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Imagine that you don’t have a universal language to communicate with your fellow beings. It must be so difficult, especially for a baby. Learning the signs that your baby uses to communicate with you is a crucial aspect of parenting.
Why Do Babies Cry?
Babies communicate their needs like hunger, pain and fear and the need to sleep through their cries. The interpretation of the reason can be tricky. The cry of a baby sounds different from that caused by hunger or the need to sleep. If the baby’s crying does not sound right, you should contact the doctor immediately. Learning what it takes to soothe and comfort an upset or unresponsive baby may take all of your skills of perception and awareness. As the baby grows, it will learn other ways to communicate with you. The different reasons behind a baby’s cry include:
The baby’s stomach is small. Thus it cannot hold too much and empties very fast. So your baby will need frequent feeds. If your baby is crying, your baby might not be feeding consistently or drinking formula or breastfeed in small quantities and more often. You may try feeding your baby earlier than the estimated 2-3 hours to see if it calms him.
Need to sleep – Babies will tend to fall asleep when they are tired.
However, sometimes they may become fussy or cranky when overtired.
2. Diaper Change
You may need to keep a check on when the baby needs a diaper change.
3. Stomach Problems
If your baby cries a lot, stomach ache caused due to colic or gas could be a reason especially if your baby cries just after being fed.
4. Needs to Burp
Burping is not mandatory. However, if your baby starts crying after being fed, then you may try to burp him to relieve them from the discomfort.
5. Wants to be Held
Babies want to be cuddled. They want to see their parents’ faces and hear their voices. Hence, they may sometimes cry to indicate that they want to be close to you.
6. Feeling Too Hot or Cold
A fussy baby might also be trying to indicate if he is feeling too hot or too cold. As a parent, you should be careful to keep your baby at a comfortable temperature.
7. Something Causing Pain or Discomfort
Sometimes your baby may be troubled by something, like a hair tightly wrapped around a toe or finger, or a scratchy cloth tag.
Babies find it difficult at times to process things happening around them (noise, lights). So they may need to be pacified. On the other hand, babies are sometimes outgoing, so they may cry and fuss to be more active.
9. Feeling Unwell
Crying may be a symptom of some illness. Check for any symptoms that could indicate one.
Babies cry and become cranky when they are teething because each tooth pushes through the gums causing pain.
11. Getting Scared
Sometimes babies get scared by something in the environment, like a bad dream or from any other thing that can be scary for babies, that we may take for granted.
12. Separation Anxiety
Babies also experience separation anxiety. It is natural for a baby to be anxious about being separated from the parents, but with patience and reassurance, they are sure to understand that the separation is temporary.
How Should You Hold Your Crying Baby?
Pick the baby and hold him snugly across your chest. Fold the baby’s arms and secure them with your hand and support the baby’s chin also. Hold the baby’s bottom gently with your other hand by using the fleshy part of your arm. Keep the baby at a 45-degree angle and gently rock him. The movement should be smooth and in a sequence. The angle is important because it will help you control the baby. This technique is used for holding babies who are 2 to 3 months old.
Babies cry for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is easy to soothe the baby by feeding, holding or changing the diaper. However, there are times when the baby is inconsolable which may be due to colic.
5 S’s for Soothing a Crying Baby
Mentioned below are different ways to soothe a crying baby.
Swaddling your baby in a blanket keeps the baby cosy and secure. Swaddling creates a womb-like feeling, so it helps the baby to settle down faster. You may leave the arms of the baby outside the swaddle so that they can enjoy their freedom.
2. Side Lying
Since your baby has spent most of his time on his side inside the foetus, you may try to hold him in a similar way. This is called the football hold, clutch the baby with one arm and support the head and legs under your armpit.
Some babies can be calmed by soothing sounds, like a whooshing noise, because it is similar to the sound inside the womb. The whooshing sound should be louder than the baby’s crying, else he or she will not be able to hear it. You may make a “shhh shhh” sound or can use a white noise machine or a mobile phone for the same.
