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Calming a Fussy Baby

(Meeting Your Baby's Needs)

by Jeri Carr

Your baby cries to let you know that he needs something. His cries say, "Hey, something is not quite right! I am hungry! . . . or lonely . . . or over-excited . . . or need to suck . . ." --and the list goes on! It can seem overwhelming when your baby just cries and cries and won't stop. When you try hard to meet your baby's needs, and nothing seems to stop the crying, it can help to realize that some babies cry more than others, and that you are not to blame. Try to make your goal to meet your baby's needs, rather than to make him stop crying--for sometimes what he needs is a shoulder to cry on. Just be there for your baby, and it will get better. I promise!

If you just can't stand the crying any longer, call a friend or relative. Ask for help! Sometimes you can't do it on your own. If you don't have anyone who can help you, put your baby in a safe, comfortable place and take a couple minute break so you can calm down. Splash water on your face, get a drink of water, take a few deep breaths. Never, ever shake your baby.

Our daughter was fussy, or "high-need," as a newborn. From her first day of life, she cried a lot, especially in the evening, so I know how frustrating it can be. As a note of encouragement to those parents who are afraid to have another child out of fear that all babies have such an intense, needy temperament, our daughter has turned out to be a bright, funny three-year-old, and our newest baby, a son, cries very little and is content and laid-back.

Following you will see some ideas that we and other parents have used to help calm our babies. Hopefully something here will help you, too.

Nurse Your Baby This satisfies many needs. . .

  1. It satisfies hunger and thirst.
  2. It satisfies sucking needs.
  3. It gives skin-to-skin contact.
  4. Baby is held in mommy's arms.
  5. Breastmilk contains a sleep-inducing protein that helps an infant sleep.
  6. It provides great comfort.
Many moms find that nursing on cue helps them have an abundant milk supply and is less stressful for them and their baby than feeding on a schedule. Many babies will calm down if offered the breast, and it's okay to pacify your baby in this way. As a little baby, our daughter nursed frequently and for long periods of time. Nursing was often the only way I could calm her.

Babies nurse to satisfy their hunger and their thirst, but nursing provides much more that nourishment for the body. It's a way to love and nurture your baby. Babies enjoy being close to their mommy, hearing her heartbeat and the familiar gurgles of her stomach, their small body nestled in mommy's arms. Also, babies have an inborn need to suck--some babies more than others! Nursing is a great way to satisfy that need. Nursing can be very calming for both mother and baby.

In regards to meeting your baby's sucking needs, studies and the experiences of many moms show that pacifier use in breastfed babies can lead to nipple confusion, slower weight gain, insufficient milk supply, and early weaning. Many moms are able to meet their baby's sucking needs fully at the breast. This can build a great closeness and trust between mother and baby.

If your baby needs to suck for comfort and appears to "get mad" when he nurses and gets milk, if your milk supply is well-established, you may want to consider nursing only on one side at each feed. This way your baby can empty the breast--as much as a breast can be emptied--drinking all the watery foremilk and fatty hindmilk and then be able to suck to his heart's content on the "empty" breast. If your baby nurses quite often, you may even want to consider nursing him from the same breast for several hours before switching to the other side.

Hold Your Baby It seemed like we had to hold our daughter all the time. The only way she would take a good nap was if I held her. It can be liberating for parents to realize that holding a baby when he wants, and thus needs, to be held will not spoil him. You can never hold a baby too much.

We hold our infant son most of the day. He sits in our lap a lot, plus I enjoy carrying him a sling. This help a lot when he is bored. While in his sling he sees a lot of exciting (to him) things while I go about my daily activities. Wearing him in his sling while I walk around or sway back and forth help him relax and often puts him to sleep. A great combination is nursing him while wearing him in the sling and walking.

Some moms have found that carrying their baby in a sling while they vacuum the floor often calms their baby; they are calmed by being close to mommy, the motion, and the "white noise."

Go for a Walk When deciding where to go for a walk, consider, among other things, what time of the day it is ;), how old your baby is, his temperament, your need to get "out of the house!", what season it is, etc.

Getting out the house can be great for you and interesting for your baby when he gets a little older. We chose not to go anywhere with our baby until he was a month old. We found that as a newborn he enjoyed the quietness of our home. We didn't want to expose him to harmful germs, plus we were able to mostly control the lighting and the noise and the stimulation he received. He was more introverted the first two months. At around three months, he started getting very excited when seeing new places and people. Sometimes his whole body shakes with excitement!

The hallway in your house can be a good place to walk. My husband must have walked our daughter up and down the hallway a million times.

Both of our children love going outside. Being in the fresh air is healthy, and going outside also helps when your child seems bored, and you think he'd enjoy the change of scene.

Some babies enjoy being pushed around in a stroller some of the time, but most will greatly benefit and enjoy being close to their parents either held in their parent's arms or in a sling. (The sling is really great when parents have two young children--when going for a walk, the little one can be carried in the sling while the older one rides in his stroller.)

Dance or Sway with Your Baby Our daughter loved it when we danced with her!! Her daddy had his version of the "baby dance" down to perfection. He would cradle her in his arms, stand up, and sway his body back and forth.

Change Your Baby's Diaper At first our daughter hated diaper changes--I think it was partly because of the cold baby wipes!--but as she grew a little older she started liking her diaper changes. Changing our son's diaper usually calmed him down when he was little (we used cloths dampened with warm water to wipe him). I think the wet diapers really bothered him, but I also think he enjoyed the change in activity.

mom and baby in bed Sleep with Your Baby Our daughter didn't like being left in her crib, so finally out of exhaustion and concern for her, I started sleeping in bed with her. This worked well for us, and I enjoyed it immensely. It was especially restful after I figured out how to nurse her while lying down in bed.

