Strategies to calm a restless baby
First parenting lesson is learning how to console a crying baby. Every baby is different so it’s important to familiarise with your baby’s own behavioural patterns and learn what works for them.
For many new parents, the earliest test of parenthood is consoling the seemingly inconsolable. Crying newborns tend to bring about heightened, and at times conflicting emotions in a parent; tugging at your heartstrings, inducing a feeling of sheer powerlessness, or making you twitch with frustration.
Whatever the sentiment, remind yourself that soothing a crying baby is a rite of parent passage that will pass. And if it makes you feel any better, a recent global study reveals that the duration of crying drops significantly after 8-9 weeks of age.
Below are a list of strategies to help get you through this period (without pulling your hair out!). These suggestions will not only help you soothe your baby, they will assist you in truly getting to know each other.
Learn to read your baby’s behaviour
Every baby is unique in how he or she responds to the world. For some, the sight of grandma will open the floodgates (it’s not personal, Nana). Others may set into a deafening rage every ‘witching hour’, the time around early evening when babies are often unsettled.
Some studies suggest that the differences in a baby’s temperament are biological, while others point towards the possible influence of environmental factors. Interestingly, a global analysis published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found that babies in Britain, Canada, and Italy tend to cry more than others, while babies from Denmark were more relaxed.
The good news - even if you’re not Danish - you can work with your baby’s temperament. Take note of how different environments affect your baby, watch for patterns and problem areas. For instance, does your baby flare up as soon as a doting bystander starts to mouth baby gibberish? Or does your baby scream (and spray) after a large feed? Are they tired after a long day? Or just plain old ‘hangry’?
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Find a sleep technique that works for you
In our era of more cautious parenting, there’s a lot of debate surrounding sleep training. The aim of sleep training is to allow your baby to develop his or her own self-soothing skills; learning sleep cues that help them comfort themselves and fall back asleep as they stir throughout the night. Previous studies have proven the effectiveness of two key techniques:
- Graduated extinction: allowing your baby to cry for short, prescribed intervals over the course of several nights.
- Bedtime fading: delaying bedtime in 15-minute increments so your baby becomes more and more tired.
When tested, both techniques have been successful in reducing the time taken for babies to fall asleep. As hard as it might be, resisting the urge to immediately respond also lowered the frequency of a baby waking up throughout the night.
For parents who struggle to ignore the cry, it’s worth knowing that the study also showed that this technique has zero effects on the baby’s emotional wellbeing or feelings of attachment. Remind yourself that a baby’s night time patterns are learnt, and it’s therefore best to find a routine and stick to it.
Act before the floodgates open
As you grow more familiar with your baby, learn to respond to cues that suggest a cry is coming on. Common signs that suggest your baby may be tired and likely to cry include, but are not limited to:
- Minimal movements and little activity
- Grimacing or frowning
- Clenched fists or rigid limbs
- Jerky movements
If you notice any of these signs, chances are your baby is close to catching those ZzzZzz. Also look for bedtime distractions that might disrupt sleep; a wet or dirty nappy, room temperature, hunger, and lights.
While being attentive to these signs, it may be helpful to try some relaxation techniques before bedtime - a baby massage, a warm bath or rocking may help improve your baby’s quality of sleep.
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Remember no two babies are the same
While there is lots of wisdom passed between one parent and another, remind yourself that every baby will have its own crying rhythm (or lack of).
If you’re concerned that your baby is crying excessively, get advice or help from your GP or maternal health nurse early. It’s possible your baby may have colic or another underlying issue like reflux, or an infection. Sleep deprivation can also cause stress and conflict for exhausted parents. Remember to look out for your own health too. At the end of the day, your health matters to the health and happiness of your baby.