How to Calm a Crying Baby, Part Two

calmbaby2

So, as promised in Part One, here are some of my trade secrets with video demonstrations. It’s times like this I really wish I had Google Glass. These are kind of embarassingly bad. Maybe someday I’ll be able to record these in a higher quality! With lighting! and makeup! and more than two takes! and better camera angles!

Well, hopefully you’ll get the idea.

Trade Secret #0—Start clean.

Start with a baby who’s been fed, burped, and changed in the last 15-30 minutes.

Trade Secret #1—the Head Jiggle.

There are 3 ways I jiggle baby’s heads. NEVER SHAKE A BABY! When jiggling your baby’s head, always make sure that the head and neck are supported. You want a gentle head bobble to relax the baby. This isn’t a shake that’s going to sever their spinal cord.

Here are the first two methods:

Another head-jiggle method:

Trade Secret #2—How to Rock a Baby to Sleep

I don’t rock my kids to sleep every night because I don’t want to HAVE to rock my kids to sleep at night. You follow me? But when my baby is overtired and can’t settle down, I rock him and he falls asleep. Here are my tricks to rocking a baby to calm him or lull him to sleep:

  1. Hold the baby close, chest to chest. Swaddling is optional; I recommend it. (You can watch a few different ways to swaddle hereherehere, and here.)
  2. Sway from side to side while bouncing the baby.
  3. Shush the baby (Shhhh, shhh, shhh). Added benefit? It reminds you to breathe and calms you down, too.
  4. Rock him from light to shadow (rock with your back to the light). This causes the baby’s eyes to open and close more frequently and eventually roll back as they fall asleep.

Here’s the video. Again, poor quality, but you can see Lion fussing and then begin to fall asleep.

Trade Secret #3—Baby Massage

I’m not making videos about this, because there are already good videos online about them. Baby massage is great for calming fussy babies, especially if the fussiness is due to gas or colic.

This video playlist demonstrates the more common anti-colic massage techniques.

For just calming the baby, I do one of two things:

  • Rubbing or stroking the sides of the face with the sides of my thumbs. I go from the outer corner of the eye to the ear or above and around the ear. I also Shush while doing it and bring my forehead close to the baby’s. I learned this trick from a woman who works with Alzheimer sufferers.
  • Rubbing the legs just above the knees. I’m not sure why this is soothing or where I heard about it, but it works!

I use those massages on my toddler, too, when he gets worked up about something.

A colicky baby of a friend of mine greatly improves with chiropractic adjustments. I don’t suggest you try that at home, though, unless you’re a licensed chiropractor.

Trade Secret #4—Spend time with your kids

The more time you spend with your kids, the more you’ll experiment and find out what works for each baby. Captain has been holding our boys a certain way for years, and apparently it actually has a name—the “Tiger in the Tree technique.”

I frequently have one leg up on a chair or couch (half cross-legged), lay Lion in my lap, and bounce my knee. DIY bounce chair.

When Lion is really losing it (usually around the bewitching hour of 11 o’clock), I swaddle him, do head jiggle method #3, and sing “Young and Beautiful” to him. It is the ONLY thing that will stop his crying and settle him down. With one of my friends, it was Colbie Caillat on repeat. For Champ, I think I played Jack Johnson’s In Between Dreams album.

I think that’s it! If I can think of any other secrets, I’ll add them here. Any other moms have input on secrets they’d like to share?

How to Calm a Crying Baby, Part One

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!

hierarchy of needs-01

Physiological Needs

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 hereherehere, 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.”

Distractions

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.

Warning: Attachment Parenting may lead to emotional breakdown

Warning: Attachment Parenting may lead to emotional breakdown | diary of a bewildered mother

What is attachment parenting?

Oh how I hate labels. They start out innocently enough, but then you involve people, and then those people apply that label to so many different things, it ends up becoming either an extreme caricature or becomes completely meaningless. Take “attachment parenting,” for example, or AP for short.

From the Ask Dr. Sears website:

Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.

Well, how can you disagree with that? So, either you adhere to attachment parenting, or you are a terrible parent and your baby will be incredibly screwed up. But if you take attachment parenting to the extreme, indulging your child and becoming a wishy-washy parent…you are a terrible parent and your baby will be incredibly screwed up.

Attachment parenting starts with the idea of being attentive to your child. That’s all that it should be. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But many people, out of confusion, or oversimplification, or fear, or something else, think that attachment parenting is 1) breastfeeding, 2) carrying your baby around all the time, 3) never, ever, ever letting your child cry. Ever.

Here’s what Dr. Sears’ website says, emphasis mine:

Attachment parenting is not indulgent parenting. You may hear or worry that being nurturing and responsive to your baby’s needs might spoil your baby and set you up for being manipulated by your baby. This is why we stress that attachment parenting is responding appropriately to your baby’s needs, which means knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” Sometimes in their zeal to give children everything they need, it’s easy for parents to give their children everything they want.

