25+ Ways to Calm Baby When Mom Needs a Break
We’ve all been there; your baby is crying and you’ve tried everything you can think of to soothe her tears. You’d give anything to be able to identify why she is crying and calm her long enough so you can catch your breath. In many cases, the reason she is crying is obvious: she’s hungry, sleepy, or has a wet diaper, and wants you to take care of the problem. Unfortunately, babies cry a lot and their reasons vary, but when the only thing that seems to help is being held by you, sometimes you just want a break.
While no one solution will work for every baby, we’ve found over 25 ways to calm a crying baby that are worth a try, and will give you a much needed break.
Why Do Babies Cry?
Believe it or not, babies aren’t born with verbal communication skills. They can’t simply say “I’m hungry,” “I want out of this car seat” or “This tag is itching me.” They only know to cry as a way of communicating, “Mom, I need you!”
While all infants have periods of fussiness during their first few months (newborns typically cry for an average of 3 hours a day), some babies are just more sensitive to noise, smells, or any variety of other stimuli. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine what is causing your baby’s tears, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Newborns have a very distinct, high-pitched cry. It may sound excruciating to you, but your baby is not usually in pain. Newborns simply take in short, rapid breaths and let out a short crying sound each time they exhale, while older babies begin to breathe in deeper when crying, so each cry is longer (and often louder).
- A baby will quietly fuss and squirm if she is hungry. The volume of that cry will increase if baby’s hunger needs aren’t met.
- Your baby will produce a piercing wail, have a painful look on her face and be incredibly difficult to console if she’s in pain due to gas, teething, or illness.
Whatever the case, your baby’s tears are not a reflection of your parenting skills. In fact, it’s completely normal for babies to cry even when there doesn’t seem to be a direct cause. However, if you can identify the type of cry your baby is delivering, or at least rule out what it’s not, then you can start taking the next step toward calming your baby.
Address Basic Needs
First, it’s best to address your baby’s basic needs, including making sure that your baby is well fed (but not over-fed) and well rested. Hunger and tiredness are often the source of most tears and can be quickly resolved. In fact, remember to always check these two basic needs as your child gets older as they will continue to be the source of many tantrums.
1. Adjust the Temperature
Most adults prefer to sleep in cooler temperatures, and your baby is no different. However, during wakeful hours, you should keep your baby’s room a little warmer. Try to keep your home between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit while your baby is trying to sleep. If you can’t control the temperature, you can still adjust the temperature by leaving the window slightly open or using a fan (just don’t position baby close to either). Avoid temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees.
2. Dim the Lights
Babies typically don’t know their day from night when they are first born, but there are ways to regulate your babies’ circadian rhythm and help them adjust to your sleeping schedule (over time) and provide some calm to your life.
- Try adding dimmers to your lights. As the sun goes down in the evening, dim the lights, even if it’s not “bedtime.”
- Add black out shades or curtains in the bedroom. These will help the entire family go to bed even during those summer months when the sun is still wide awake.
- Turn off the TV in the room where baby is sleeping. While you may not think it makes a difference, too much stimulation can interrupt restful periods.
- Make sure your home is brightly lit during the day to reinforce that circadian rhythm, even during nap time.
3. Check your baby’s clothes
If your baby is crying in a piercing wail, as if they are in pain, you should first check their clothes for any tiny threads or hairs that may have gotten wrapped around their little toes, fingers, or even the penis (referred to as tourniquet syndrome). Often a result of postpartum hair loss, these hidden hairs can cause incredible pain if they aren’t resolved quickly.
Your baby may also be sensitive to certain fabrics, textures, or detergents. For some moms, this means that their child stays naked most of the time. Do what you have to do!
Your baby is used to being packed tightly away in a warm, cozy environment with very little room to move around (take a moment to remember those sweet and sometimes painful baby kicks). Emulating the womb is the quickest way to stop tears and make your newborn feel secure.
4. Do Skin-to-Skin
While the kangaroo care technique is often used with newborn infants (usually preterm), the practice of holding your baby skin-to-skin is one that can also be used to calm your baby, as it will regulate their temperature and allow them to hear the familiar sounds of your heart that much better. It can even be done with adopted babies to establish a stronger parent-child bond or older children when they are feeling sick.
It’s quite simple to do as well; just undress baby, lie down, place her against your naked skin, and snuggle up under a warm blanket.
