby in the moment. However, there is evidence that overfeeding an already fretful baby can result in more irritability, possibly due to lactose overload or reflux. So it is probably more sensible to offer a dummy or let your little one suck his thumb. Without question, the easiest tool to use for soothing your little one is a dummy. I am a big fan of dummies and in particular orthodontic-shaped nipples. So try letting your little one suck on a good dummy to help calm him down.
Swaddling has been proven to significantly calm young babies and helps them sleep well. This is because a good swaddle works to mimic the womb world by providing deep pressure touch and preventing those little reflexes that can be so disconcerting for your baby when he cries. Choose a swaddle blanket that works best for you, but if you have a large muslin swaddle, fold it into a triangle and use this to swaddle your little one effectively.
4. SOOTHING TOUCH
Baby massage is a fantastic tool for calming a baby. Use slow movements with deep touch pressure. You can use any number of products to help your hands glide smoothly over your baby’s skin, from cream to oil to baby powder. Just make sure your hands can glide and use deep, slow strokes over your baby’s body.
Movement is lulling for your baby – it mimics the environment he came from (the womb) and soothes him very effectively. Use a wrap sling or an upright carrier for effective soothing. If your newborn has a particularly fractious period (usually in the early evenings), pop him in the carrier and pace the passage or go for a walk around the block until he settles. He is more likely to settle in a carrier than in your arms because there is no further stimulation through the position changes that happen in your arms.
6. SOUNDS FOR CALMING
Your newborn has just come from a noisy environment – the constant white noise of your body’s functions as well as the background sound of your voice were always present in the womb. For this reason, many babies settle better in a space with sounds than in complete silence. White noise, such as the sounds of waves or radio static, absorbs other sounds and calms babies. Lullabies and nature music also help with calming and sleep. Use a white noise CD or toy with white noise sounds or play a calm CD of nature sounds in the nursery around bedtime.
7. STICK TO ONE STRATEGY
Always try one approach for five minutes before you move on to the next one. There’s no use swapping and changing between them all. You need to allow your baby time to adjust and calm down, and the frenetic urgency with which we often skip through calming strategies when our babies are crying can exacerbate the overstimulated state they’re already in. Whatever you choose to do, do it for a good stretch of time before deciding to change to the next strategy.
The take home message: look to the womb world for soothing principles and to try slow down to your newborn baby’s pace. While this new role of caring for baby can feel overwhelming, this early stage is fleeting and before you know it you’ll be a pro!