Fast and rhythmic motions like swinging or rocking may help soothe a fussy baby. You may also use motorized baby swings or gliders. But try not to allow the baby to sleep off while on one. It may lead to him becoming dependant on the motion to fall asleep over time.
Babies often calm themselves by sucking on a finger or a pacifier. This does not fill their tummies. However, it relaxes their nerves. Keep in mind to avoid resorting to pacifiers all the time as the baby may become dependent on them.
Other Tips to Calm your Baby
The following ways help calm a fussy crying baby:
1. Give a Massage
Massaging is a calming ritual which can be used to soothe a crying baby. You may use lotion or baby massage oil for the massage. Stroke the baby’s chest gently from the centre to outward and make small circles on the stomach and around the belly button. Roll the arms and legs of the baby between your hands. Take turns for massaging each limb in a “milking” motion. Rub the palms and fingers of the baby. Massage the soles of the feet as well. If the baby is alright, then you can turn the baby on his tummy and stroke the back from side to side and then up and down.
Babies also cry when they are bored. You can keep them entertained by narrating stories or making noises with animated expressions. You can play with the baby’s toys and show him how to rattle and spin different toys.
Sometimes, the cause of crying is colic or gas. You may soothe the baby by holding him (colic carry). You have to apply some pressure to the baby’s tummy. Lay the baby on his tummy on your forearm, with the head rested on your hand. With the other hand, rub the baby’s back gently. You can lay the baby across your lap with one knee under his tummy and the other supporting the head. You may also put the baby down on his back and push the knees up to his stomach for about 10 seconds each. This action of release and repeat help relieve the gas.
4. Get the Baby Outside
Sometimes, all that a cranky baby needs is to get out into fresh air. A change in the surroundings (light, air, temperature and sound) may improve the baby’s mood. If you are unable to take the baby out for a walk, you may take him for a drive.
5. Sing a Lullaby
Sometimes just singing a lullaby can calm a crying baby. Your voice will comfort the baby.
6. Using a Front Pack Carrier to Carry the Baby
You can walk around with your baby facing your body in a front pack carrier. The closeness and rhythm of your steps will help the baby relax. Babies enjoy being carried around.
7. Keep Calm
Sometimes over stimulation causes the baby to become cranky since everything is new to them. So, you may create a soothing environment around him . You can take the baby to a separate room dim the lights and put on some light music.
What If your Baby is Crying Without Any Reason?
Babies can cry and be fussy during the initial months. They might even have a particular time during the day which is their fussy period. A standard fussy period may start from 2 to 6 weeks, reaches its peak at 6 weeks and is gone by the 4th month. The fussy period usually lasts for about 2 to 4 hours every day. Normal crying or fussiness occurs at a similar time, for a similar duration and with the same intensity. The baby will respond to the same things every time. If your baby does not stop crying, you need to try out the 5 S soothing methods. However, if you feel that your baby’s crying or being fussy is not normal, consult your paediatrician.
What is Self-Soothing?
Self-soothing means the baby’s ability to regulate his emotions. Nowadays, paediatricians recommend parents to allow the baby to self-soothe. While self-soothing needs to be taught to most babies, it comes naturally to some. Mellow babies learn to self-soothe earlier than babies with more insistent personalities.
When to Teach your Baby to Self-Soothe?
Self-soothing teaches the baby to settle down between the age of 6 to 9 months with a little parental guidance. If you start to teach the baby too early, then the baby may tend to become fussy. You have to be patient with the baby during the initial days since the baby is still trying to adapt to the world around. Until the baby learns to vocalise his needs, the caregiver may need to use all the senses to assess preferences. From the 4th month onwards, you may start teaching the baby to self-soothe.
How to Teach your Baby to Self-Soothe?
The process of teaching your baby to self-soothe requires a lot of encouragement from your side. You need to take one step at a time to allow the baby’s body and mind to adapt.