You may notice that the nurses at the hospital will almost immediately swaddle your baby in a thin, lightweight blanket. Why? Swaddled babies often sleep longer and more soundly. Unfortunately, many of us didn’t ace “Swaddling 101,” and in the weeks following birth, we find that our babies no longer like to be swaddled, but for those that do – swaddling can quickly calm baby and get them the rest they are so desperately wanting.
Temperature regulation is equally important in keeping your baby comfortable, which helps them to rest better. And, since studies show Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is linked to babies overheating, keeping babies at the optimal temperature can be challenging and worrying for parents. So, while we fully endorse swaddling your baby, be sure that you’re not also overheating your child.
With that in mind, we particularly love the Little Lotus Baby swaddle.
Once your baby decides that they no longer like to be swaddled, you can continue to use this swaddle as a sleep sack – just leave your baby’s arms out.
Furthermore, for every product sold, a baby in need will be helped by the Embrace the infant warmer, as a way to extend a ‘warm embrace’ to less fortunate moms and babies all over the world.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
6. Give a Massage
Touch can do amazing things for soothing a crying newborn. In fact, we’ve found that a simple hug can calm just about anyone down. Touch stimulates receptors in your baby’s brain that help calm her down.
In a warm, quiet room, undress her all the way down to her diaper and place her on a comfortable surface such as your lap, a baby lounger, the bed or couch. You can use baby oil or a moisturizing lotion if you want, but it’s not necessary. Try caressing your infant’s cheek, back, legs, or stomach in long strokes versus short brisk strokes. The more you touch her, the happier she’ll be.
Of course, we don’t know many babies that don’t like to be held. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible – at least not for as long as baby would like. Sometimes mama needs both hands in order to take care of chores around the house or tend to her older child. So, how can you calm baby if the only thing that seems to make a difference is being held? Wear your baby!
Worn babies cry, on average, 43% less than non-worn babies. Something about the warm, dark, close comfort of a wrap, sling or baby carrier has an incredible calming effect for babies. And, it’s no wonder – babywearing is a combination of skin-to-skin and swaddling. As an added bonus, while you’re hands free, you can also breastfeed.
8. Take a Bath
Bathtime can be hit or miss, but many moms swear that taking a bath is very calming to their babies. In fact, if worse comes to worst, you can always get in the bathtub with your baby for additional skin-to-skin contact. And we agree, the sound of the running water and the feeling of the warm water as it hits the skin is very soothing (that’s if you can get enough time for a bath, right?).
For an extra calming bath, you can use a variety of lavender bath products, or simply add 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil to the bath water.
9. Let Daddy Step In
It’s possible that mom is not always the fix for an upset baby. So, when mom has done everything she knows to do, it’s time to let Daddy step in and give it a try.
Whether it’s his strong arms, tighter swaddle or just that he’s bigger, we don’t know or care what kind of magical powers dad is packing to get your baby to settle down. We just know that if he can get the job done, it’s time to give yourself a break and take a shower or a nap! Besides, daddies love to snuggle up with babies just as much as mommies do.
10. Try the Side or Stomach Position
When a baby is laying on her back, a number of seemingly insignificant stimuli can cause her to startle and fling her arms out to grab onto you (or air if you aren’t there) as if she is being dropped. We believe this is one reason why so many babies don’t like to be swaddled and placed on their back – they can’t fully respond to this falling sensation.
The side or stomach position turns off the sensors in her brain that cause the startle reflex to occur and help her relax.
There are a number of ways to utilize these positions, including holding your fussing or crying baby in your arms in a side or tummy-down position, on your lap, or over your shoulder.
Alternatively, you can lay your baby down in the side or stomach position in their bassinet or crib. You can use a rolled up receiving blanket (for side position) to prop baby up. Used in conjunction with a good swaddle, this will also avoid any unplanned rolls to the back that will startle baby awake.
Of course, experts still recommend putting babies to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS, so while these positions are great for calming baby, they should not be used to put baby to sleep (at least, not without using some sort of heart rate monitor such as the Angelcare Movement and Sound Monitor or Owlet Infant Heart Rate and Oxygen Monitor).
While not for everyone, co-sleeping can provide a much needed night’s rest for the whole family, especially if you are breastfeeding (although you’ll very rarely hear your pediatrician or any health professional openly recommend it). It’s also much safer than getting up to nurse your baby in the middle of the night and accidentally falling asleep in a rocking chair, on the couch or a recliner with baby in your arms.
The DockATot baby lounger (stage 1 – 0-8 months of age) gives parents a safe, snug spot for their little ones to comfortably co-sleep, relax, play, and get in tummy time with a unique shape and design.