Attachment parenting is a question of balance—not being indulgent or permissive, yet being attentive. As you and your baby grow together, you will develop the right balance between attentive, but not indulgent. In fact, being possessive, or a “smother mother” (or father) is unfair to the child, fosters an inappropriate dependency on the parent, and hinders your child from becoming normally independent. For example, you don’t need to respond to the cries of a seven-month-old baby as quickly as you would a seven-day-old baby.

Note that in order to respond to a child’s cries, that implies the baby started crying in the first place.

Crying isn’t evil, or even bad.

This can be looked at two ways. One, babies cry, and babies should cry. It’s how they communicate with their parents. To think that crying is evil is to think that writing or speaking any language is evil. Two, allowing your child to cry for a few minutes does not make you a bad person.

Like many other new mothers, when I was pregnant with Champ, I read a lot of blogs and had been convinced that no-cry parenting is the way to go. How could a loving mother let her child cry? How could a good person ignore the cries of a helpless baby? The more a baby cries, the more insecure he becomes, and the more he will end up crying in the future! It’s a vicious cycle!

In a perfect world, babies wouldn’t cry, because we’d understand immediately what they wanted. They’d be talking straight from the womb and using “please” and “may I” and “thank you very much.”

Sometimes babies just cry. Now there’s even a term for it—PURPLE Crying.

Sometimes, you can’t respond to them right away.

Sometimes, you need a break.

I always try to think historically when I parent. Did you know that pacifiers (aka “dummies”) have been around for centuries? I try to think of how moms soothed their children before they had swings and car rides and white noise machines. I constantly remind myself that babies used to be raised by “the village”—it’s really unusual for one woman to take care of a baby. Historically, women raised children with the help of family members, neighbors, or nannies (or, yes, slaves). Personally, I don’t think it’s natural for a woman to be home alone with her children, and yet here I am, a stay-at-home mom. Just last year I was a military wife thousands of miles away from any family members.

All of this is to say, sometimes, we have to make sacrifices. Sometimes, you need to put your baby down (in a safe place, like a bassinet or crib) so you can pee, or shower, or just have a minute to yourself. And chances are, some of those times, your baby will cry. During those times, just take a deep breath, finish what needs to be finished, and then go back to your baby a little more refreshed, and comfort her. The baby won’t care that she cried—what she will care about is that you comforted her after the fact.

the emotional breakdown

As a new parent, and especially as a breastfeeding mom, I was terrified to give Champ a pacifier. I feared “nipple confusion.” I thought of those three-year-olds who still have their Nuks hanging out of their mouths and shuddered. So I didn’t give him one. I was his pacifier. And that actually led to a ton of problems. One, no one else could comfort him, ever. So I couldn’t go anywhere without him, and I never got a break without condemning him to be inconsolable and whoever was taking care of him to be miserable. Two, constant nursing caused milk overproduction, which led to him getting too much milk, which led to reflux, which led to more crying, which led to burping and massaging and cuddling and throwing up and then nursing some more. Three, he wouldn’t take a pacifier or a bottle.

So here we are, a family of three, driving from North Carolina to Georgia for Thanksgiving weekend. It was supposed to be an 8-hour drive. It ended up taking us 16 hours. Champ would. not. stop. screaming. He wouldn’t take a pacifier. He wouldn’t drink out of a bottle. He would only be happy being held and being nursed.

And to me, his crying meant I had failed as a parent.

Have you ever felt like that? Well, it isn’t true. We can’t respond to our children the way we’d like to, 100% of the time. Especially if we have more than one child to care for! But we can acknowledge that they are crying, so they know we are there and not ignoring them. And we can comfort them afterward.

Your children will cry. But they need to know that no matter how bad things get, you will always love them and be there for them in the end.

Moms: there is freedom.

a note to new mothers about parenting styles

I encourage you to read what Dr. Sears has to say about attachment parenting so that you know what it’s really supposed to look like, as opposed to how it is portrayed on blogs and online forums. I especially recommend reading “What AP is Not.” I urge you not to judge other moms. You don’t know what their story is, and judging others destroys a possible relationship you could have with those other moms. If I’ve learned anything about motherhood, it’s that it’s messy and that moms need each other. I urge you not to compare yourselves with other moms. Their lives might look perfect on the outside, but you don’t know what goes on inside their home and inside their hearts. Lastly, I urge you not to disregard what other generations have to say. You may think older generations aren’t enlightened to the best parenting, but which generation is more experienced?

In short, make friends with other moms, have a humble heart, be open minded, take care of yourself, and take care of your children.

next time

Since being attentive to a newborn is a 24/7 job, I can’t make any promises when the next post will be up, but I can tell you what the subject will be. I’ll be posting all my secrets on calming a crying baby. When will it be posted? Oh, who knows. I’d like to start on it tomorrow, but I likely won’t be able to start it until Monday or Tuesday next week, so…keep checking back at the end of next week.

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