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Tips On How to Calm Your Baby When Crying


Sarah's baby sleeps peacefully as she holds him close to her chest. “This is the only time Brian has stopped crying in three days,” the young mother reports. “I waited so long for him to arrive, and now I feel like I can’t make him happy.”

Like most new mothers, Sarah couldn't imagine how overwhelmed she would feel whenever her tiny newborn was fussing and crying for no apparent reason – or being in what I call the Rebooting Zone.

Luckily, she has been able to learn not only how to recognize when her child was about to enter that zone, but also how to help him move out of it.

Is crying bad for babies?

Not all crying is bad. Just as your computer shuts down when something goes wrong, fussing (Rebooting) is a baby's way of shutting down when she is feeling overstimulated by the things that are going on inside her body or all around her. After a bit of crying (How much? See below), she may settle down and eat or sleep better, especially if you can help her shift into the "Ready Zone."

What is normal newborn crying?

Most babies begin to cry more - up to two hours a day - around two weeks after birth if the baby was born full-term (think of it as 42 weeks gestation if the birth was early or late). By six weeks of age, your baby may be crying three hours a day. Crying tapers to about one hour a day by 12 weeks of age. By understanding how overstimulation leads to crying - and how to help a baby shift out of the rebooting zone - you can minimize the fussing and, most importantly, feel less overwhelmed by it. If your baby constantly needs to reboot, you'll want to look for problems and get the help you need - speak with your health care provider. Parents whose babies cry excessively, or who don't know how to help their crying babies, are at higher risk for postpartum depression.

How can I tell when my baby is about to cry?

You can learn to notice when your baby is heading toward the Rebooting Zone. She will send out an SOS – a Sign of Overstimulation. Her color may get a bit red and her movements become jerky. She may start to breathe faster and look a little out of it. Take some calming steps now and you might help your baby skip over this Rebooting spell. (Read more on understanding SOS.)

How can I help my baby move out of the Rebooting Zone?

  1. Talk to your baby. Lean over and use a persistent, sing-songy voice close to her ear. Give your baby a few seconds to notice and respond to your voice.
  2. Observe your baby’s efforts to contribute to his own calming. Many parents are surprised to learn that babies have instinctual behaviors that help them calm down. She might bring her hand to her mouth and, with your help, start sucking her finger or thumb. He may make sucking movements with his mouth and start to quiet down. Another baby may look like she’s taking up sword fighting (the fencing reflex): The head turns to the side, one arm and one leg extend, and the other arm and leg flex. This maneuver helps some babies start to settle down. And finally, some babies use behavioral SOS to shut out excessive stimulation. Yours may stare into space or appear drowsy, and then begin to calm down.
  3. If your baby is still crying, your help is needed.

What DO actions will help my baby calm down?

“Just tell me what to do!” Sarah exclaimed as her baby wailed. Here's what I showed her:

How to Calm Your Baby

  1. Hold the baby's arms against his chest and continue that quiet, persistent talking.
  2. Swaddle the baby or encourage him to suck your finger, the breast, or a pacifier (use a pacifier only after breastfeeding is well established). 
  3. Lay the baby on her side and make a “shooshing” sound close to her ears. Work by Dr. Harvey Karp has shown that these actions calm some babies.

By taking these actions one step at a time, you can discover what actions are most comforting to your baby.

Brian starts to cry again. Sarah leans over and speaks quietly into his ear. He looks surprised, but continues to cry. Then, when Sarah holds his tiny but strong arms securely against his chest, as in a swaddle, he smacks his lips and quiets right down. Sarah can’t believe her eyes (or ears!). “Brian and I are a good team,” she says. “We’ll figure this out together!”

3 7 Reasons Why Babies Cry & How To Soothe Them
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