When baby starts a-wailing, it’s easy to lose your grip on coherent thought. But before you plunge headlong into a panic, scroll down the list of obvious fixes: Does babe have a dirty diaper? Is she hot or cold? Is she rooting around, looking for a meal? If you answered yes to any of these, a change or a feeding could be a quick solution.
However, the unfortunate truth is that baby frequently cries for reasons not apparent to her mama and papa. She’s tired, she’s grumpy, she’s feeling sensitive, something feels uncomfortable—but she can’t tell you what it is (gas pain? inflamed gums? constipation?). These are the occasions when you’ll need a bag of tricks ready to calm baby down and restore the peace.
1. Life is a highway
When you have the time and gas prices are low, do a few circuits around the neighborhood. Some babies seem to find solace in the low rumbling and smooth motion of a moving vehicle. If you’re extra lucky, baby will sleep on as you move her from car to crib when you get home; if not, you’ll at least have enjoyed the few minutes of peace and quiet while they lasted.
To save on mileage, try rocking baby’s car seat back and forth in a dark room. Mom Mackensey Quintana of Aurora, Illinois, says, “Lucas liked to be bounced in his car seat—not rocked back and forth—up and down. I would hold it by the handle and basically do squats until my legs gave out.”
Baby might fall asleep, but don’t leave her slumbering in her car seat long-term. Switch her to the flat and firm surface of her crib or bassinet. (I know, I know, she might wake up, and you’ll have to start the process all over again. I didn’t claim it was a perfect method.)
2. Serving up suckers
Embrace the binky—it could become your best friend (and baby’s, too). Experiment with styles until you find one your baby loves, and then take multiple pacifiers with you everywhere you go. Binkies comfort baby by satisfying the sucking reflex, so you’re not having to breastfeed 24/7. And it’s perfectly OK for her to fall asleep with one in her mouth. In fact, paci-popping snoozers have a lower risk of SIDS.
The downsides of getting your baby hooked on a pacifier are twofold: First, when baby relies on it for self-soothing, she will wake up and cry when it falls out of her mouth. This can be a nuisance when it happens several times a night.
Second, what you giveth you must someday taketh away. Weaning baby from the binky is necessary for dental health (plus, you don’t want her to be the one kid showing up at preschool with a paci), but the separation can be painful.
3. The baby burrito
For a newborn accustomed to the close quarters of the uterus, wide-open spaces are the last things she wants. A firm swaddle works wonders for infants, keeping their arms from flailing and helping them feel secure.
Look for easy-to-use swaddle suits or blankets specifically made for swaddling, so the size is just right. Light, breathable fabrics are best for spring and summer weather, but warmer weaves are available for when nights get cool. Baby should be able to wriggle a bit without busting loose, so keep those ends tucked in tight.
(For a step-by-step guide on how to wrap your tiny bean, go to pnmag.com/swaddle.)
4. Mellow melodies
Music must be the language of the angels because babies respond to it so intuitively. Specifically, baby loves to hear her parents’ voices, so singing or humming is an instant mood lifter. When you need some tuneful inspiration, take a tip from these moms who found just the right note:
“A good slow dance to Journey’s ‘Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’’ always soothed Norie,” claims Samantha Hamner of Memphis, Tennessee. “There’s something about that beat and mama’s swaying and singing.”
Mom of two Kristina Kugler of La Crosse, Wisconsin, recalls, “When Brenna was crying and upset, I’d calm her down by putting on the music video of ‘White and Nerdy’ by Weird Al. Jonas calmed down to ‘Lolli-pop’ by the Chordettes.”
“I used to drive [my son] around while listening to the classical radio station and singing, ‘Spencer, I love you’ with the tune,” confesses Natalie Gordon of North Salt Lake, Utah, “It fits really well with Pachelbel’s ‘Canon.’”
5. A low roar
Have you ever seen your baby become completely serene at the sound of the vacuum or the washing machine? She is reliving her peaceful existence in the womb, a surprisingly noisy place. With your heart beating, fluids flowing and food digesting, white noise was baby’s jam before birth. Now, sudden loud noises may startle and upset her, but continuous shushing or white noise is familiar. Mom Tiffani Jensen of Bountiful, Utah, says, “We would sometimes run the bathroom faucet, and the sound would calm [my daughter] down enough to help her fall asleep.”
To help at bedtime, consider using a white noise machine to deliver the sound of crashing waves or falling rain. The noise will also help to cover up less soothing sounds coming from other parts of the house.
6. That loving feeling
Skin-to-skin contact is so important to baby’s well-being, especially in the beginning. When she’s pressed against your chest, she is nestled in and warm, listening to your heartbeat just as she did in the womb. Babies will typically be calmer and sleep better with more skin-to-skin.
Once you’re past the brand-new-baby stage and out in public again, keep the holding and cuddling regular. It’s not “spoiling” your baby; it’s showing her consistent affection. If stationary snuggling isn’t enough to calm her cries, try gentle, rhythmic bouncing, swaying or rocking (but never shaking). Hold her in different positions—tummy up, tummy down, head on your shoulder—as long as her head and core are properly supported. You’ll get the hang of the “new-mom dance” in no time.
“My girls loved being turned on their sides while swaddled and bounced up and down,” says mom Kendall Ralph of Roswell, Georgia. “They loved to be patted on their bums while I did this. Weirdly, the harder the patting, the faster they calmed down. I also would say, ‘Shh, shh, shh.’ I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but it was the only thing that seemed to work every time.”
7. Working out the bubbles
Baby knows very little of pain or what level of response corresponds appropriately to the pain she is experiencing. Therefore, gas bubbles that would be mildly bothersome to an older person can send a newborn into an all-out scream session.
Try burping first. Lean baby up against your chest, and pat or rub her back, so she’s receiving pressure on both sides. She may arch her back as it works itself out, then release a satisfying baby belch.
If burping doesn’t do much, try helping baby pass gas by laying her down on her back and gently working her legs up to her chest and down again. You can also move them in a bicycle motion.
Does baby still seem to have an upset tummy? Consider the last time she had a dirty diaper. If it’s been more than a day, call your pediatrician, and ask what he suggests to help with constipation. (Suppositories or prune juice may be in order.)
If bowel movements are regular, pay attention to your own eating habits. Does baby get fussy when you eat certain foods before nursing? She may have a sensitivity to something in your diet. Again, talk it over with your pediatrician to get the best advice.