Settling a crying baby is a challenge and what works often changes from day to day. Parents will benefit from having a range of strategies they can try to settle their baby.
Why babies cry: check the basics
Before you start trying to settle your baby, check the basics, that is the common things that make babies cry (and can be easily fixed):
Is baby too hot or too cold?
Make sure your baby is a comfortable temperature. Babies sometimes cry if they are too hot or cold.
Is baby hungry or thirsty?
Offer baby a feed if it been longer than two hours since the last breastfeed or bottle.
Does baby need a nappy change?
If babies aren’t clean and dry, then changing their nappy might settle them.
Are they scared or lonely?
Baby may just want to be cuddled and held.
Is baby overtired?
Try wrapping and laying baby down to sleep in a quiet and dark room. Sometimes a relaxing bath or massage will help.
Is baby uncomfortable from wind or tummy pain?
Your baby may need to be burped. Try holding baby upright with the tummy on your chest and their head on your shoulder, gently pat their back.
Are they screaming as though they are unwell?
Check your baby is not sick. A high temperature or other symptoms like a runny nose or lack of appetite, should be checked by your doctor.
Know that crying is a normal part of baby behaviour. While patterns vary between babies, a normal pattern of baby crying may be 2 hours per day at 2 weeks old, increasing up to 3 hours a day by 6 weeks old and then decreasing to 1 hour a day by 3 months old.
Things you can do to comfort your baby
When you’ve checked the basics, there are many different things you can do to make your baby feel more comfortable and settled. However, don’t be alarmed if your baby doesn’t always settle when you do these things. In particular, babies with colic may continue crying.
- Wrap your baby, using the Sidsandkids safe wrapping recommendations, such as using a wrap made from light cotton or muslin rather than a woollen or flannelette bunny rug. Young babies like to be snuggly wrapped but not so tightly that it would cause overheating and restriction of movement.
- Hold your baby in your arms and rock them gently. One good way to hold your baby is so that their body is in a ‘C’ or ‘U’ position, and gently pat their bottom in a regular rhythm as you rock slowly. You could also hold them in a tummy time position over your lap, or with their tummy to your chest as they look over your shoulder. A rocking chair is soothing for both of you but make sure you don’t fall asleep when you baby does. You could also try putting them in a baby carrier and walking around the house. Both being close to you and feeling your touch, and the gentle movements can be soothing for a baby.
- Talk to your baby. They may be crying because they want to hear that you’re close by, or they may find it soothing to hear you speak softly to them.
- Listen to gentle music with your baby or sing to them.
- Give your baby a relaxing bath in warm water or a baby massage. Massaging your baby can help settle them, but it’s also a good way to bond with your baby.
- Take your baby for a walk in the pram. Your baby will probably find the motion settling, and getting out in the fresh air and doing some light exercise can also help relieve stress and lift your mood.
- Some babies also find white noise soothing, for example the hum of the washing machine or vacuum cleaner. If this sounds like your baby, try planning to do chores like the washing when they are fussy.
- Give your baby a dummy (pacifier). However, be aware that a pacifier may make it harder to breastfeed as breastfeeding is not established until 4-6 weeks after birth.
If nothing seems to be settling your baby, then just hold them and be there to comfort them in their distress. The important thing is that you are showing that you are there for them. This is particularly important with a colicky baby. You can’t spoil a baby by responding to their emotional needs. In fact, responding to them by smiling, touching, cuddling and talking to them makes them feel secure and is the best way to help their brains develop.
If you find that certain techniques help them to settle then if possible try to use the same way of settling them each time. When the same set of familiar things happen before each bedtime, this teaches baby that it’s time to sleep. However, if one method doesn’t work, then you may need to try another.
What not to do
Never shake a crying baby. Shaking a baby can cause serious injuries including brain damage and blindness. It may also kill your baby. If you are feeling very stressed and think about shaking your baby, you need support. Talk to your doctor immediately, and if available ask friends and family to help you look after your baby so you can have a bit of time out.
Never leave a baby alone in a pram or another place where they might fall or get smothered or caught up in their blankets. Baby’s cot is the safest place to leave them alone.
It’s important to be prepared. This might be easier if you can predict when your baby will cry, for example if they have colic and cry regularly in the afternoon or evening. You can plan to make sure other things you need to do at this time of day, like preparing the evening meal, are done in advance, and you won’t need to divide your attention between your baby and daily chores. Even if baby’s crying is unpredictable, you can plan by keeping a few ready-meals in the freezer.
If your baby has regular periods of crying, ask for some support. Trying to settle a crying baby can be distressing, especially when the crying won’t stop. Having a support person you can rely on can make a difference, even if it doesn’t stop baby’s crying.
Look after yourself
- Making sure you’re emotionally and physically healthy is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you have the energy and spirit to give your baby the best care. Looking after yourself includes getting enough rest and taking time out for yourself.
- Prioritise and let the things that aren’t important go. This might mean your house is less tidy than usual or you need to take a temporary break from other commitments, but it will give you more time to focus on your baby when they’re unsettled.
- When you have a baby, many people may genuinely want to help and may be offended if you don’t allow them to give you a hand. Let them know what you need, for example ask them to prepare you a meal for those times when you don’t have time to do this yourself.
- Take a break when you start to feel stressed out. It will be much harder to get your baby to settle, if you’re not settled. If you have a support person, hand your baby to them. If you don’t, put your baby in a safe place, like in their cot. Walk away and relax for a few minutes before you continue trying to settle your baby.
- If you have a partner, spend some time together talking about something other than the baby, even if this is just for 15 minutes. Talk about your day and really listen to each other.
- Get to know your neighbours and if somebody else with a baby a similar age lives nearby, you may be able to support each other.
- Try to stay calm – this is sometimes easier said than done. Remember if you feel frustrated or distressed, it is okay to put your baby in the cot and walk away to calm down and relax.
(Kindly reviewed by Annie McArdle RN, RM, CHN, Master Adv. Prac. (Healthcare Research); Clinical Midwife at Mater Mothers’ Private Brisbane with over 25 years’ experience in parent information and education.)
|To read more about infant colic, what it is, causes and how to treat it, visit Infant Colic.|
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