Features to Love
Emulates the Womb
DockATot is designed to offer a safe, secure, soothing and healthy environment for babies. The adjustable bottom allows parents to tighten up the lounger in such a way that it makes babies feel as though they are being in a constant mommy hold, much like they felt in the womb. Babies can rest, play and lounge without the restrictions of buckles or the distraction of mobiles or other play things designed to stimulate baby.
Due to the raised bumper design and breathable, hypoallergenic materials, it also allows parents to safely co sleep with their babies or transition baby into their own crib.
Encourages Tummy Time
DockATot makes for the perfect spot to let your little one get in some tummy time. The rounded bumper helps to prop up your baby when placed under their arms. Tummy time helps babies develop neck strength and their motor skills.
Decreases Chances of Flat-Head Syndrome
Positional plagiocephaly (aka Flathead Syndrome) is a result of a baby lying on one side of the head more than the other. The mattress on each DockATot is a soft thermobonded fiber wadding plate with a great bearing capacity to relieve pressure on the head. In addition, the fibers of the surrounding bumpers on each dock gives great support and can function as a positioning prop, enabling you to alternate the baby’s resting position, from back to either side.
Moms and dads love DockATot’s portability. Whether you’re going on vacation or to visit the grandparents, or you just want to move the docking pod from room to room, DockATot is lightweight and simple to travel with.
Reduces Startle Reflex
The startle or “moro” reflex is a natural reflex for babies between birth and 6 months. The startle reflex may only last a few seconds, but babies can often startle themselves awake. DockATot can help prevent this from happening due to the unique shape, positioning of the sides and the cushioning effect of the dock, especially if you use it in conjunction with the side or stomach position.
All materials used are sourced from top-quality suppliers, are Oeko-Tex certified, are breathable, washable and hypoallergenic. DockATot offers excellent air-permeability. The DockATot is available in pristine white, zebra, chevron, blue toile, classic pink and blue.
12. Take Your Shirt Off
If you aren’t co-sleeping, you may find it helpful to leave your scent behind in the form of a shirt you’re wearing (or have worn, but haven’t washed). If baby wakes up and you aren’t there, she’ll find comfort in your smell and may go right back to sleep. Of course, this could have an adverse reaction, but it’s worth a shot.
Keep it Moving
For 9 months, babies spent most of their day and night in motion (did you know that you move even when you sleep?). Therefore, the idea of lying quietly in a bassinet or crib seems strange and unfamiliar. We find that slowly transitioning your baby into a new normal by keeping things moving will make her much more comfortable.
13. Vary Your Holding Position
This may seem obvious, but we’ve witnessed a number of parents (and grandparents) staring blankly at their crying baby in an infant carrier, as if they have no idea what to do next. Pick up the baby!
Simply holding your baby can be all it takes to calm them down, as it will quickly help them feel safe and comforted. However, don’t assume that there’s only one way to hold a baby. Whether you’re sitting in a rocking chair, standing in place or walking around, rocking a baby has an incredible calming effect.
These tried-and-true methods should be varied depending on the situation or your baby’s cry.
- The heart-to-heart: This position will probably come quite natural to you – hold your baby vertically, with her head resting on your chest, near your heart and sway from side to side. In this position, your baby will feel extra close to you as she gets in tune with your rhythms. Many mothers find themselves doing this (swaying) even while their baby is still in the womb, so this combination will feel quite familiar.
- The cradle-carry: Another position that should come fairly natural to you; with both elbows bent about 45 degrees, rest your baby’s head in the crook of one of your arms, supporting her with both of your forearms along the length of her back. Then, rock or bounce her gently while patting her bottom. This position is especially comforting to baby since she can see your face.
- The front-facing bounce: As your baby gets older, she’ll likely be more interested in seeing the world, so use that curiosity to distract her when she gets fussy. While standing, hold her against your chest, facing away from you. Place one hand under her bottom to create a “seat” and wrap the other arm around her chest (and under her arms) to create a secure hold. Once she’s in position, you can give her a light bounce, sway from side-to-side or walk around to find a view she likes.
- The football clutch: If your baby has gas, the quickest way to relieve that pressure on your baby’s tummy is to put them into this position. Place your baby facedown along one of your forearms, using the crook of your arm to support her neck; place your other arm between her legs to support her lower body. We find it’s easiest to get into this position and walk or lightly rock baby.
