So, you’ve got a crying baby on your hands. Look no further! A baby, just like you, has a hierarchy of needs. When troubleshooting a baby’s crying, start at the most basic needs and move from there. To illustrate, I created a graphic for you—one that I’d love you to share on Facebook or Pinterest, hint, hint!
Is he hungry?
I usually start with this one, but that’s only because it’s easiest to rule out since my son will NOT eat if he’s not hungry. You can’t make him. Only two months old, and already stubborn. (I think he got a bigger dose of my Irishness than Champ did.)
It’s pretty easy to tell if a baby is hungry, especially breastfed babies. Breastfed babies start hunting for breasts. It’s pretty obvious, and also hilarious when they start snorting like little piggies looking for truffles. Another way you can tell if a baby is hungry is if he opens up his mouth and sticks out his tongue, like he’s tasting the air, or if he’s “going to town” on his pacifier as though he is trying to get milk out of it.
Does she want to nurse or suckle at a pacifier?
I know, I know. I used the word “suckle.” Sucking is a physiological need for babies. Some want to nurse for comfort, and others want a pacifier. Some go for fingers or their fists. And then there are those remarkably acrobatic infants who suck on their own toes.
Does he need to be burped?
Bottle-fed babies need to be burped more often than breastfed ones. I often don’t have to burp Lion at all, but if he starts to stiffen his little body and stretch out his legs and arch his back, I know he needs to be burped and/or given a tummy massage to work out the bubbles. My favorite method with Lion is holding him upright (he has good head and neck control), putting his feet on a surface, holding him around his torso just under the arms, and then pulling him down into a squat. His knees go up to his tummy, and this works the bubbles out. You can do bicycle movements with his/her legs, too, if your baby prefers lying down or doesn’t have head control yet.
Does he need to be changed?
This isn’t just about diaper changes, though that’s the big reason babies cry. Some babies also cry if they are too hot, too cold, if the fabric is itchy, or if there’s a loose thread or hair wrapped around them under their clothes. Undressing a baby can also distract him enough that he will forget why he was crying in the first place.
Is she tired?
The problem with tired babies is that by the time they start crying, they are already overtired. (Like when you start to feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.) You have to try to catch them and get them to sleep when they start showing signs of tiredness, like rubbing their eyes, turning away from lights or sounds, or getting heavy-lidded. If you can do BabyWise, go for it!
Note: Babies need sleep more than the other things above them on the hierarchy pyramid, but if they are overtired, they will probably need to feel secure or be distracted before they can settle down and fall asleep.
Recreating the Womb
Does she need some security?
Newborns can easily overstimulate themselves or wake themselves up by their randomly flailing limbs. You know when you are just about to fall asleep, and you get that sensation of falling, and it scares the crap out of you (and anyone sharing your bed) because all of a sudden your whole body spazzes out? I’m pretty sure that newborns feel like that all. the. time. So feel sorry for them, and be sure to wrangle their wild appendages into submission if they are trying to fall asleep but can’t. Lion always wants, no—needs—to be swaddled at night at around 8pm. If your baby doesn’t like being swaddled, you can hold her closely instead, but know that as soon as you put her down, she will probably wake herself up again until she has control over her arms and legs. I suggest a monster swaddle, because just because a baby can easily get out of a tight swaddle, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like being swaddled. It might mean that you just need to try a different approach to swaddling. You can watch a few different ways to swaddle here, here, here, and here.
You can also give your baby security by wearing her in a baby carrier. If the baby is especially fussy, try going skin to skin, and let your baby rest her head on your chest so she can hear your heartbeat.
Does he crave rhythmic movement?
When the baby is in the womb, he is constantly moving in response of his mother’s movements. Put a baby in the arms of a veteran mom, and he will almost immediately start swaying back and forth. (Lots of moms will, when they hear or see a baby crying, start unconsciously swaying back and forth if they are already standing.) Babies like to be swayed and rocked, bounced or swung. Swings and vibrating bouncy chairs can be a lifesaver if you or your arms need a rest. A ride in the car or stroller can also help lull a fussy baby.
NEVER SHAKE A BABY. That should go without saying. However, if you support the baby’s head, you can gently, GENTLY wiggle him to settle her down. Nothing that would snap his neck, obviously. You can try laying him on his back, putting your hand on his tummy, and shaking your hand to make him vibrate. His head and neck are supported by whatever he’s lying on, so it’s safe.
Does she want white noise to soothe her?
If you’ve ever heard “womb noises” or listened to an ultrasound taking place, you can hear the whoosh whooshing of the mom’s blood circulating. It’s probably unnerving for a baby to go from constant noise in the womb to relative silence after birth. On the other hand, babies can also be overstimulated by too much noise. White noise works well in either situation. Shushing the baby—holding her close and going “Shhhhh, shhhhhh” at a medium volume can help settle her down. If that doesn’t work, try other white noise, like a fan, a blowdryer, or a vacuum. You can try music, but to avoid overstimulation, stick to something calming and peaceful. Be wary of classical music, because it often is highly emotional. I stopped playing classical music for Champ at bedtime when he woke up in a panic to “Ride of the Valkyries.”
Newborns usually don’t get bored like older babies; they tend to get overstimulated. But distractions, in moderation, can help a baby forget why he or she is crying and then be more responsive to the other methods of soothing.
Babies LOVE lights. Take the baby by something bright—a window, a lamp, a mirror—and she might be distracted enough to stop crying. This works best before the fussiness evolves into full-blown crying. The same goes for toys.
A change of scenery is a gentle way of shocking the baby into forgetting what the fuss was about. I can’t tell you how often I took baby Champ out onto our screened porch and swung in the hammock with him to settle him down. Babies love fresh air. A walk or drive has the added bonus of rhythmic movements.
Singing is also a good distraction, even if you don’t have a very good singing voice. Babies especially love it when MEN sing or speak to them while holding them close because of the vibrations of the Adam’s Apple.
To Be Continued…
I have a couple other tips that I’ve found to be really effective in calming my own (and other) babies, but I can’t find videos to illustrate them, so I’m going to have to make my own. Aaaand it’s the Fourth of July weekend, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make and upload the videos. So subscribe to my blog, or like my page on Facebook so you can be alerted when I finally get that posted.
UPDATE: Read Part Two here.