Calming a Fussy Baby
There’s no way around it: Babies cry. And while a cry signals parents to come to aid, nothing can be more frustrating than trying to soothe an irritable infant when you don’t know why he’s crying in the first place. Typically, moms and dads are encouraged to keep their heads held high and persevere. But that’s no easy feat!
A fussy baby is not the only unhappy member of the family. Endless newborn cries take their toll on the whole family and can cause depression, obesity and marital conflict. No wonder that exhausted and highly stressed parents are more prone to have car wrecks and other accidents. And babies aren’t off the hook either. The risk of SIDS or suffocation increase when a wiped out mom or dad falls asleep with a newborn in arms. In fact, according to HappyBaby.com, baby fussiness, combined with parental fatigue, can produce complications that ring to the tune of over one billion dollars a year (now that’s something to cry about!).
The good news? Parents can take some simple steps to help soothe a fussy newborn.
The Five S’s
Pediatrician Harvey Karp developed a system he deemed the Five S’s after observing the techniques employed by the !Kung, an indigenous African tribe that was renowned for calming their babies in under a minute. The key to their magic? Imitating the sounds, movements and constrictions of the womb. Karp’s findings were then developed into a book and subsequent documentary, both aptly titled The Happiest Baby on the Block. Within each, Dr. Karp explains that most methods parents employ are good starts but it’s the combination of them all that produces peace and calm.
The Five S’s include:
1)Swaddling. Being wrapped in a lightweight blanket may make your baby look like a human burrito but it serves a deep purpose. That snug fit gives Baby the sensation of still being closely packaged, as in utero, and prevents hands and arms from flailing around. A correct swaddle is snug—with the arms placed straight by the sides—but loose around the hips to prevent hip dysplasia. Use a large square blanket and be careful to avoid covering Baby’s face or allowing him to overheat. Swaddling is the most effective of the five methods employed but isn’t to be used all day.
2)Side Position. While babies should be placed on their backs to sleep in their cribs, this position is the worst for soothing fussiness. Turn Baby on his side, stomach or over your shoulder and watch him calm instantly.
3)Shushing. The sound of blood flow in utero is louder than a vacuum cleaner. Babies feel right at home with white noise. Shushing in Baby’s ear works for a time, but consider investing in a sound machine or a white noise app for long-term use.
4)Swinging. Life in the womb is always hopping—really! Babies grow accustomed to constant movement, and stillness is an unwelcome sensation upon birth. Gentle rocking motions may keep an already calm baby relaxed, but it takes quick, little motions to soothe an inconsolable infant. While supporting the head and neck, keep movement tight and compact, no more than one inch apart. Hands need a rest? Use a vibrating baby seat, swing, or put Baby in the car seat and go for a ride.
5)Sucking. Suckling is the piece de resistance of soothing. Most babies instantly relax when they suck, whether it be on a finger, Mother’s breast or pacifier.
Fussiness or Colic?
Colic is defined by crying that lasts up to three hours a day, as many as three times a week, typically up until the third month. As famed pediatrician Dr. William Sears says, “If you wonder whether or not you have a colicky baby—you don’t!” Colic has no known cause and is not determined by parents’ ability (nor is it prophetic as to what temperament the baby will have when he grows up). If your baby has a case of the chronic grumpies, first consult with your pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues. If all checks out well, take heart that you’re not doing anything wrong. If the screams have you at your wit’s end, allow yourself to take a break (either by calling in reinforcements to watch your newborn or by setting him in his crib while you allow yourself a few minutes in another room to catch your breath).
More Than Meets the Eye
On the rare occasion, crying is a symptom of a much deeper issue. Most commonly, the issue is related to gut health (of both the baby and mother, if nursing), gas or feeding troubles. If you are nursing, try an elimination diet of common triggers—dairy, caffeine, onions or spicy food—to deduce whether an allergy or aversion is at play. Consult with a lactation specialist to ensure that Baby is latching on properly, as well as eating enough.
Lauren Greenlee’s first baby had extreme colic, which paved the way for her subsequent babies who were only moderately fussy. She writes—and wrangles her brood of boys—from her Olathe home.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.