- The over-the-shoulder hold: Much like the football clutch, this position is great for relieving gas. You’ll hold your baby’s stomach against your shoulder and let her head and neck drape over it, while supporting her head with your hand until she’s able to control it herself. If you’re like us, you’ll find that even as your child ages, that you continue to use this position again and again.
- The jiggle: Dr. Robert Hamilton introduced us to a “new” position recently when his demonstration video went viral. Once you see it, you’ll realize how easy it is and how quickly it can calm your baby down (up to 3 months old). Just pick up your baby and fold her arms comfortably across her chest. Then, secure your baby’s arms with your hand after they’re folded and hold her in a way that your hand is also supporting her chin. Gently hold her bottom with your dominant hand (use your palm vs your fingers) to secure the hold. Finally, position your baby at a 45-degree angle (this angle is critical to maintain control) and gently swing her up and down, or JIGGLE her by shaking her bottom. Avoid any jerky movements – keep the motion smooth.
14. Use a Baby Swing
Baby swings are one of the top baby registry items for new moms, and for good reason. While not Mom, baby swings offer soothing, rhythmic motions that can help calm your baby down when you’re not available or can’t babywear. We particularly like the Mamaroo which most closely mimics mom’s movements.
The Mamaroo offers an adjustable seat to support babies from birth to six months old, includes five different motions (including a car ride setting) with five speeds, four different sounds, and an app that allows you to adjust settings from another room (ex. cooking dinner while your baby “swings.”)
Some swings (as well as other baby gear such as bouncers) offer a vibrating option that is extremely comforting, but you can just as easily use the vibrating motion of your washing machine or dryer to soothe your child and save your sanity. Just start a fresh load of laundry (might as well get some chores done in the process, right?) and place your baby in an infant carrier. Then, put the carrier on top of the appliance and hold onto it firmly so that the carrier stays put. Do NOT leave your baby unattended on top of the washer or dryer.
16. Take a Walk or Ride
Not only can a change of scenery be distracting enough to calm your new baby’s tears, but it may be a nice break for you. Some babies prefer a walk, others prefer a car ride – either way, the smooth, consistent motion of “taking a ride,” in addition to being snug as a bug in their infant car seat is just enough to put them to sleep. Of course, you hope that this is not the only soothing technique that will work for your child (especially if their preference is car rides), but when mom needs a break, you’ll try anything.
Make Some Noise
Believe it or not, while in utero, your baby can hear the pounding of your heart, the rush of your blood, and the gurgling of your stomach in addition to music you may be listening to or the sound of your voice. Therefore, when babies are born, absolute silence can be both unfamiliar and unnerving. So, make some noise!
The familiar tone of Mom’s voice is one of the most effective calming tools you have; so don’t feel as though you have to keep quiet in order to keep baby calm. They’ve been listening to that voice for months as you’ve carried on conversations with others or read to their big sibling. For some babies, talking may be just the thing to prevent sensory overload when your baby is introduced to a new setting.
The key is to keep your cool. If you get frustrated, your infant will immediately pick up on that tension and react. So, talk in a soothing tone and there’s a higher chance that your baby’s fussiness will decline.
With that in mind, the next time you go to the store or run an errand, try talking to your baby about what you’re doing the whole time. For example, “Alright baby John, it’s time to go to the store. We need milk, bread and eggs. Now we’re going to walk down this aisle to get some trash bags.” The conversation may seem kinda silly, especially to on-lookers who only see you and a baby, but we’ve found that it works. In fact, we continue to use it with our toddlers and preschoolers to keep the focus on whatever our task is instead of worrying about our kid throwing a tantrum (not that it doesn’t happen – we just find it doesn’t happen nearly as often).
On a similar note, singing to your baby is also very calming, and you hardly have to carry a tune. Your baby’s body will respond best to calm, slow songs, such as lullabies by adapting their heart and respiratory rates to the tempo of the music. If you don’t know any lullabies, make one up. It’s not like your little one has a “mixed tape” of favorites yet.
The simplest, best way to apply this technique is to loudly say “shhh” into your baby’s ear as you hold her close. If you’re not sure how loud to shush, aim to shush as loudly as your baby is crying. As she calms down, you’ll adjust your volume to match.
20. Crank up the White Noise
You may quickly find that “shushing” works so well that you are doing it all the time. Thus the reason that so many people recommend sound machines to new parents. We recommend having a sound machine in the same room where baby sleeps as well as having one for travel. You can also download an app (we really like Relax Melodies) to your phone to make sure you have all of your bases covered. Most of these machines are created to cover white noise, beach waves, rainfall, waterfalls and many other soothing sounds. So, if your baby doesn’t love “white noise,” give one of the other effects a try.