1. Change of Mindset
When you start teaching the baby to self-soothe, it important that you let go. It is important to give the baby a chance to self-soothe and believe that the baby will be able to do so. Initially, it will be difficult however rescuing your baby from discomfort every time will not give him the opportunity to self-soothe. Hence, we need to learn to equip the baby to handle discomfort.
2. Establish a Bedtime Routine
It is important that you establish a routine for the baby. Predictability will make the baby less anxious and will also lessen the resistance. You should try to do the same things at the same time and in the same order.
3. Do Not Pick the Baby Right Away
There will always be a temptation to pick up and soothe a crying or fussy baby. However, it may have its own set of problems like –
- Your baby will not get a chance to settle on his own and will not be able to get the opportunity to calm down.
- Your baby associates waking up with a need to have external help to help him to fall asleep. They will not realise that it is alright to find ways to self-soothe.
- Rushing every time to calm the baby will make you feel drained and stressed out. Your baby will be able to sense your anxiety and start feeling stressed as well.
4. Leaving the Baby’s Arms Un-Swaddled
Swaddles are a way to help to calm a baby, especially in the newborn days. Swaddling does not allow the baby to suck their hands, which is a way to self-soothe.
5. Put the Baby Down When He’s Drowsy But Awake
You should learn to put the baby down when he’s drowsy but awake. The baby should be drowsy enough that he can fall asleep easily, but not too drowsy that the baby is not able to adjust to the new environment. A baby who is slightly awake will be able to find his bearings and sleep without being held. You may look for sleep cues to determine when it’s time for the baby to take another nap.
6. Use Dim Lights or White Noise
Make the baby’s room conducive to sleep by keeping it dim or adding white noise, so the baby has a better chance of falling and staying asleep. It is okay if your baby is lying down awake. They will fall asleep on their own. In case the baby is fussing while lying down, you may help them settle down or rock them to a sleepy state.
7. Feed your Baby after He or She Wakes Up
You should try and feed the baby after waking up. This way, the baby is encouraged to find alternate ways to sleep like sucking, rocking the head from side to side or cooing. The baby will have the energy to play while being awake and will be able to digest the feed reducing the chances of gas.
8. Give the Baby a Comfort Item
You may try to get the baby used to a toy to encourage self-soothing. The baby finds comfort in them.
Frequently asked questions
1. Does a Baby’s Ability to Self-Soothe Reflect the Parenting Abilities?
A baby’s ability to self-soothe depends on the baby’s temperament and not on your parenting abilities.
2. Do All Babies Self-Ssoothe Easily?
Sometimes babies do not self-soothe or resist it. You should not be afraid that the baby lacks something or will not be independent. On the other hand, the ability to engage with the baby to comfort the baby is considered to be extremely healthy.
3. How Old Will My Baby be Before She Learns to Soothe Herself?
The ability to self-soothe depends largely on the personality of the baby. While some babies are born with good self-soothing skills, others may take time to learn the skill.
4. What are the Alternate Techniques to Comfort a Baby?
The baby should know that you believe in them. As a parent, you should be able to be around the baby and keep reassuring him verbally or by body language.
5. What to Do If the Baby Cannot Sleep without Nursing?
If your baby is drowsy enough but wakes up each time you lay him, you should use your judgment and let the baby understand that it is time to sleep and see if he or she can settle down in a few minutes.
6. Can I Spoil My Baby If I Respond to Every Cry?
It is not possible to spoil a baby by comforting them when they are upset. However, responding instantly to crying is not necessary. Parents should aim to be consistent in their response to the baby’s crying. This is the key to building a sense of security in the baby in the growing years.
7. For How Long Can I Leave My Baby Alone?
It is a good idea to leave the baby for about 10 to 15 minutes and check on him at regular intervals.
Also Read: Basics of Baby Sleep: 10 to 12 Months