For many months, it was a real struggle to help her go to sleep at night, so I laid in bed with her and nursed her until she would finally calm down and we would both drift off to sleep. It was also a wonderful way for us both to get a nap during the day.

As she grew older, I continued to bring her to bed with me and nurse her when she woke up in the morning---or in the middle of the night!--and then we just kept her in bed with us if she wanted to stay. We also continued to often take naps together. Now as a pre-schooler, she usually sleeps in her own bed, but is welcome to join us when she wants.

With our son we are skipping the crib, and we practice the family bed and are loving it!

Let Your Baby Look in a Mirror When our daughter was about two months old, she loved to look at herself in a mirror--and she still does. ;-) If your baby sleeps in a crib, an unbreakable mirror to hang in the crib is a good investment. Our son likes the mirror we have hanging next to the changing table.

Try a Swing Mechanical swings can be helpful for moms who are at their wits end with a baby who won't let them put them down without crying. A baby must always be supervised while in a swing, and when possible, mom's or dad's arms make the best swing of all. Another alternative is sitting in a porch swing with your baby in your lap.

Our daughter needed so much attention that my husband and I found it hard to eat dinner together. One of the things that helped us eat together again was the use of a baby swing. The motion helped calm our baby, and we were able to keep her contentedly near us while we ate.

We've found using a swing unnecessary with our son. As a newborn he enjoyed nursing while we ate, and I often nursed him while I wore him in a sling or lying on a nursing pillow on my lap. This left one arm free so I could eat, too, though carefully. Since he's more social now at three months, he enjoys sitting on our lap while we eat or sitting in his car seat on the table so he can be part of the activity.

Talk I've noticed that my son will often be more calm when I am talking--to him or someone else--than if the room is quiet. I read that babies enjoy being talked to in a sing-song voice, which is why they enjoy nursery rhymes, I guess (be careful not to use violent nursery rhymes!). If you don't know what to say, try reading a book; he'll like the pictures, too. I was surprised to find out that babies enjoy books from a really early age--I found this out when I was reading to my three year old and my baby enjoyed it too!

Some babies will fall asleep if laid on the chest of a person with a low voice. The vibrations made when the person talks can be calming. Try humming--they like the vibrations from that, too.

Play Music If you play an instrument, see if they like it. I sat at our organ with my son today and pecked out some songs, and he really seemed to enjoy it.

There are some beautiful lullaby tapes available, even some neat ones that have a heartbeat in the background. Or you could play any music your baby likes. Some babies like classical, Mozart might be a good one to try; some like country; others even like rock music. . . but I don't know if that would be calming; it could make them happier, though. Or you could even play a tape with sounds of nature on it such as rainfall or the ocean.

Sing to Your Baby Babies love being sung to even by parents who have trouble carrying a tune, so don't be bashful. I've heard that babies enjoy hearing the same song sung repeatedly, so when you find a song they really like, try singing it over and over. Singing really helps some children calm down when they get upset in the car.

My children love being sung to; my daughter, who is three, sings to her little baby brother, too, and it's so sweet. We like the song "You are My Sunshine." Here are the words to another song my children like:

Lullaby, and good-night,
With lillies of white,
and roses of red,
to pillow your head.
May you wake when the day
chaces darkness away,
may you wake when the day
chances darkness away.

Lullaby, and good-night,
May angels of light,
spread their wings
'round your bed,
and guard you from dread.
Slumber gently and sweet
in the dreamland of sleep,
slumber gently and sweet
in the dreamland of sleep.

Try Infant Massage Gently rub your baby's back, feet, etc., using your own "technique," read a book, or take an infant massage class. Many parents have found it helpful to learn the technique for massaging a baby with colic or gas. If a mother breastfeeds, infant massage can be a good way for a father to feel closer to baby. Infant massage gives important skin-to-skin contact, plus it's a wonderful time of interaction. There is lots of eye contact between you and baby, and it helps you to know your baby better.

Try the Colic Curl Face your baby toward you and put their legs on your chest--kind of like they are sitting on your chest--with their head resting in your hands. Many babies enjoy the eye contact, and their legs bent at the hips like that can help them pass gas if they need to.

Alternately, try facing your baby forward with his back against your chest. My son really enjoyed facing toward us for the first couple months, but now he loves to face outward. I've been told he's a very "social" baby. He loves to see what's going on.

More ideas to help calm a fussy baby

Use a comfort hold that puts pressure against his abdomen: lying on his abdomen across your lap, sitting on your hip facing away from you, or lying on your arm facing away from you.

Try gently breathing on your child's forehead.

Try swaddling your baby--wrapping your baby snuggly into a receiving blanket with his arms tucked inside. Some studies proclaim swadding to be "the most effective" quieter of small babies (newborn to six weeks old).

Sometimes babies get overstimulated and will calm down if taken to a quiet room.

"Babies who are 'trained' not to express their needs may appear to be docile, compliant, or 'good' babies. Yet these babies could be depressed babies who are shutting down the expression of their needs, and they may become children who don't ever speak up to get their needs met and eventually become the highest-need adults."
~ Dr. Sears in Parenting the Fussy Baby and High Need Child, pg 39

Copyright by Jeri Carr
Written in 1999

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