21. Turn on a fan
Another alternative to the shushing sound is to turn on a fan. Much like white noise, the sound of the fan circulating a room can quickly calm a fussy baby. It may also cool them off if they get too hot.
22. Vacuum the House
We’re often warned before our babies are born not to keep a house too quiet or we’ll be forced to spend the next few years in silence each time they go down for a nap. Instead, we’re told to continue business as usual so that our little ones learn how to sleep through anything. With that sentiment in mind, you may find that your baby is calmed by the sound of the vacuum cleaner.
If that’s the case, strap on your baby carrier and do a little cleaning. With any luck, your child will love cleaning so much that they will vacuum for you when they are of age.
Suck it up
You may find that your baby loves to nurse, even long after you think they’re done eating. We call this comfort nursing; and if you’re anything like us, you’ll be criticized for allowing your baby to “use you as a pacifier.” Of course, there may be something to this criticism. If you are quick to shove a boob or bottle in baby’s mouth every time she cries, you could be showing her that eating is the best way to comfort herself; and that could lead to habitual overeating. So, what’s the alternative?
23. Use your finger
If you want to soothe your baby by giving her something to suck on other than your breast, but you’re afraid to give her a pacifier, you can always use your little finger (as long as you wash your hands first). When your baby gets a little older, you can help them find their own thumb.
24. Offer a pacifier
Moms have long debated whether or not they should give their newborns a pacifier, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that there is nothing wrong with it. For babies that have strong sucking needs, a pacifier can be a huge relief, but don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t like the first one you pop in her mouth.
For breastfed babies, the simple act of sucking on a pacifier requires a different sucking technique. Also, for breastfed and bottle-fed babies alike, any nipple that does not provide milk may feel like a stranger. Therefore, when you offer your baby a pacifier, lightly stroke the side of her mouth. Then, gently hold the pacifier in her mouth for a moment as she starts sucking to keep it from popping right back out.
That said, be careful not to pop a pacifier in her mouth right away. While it may quiet her in the moment, you won’t have a chance to get to the root of what’s really going on – so, the crying may continue off and on for hours.
Let it Go
Gas can be a major source of discomfort for infants and can cause hours of tears if it’s not addressed. This pain is in part due to an immature digestive system. As your baby is processing nutrients from your breastmilk or formula, gas bubbles can form (or alternatively from swallowing air) and get trapped in their tiny stomachs. When those bubbles get stuck, they cause incredible pressure on your baby’s tummy.
We’ve already provided a couple of good holding positions to relieve gas, but there are a few other options.
25. Regularly Burp
Be sure that you are burping your baby regularly while she is feeding. If your baby is bottle-fed, make sure that the nipple is the right size for her age, so that she doesn’t take in too much air. If your baby is breastfed, make sure that she is spending enough time on each breast to get through the foremilk (high in lactose, which causes gassiness) and onto the rich hindmilk. You can also hand express some of the foremilk so that your baby can get straight to the good stuff.
26. Watch What You Eat
If you find that your baby is getting fussy over gas, you may want to examine your diet. Some mothers find that eliminating caffeine, dairy, soy, peanut products, onions and other potentially gassy foods from their diet makes a huge difference; but it can take weeks for certain foods to be completely removed from your system. When your baby is older, you can gradually re-introduce those products to see how your baby responds.
If you are formula-feeding, you may need to experiment with different brands or types of formula.
27. Bicycle those Legs
Lay your baby on her back and move her legs in a bicycling motion. This will put pressure on her stomach that will allow the gas to pass. Chances are that you’ll continue using this technique into your child’s toddler years.
28. Provide Plenty of Tummy Time
Tummy time isn’t just good for your baby’s head and neck development; it also helps move gas bubbles.
29. Use Infant Gas Drops
If all else fails, talk with your pediatrician about using infant gas drops.
Remember that crying is a normal part of your baby’s life. With a little trial and error, you and your baby will find a way to calm down together. However, if you find an approach that works (limit yourself to 3), stick with it. If one method isn’t doing the trick, try another; but avoid introducing several new techniques.
For more ways to calm baby, check out Building Relaxation into Baby’s Day.
Tags: baby positioner, baby swings, Babywearing, calming techniques, consoling a crying baby, crying baby, DockATot, fussy baby, holding techniques, Little Lotus Baby, Owlet Monitor, rocking techniques, shushing, swaddling, tips and tricks, ways to calm baby, ways to reduce gassiness, ways to soothe
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