My tips for calming a screaming baby

My tips for calming a screaming baby

—By Little + Free's creator, Tori Rotter

Not to sound like a broken record, but as I’ve mentioned many times, my first daughter was colicky. So if you came here hoping for advice on dealing with the screams of a colicky baby, unfortunately, I can only offer one—time. But my second baby was not colicky, and many refer to her as a “good baby” (which is a term I don’t love, but you can interpret it how you wish). 

Despite this moniker, she is still a baby after all and still cries. As most parents know, there are your typical “solvable cries,” which generally originate from a baby that is either hungry, tired, or has a dirty diaper. I call these solvable cries because the crying usually subsides when the issue has been rectified. But sometimes (depending on the day, it could be most of the time), babies exhibit what I call unsolvable cries. They’ve slept, they’ve eaten, and their diaper is clean. But still—crying. While, as I mentioned, I do not have a cure for colicky babies, I feel that having a colicky baby made me savvier than most when it comes to calming an infant. When your baby is colicky, you try everything. You get REALLY creative. And as it turns out, some of that creativity proves very useful for the average crying baby.

It’s worth noting that I am not a medical professional; I am not a psychologist or baby specialist. I’m just a mom (who feels like she’s good at quieting unhappy babies). So, for what they are worth, here are my top tricks. 

Sensory stimulation:

This could mean a few different things. First, if you are ok with using a pacifier, try that. Aside from the comfort of the suckling action, pacifiers also immediately activate an infant’s sense of taste. They go from concentrating on whatever is making them upset to thinking, “oh, what is this thing in my mouth.” You can also dip the tip of the pacifier in breastmilk or formula to add an element of comfort without giving them tummy issues (since, in this instance, they will have already been fed).

If you are not a believer in pacifiers (or if you’ve already tried a pacifier and that didn’t work), try lightly blowing on their face. This changes their focus but also cools them off (as screaming can often make them warm). Another option is to let them touch something cold. This one is better for babies 12 weeks and up, as newborns are far less curious than older infants and are only in it for survival. However, for an older infant, the cold sensation (frozen teething toys are perfect here) causes instant curiosity and a tactile reminder that something in their environment has changed.

Don’t try:

Loud music: Calming music is probably ok, but sometimes it is drowned out by screaming. The inclination can be to turn the volume up…I do not recommend this. 

Abruptly turning on bright lights: While also a sensory stimulator, bright lights do not add to a calming environment and can often frighten them further.

Distraction:

For an older infant, this one is pretty easy. Hand them a new toy, let them look outside, and lift them up and down. These types of tricks are commonly used and fairly effective. However, distracting a newborn can be harder, as they haven’t even really learned to focus on something in the first place. So how do you distract a newborn? The two things that worked best for me were baths and massages. I feel confident that something about the warm water reminds babies of the womb (though, again, not a doctor). In my experience, a warm bath almost always soothes a crying baby (or, if not, acts as a distraction from whatever is troubling them). I found that gentle massages with lotion worked miracles if you’re in the few weeks before the umbilical cord falls off (or your baby is not a bath fan). This method is calming, but if the baby’s issue is something uncomfortable on their body, a massage solves that quickly. This tip can even work on colicky babies sometimes (but don’t quote me on that).

Remove all stimulation:

Yes, this seems like a slight contradiction to my first tip, and for what it’s worth, I would recommend trying the first trick before this one. But I believe that newborns, especially, sometimes get over-stimulated. The womb was a place of very little stimulation. So, bringing them back to that more calming environment can help relax a stressed baby. For this trick, I find the darkest room in the house, make sure it’s cool in temperature, and use a white noise machine to drown out other sounds. I then place the baby in a loose swaddle (or comfy spot if they are a bit older) to feel safe and snug but not restrained. And then you wait. Sometimes a gentle pat or reassuring word can be added, but in my experience, spending a few minutes in this environment brings things back to neutral.

I think it’s worth the reminder that one should only use these pieces of advice once a baby has been fed, slept, and is in a clean diaper. Those are undoubtedly the typical culprits. But in those outlier moments, these actions have helped me. And as someone who knows how difficult parenting can be, I genuinely hope they help others too! 

What tips and tricks have worked for you in the past? Comment below to let us know!

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