A cheerful, gurgling baby is a joy to be with, but a fretful, screaming and seemingly inconsolable baby can really fray a new mother’s nerves. That’s why we’ve searched out the best 10 ways – all mum- and nanny-tested! – to minimise or shorten these crying episodes. Now babies have a mind of their own and not all may respond to these suggestions. Hopefully, some of these tips will go a little way to give frazzled mums some relief.
1. Check Baby’s Needs
A newborn often cries to alert parents to some need or discomfort. Your baby may be hungry, feeling warm, tired, or have a soiled diaper. Once these needs are met, your baby will feel comfortable and settle down more easily.
Mrs B. Lim, who works in the healthcare industry, had a tough time with her four-month-old baby. He was a light sleeper who woke often and cried frequently. The mother-of-two recalled that the times when her baby was particularly fretful coincided with periods of growth spurts. After realising that he might be hungry, she increased the amount of milk which she fed him. He seemed to be more cheerful and contented after that.
Babies go through growth spurts at approximately two, six and 12 weeks, and thereafter, monthly. During each growth spurt, babies may feed more often for several days before returning to the regular feed amount and frequency.
2. Give a Pacifier
Adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment can be unsettling for a newborn who has spent nine months in mummy’s womb. Babies feel comforted and secure when they nurse and may sometimes cry for the breast even though they are not hungry. During such times, you can try giving your baby a pacifier. Your baby may also learn to settle herself to sleep if she is routinely given the pacifier at nap times.
In his book and DVD, The Happiest Baby on the Block, paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp assures parents that there is no fear in “spoiling” a newborn with a pacifier as she can be gradually weaned off it when she is older.
However, he cautions that a pacifier should only be introduced after the baby has successfully learnt to latch and is drinking her milk well, so as to avoid causing “nipple confusion” for the baby.
3. Carry Baby Upright
A fretful baby may cry to be carried, and yet scream even more when the mother carries her. It may even seem as though anyone except the mother can calm her down. Confinement nanny Nguk Choo thinks that this may be because the baby can smell mummy’s milk and wants to suckle for comfort, but gets frustrated when she is unable to do so. Therefore, she suggests carrying your baby in an upright position with her head resting on your shoulders. When your baby cannot smell your milk, she may be content just to be cuddled by you.
4. Generate White Noise
When your baby was in the womb, she was exposed to the sounds of your body at work. Your heartbeat and sounds of food moving through the digestive system formed a background noise which she is used to. An unsettled baby may therefore find the sound of white noise familiar and comforting. White noise can be generated by switching on a hairdryer or vacuum cleaner, tuning the radio in between stations or simply by making a gentle “Shhhh” sound.
5. Use Familiar Phrases
As newborns try to make sense of their new environment, they find comfort in familiarity. By repeating a phrase each time you do an activity, you can teach your baby to associate that phrase with the activity. Once your baby understands these phrases, she may quieten for awhile in anticipation of her needs being met.
For instance, saying “night routine” to signal that bedtime is near may soothe a cranky baby during her bath, while saying “time for milk” may calm a hungry baby down long enough to give you time to prepare her feed.
If you are held up and unable to attend to your crying baby immediately, confinement nanny Siew Peng suggests calling out to the baby to assure her that you are nearby. “Although your baby may not understand what you are saying, she recognises your voice and will calm down,” she explains.
6. Play Familiar Tunes
Just as soothing music can help adults to unwind, music may also help babies to calm down. Ms Y. Chan, a mother of two children aged five and one and a half years, recalls: “My daughter would cry loudly when she was a baby, and we had a hard time calming her down. But once we put on a CD of classical music played in pop-style, she would stop crying.”
7. Gentle Rocking
Babies in the womb are used to their mother’s constant movements. Therefore, a crying baby may find comfort when she is carried and rocked gently. If you do not want your baby to expect to be carried each time she cries, you can try rocking her in a baby bouncer instead, or pushing her around in a pram.
8. Position Baby on the Side
Before newborns learn to settle themselves to sleep, they may get fretful when they are tired and unable to fall asleep. To help quieten a cranky baby, Nanny Nguk Choo gives the baby a bolster and positions her such that she is lying on her side, with her body making a 45-degree angle with the mattress.
She then holds the baby’s shoulder firmly with one hand and pats baby’s bottom gently but rapidly with the other, at an approximate rate of four pats per second. Holding the baby prevents her from struggling while the rapid patting causes her body to vibrate gently and lull her to sleep. Nguk Choo observed that patting at a slower rate or positioning baby at 90-degrees to the mattress does not seem to work as well.
Since there is a risk of suffocation when babies sleep lying on their sides or stomachs, it is recommended that you turn your baby to lie on her back and remove the bolster after she has fallen asleep.
9. Swaddle your Baby
Dr Karp explains that babies are used to being confined in the womb, where they feel warm and secure. Swaddling your newborn helps to create a similar, calming effect. Since her movement is restricted when she is swaddled, your baby is also less likely to startle herself by her sudden movements and may sleep better.
However, in a tropical country like Singapore, do ensure that your baby is sleeping in a cool, air-conditioned room if you choose to swaddle her, otherwise she may feel warm and uncomfortable and cry even more.
10. Trigger the “Calming reflex”
Dr Karp observed that certain actions trigger a calming reflex reaction in a baby, and may even stop the baby from crying almost instantaneously. Using a combination of some of the above mentioned methods, Dr Karp suggests triggering the “calming reflex” by swaddling your baby, giving a pacifier, making a shushing sound, swaying baby gently and carrying your baby such that she is lying on her side or stomach. He demonstrates his “5 Ss” method in his DVD. You can also watch Dr Karp in action here.