When your newborn baby won’t stop crying, it can start to feel desperate. You may be worried that there is something wrong with your baby, that you aren’t a good enough mother, that you don’t have the instincts or that you won’t ever be able to connect. Yep, I understand. I’ve had all of those feelings. But the truth is that you can handle it. And you are a good mother! You just need to use a few simple tricks to soothe your baby's crying.
All babies cry. It’s how they communicate their needs – and desires – with you. But, depending on their personality and health, some babies cry way more than others. And some newborn babies have colic – my daughter did and we always referred to that as “next level crying”. Let’s look at some typical reasons why babies cry:
Acid reflux/Upset Tummy
But if you rule these out and your baby is still crying, there are definitely things you can do. As a Certified Happiest Baby Educator, I can assure you that you can actually STOP the crying. I’ve seen it done many times! Read below to learn how:
Using the 5 Ss to Cure Crying
Have you heard of the 5s? Developed by Dr. Harvey Karp of “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, these magical steps can literally stop a baby’s cries - in it’s tracks. It’s not magic – it’s based on the science of re-creating the feelings of the womb in what he calls the “4th trimester.” The 5s are best done in order and they include: swaddle, side/stomach position, shush, swing, and suck. Let’s take a closer look at each one:
When done correctly, the swaddle provides the same snugness of the womb and is the baseline of calming a baby’s cries. Many parents assume their baby doesn’t like the swaddle because their baby struggles against it, cries harder or wiggles out. Don’t fall for this! Swaddling might not immediately calm her but it will help to restrain her flailing movements and draw her concentration in so she can pay attention to what you do next. This is the magic of the swaddle. In the same way, using a swaddle while baby sleeps (on their back) can help to reduce the impact of the startle reflex and help a baby sleep for longer periods.
If your baby is crying, leaving her on her back will make her even more unhappy. Instead, picking her up and rolling her to her side or holding her on her tummy helps to switch on that calming reflex. But note that the side/stomach position should be used for calming only – a baby should always be placed on their back to sleep.
White noise or the shhhh of a parent is magic. To really make it work, elevate the level of the shhh to the level of your baby’s cries (or wails). This means, if she is screaming then your shush should be up close to her ear and loud. (Louder than you think) Once she calms, you can turn down the white noise or lower your shushing sound. If used correctly, white noise is also an amazing tool for sleep. For an up close look at the usefulness of white noise and typical mistakes to avoid when using white noise, be sure to read my article here.
The swing or holding your baby and softly jiggling (not shaking) her can also really help to reduce crying during a meltdown. Once your baby is swaddled, and you’ve used the stomach/side position and shushing to calm her, then the swinging motion can help to keep her calm for longer periods. You can also use a swing (fully reclined and securely fastened) to help keep your baby calmer while he naps - and you take a moment to yourself! However, keep in mind that it's super important that your baby remains in your view and that you make sure the swing is fully reclined. These are necessary steps to ensuring baby's safety - especially when baby is young and their necks are more likely to tip forward and close their airway. Be sure to check with your pediatrician for guidance.
The final S – sucking – is what Dr. Karp calls the “icing on the cake” and it’s definitely my second favorite (after white noise, of course!). For sucking, you can offer baby your breast, bottle, clean finger or pacifier. The sucking motion is also great for helping a new baby fall and stay asleep (and the AAP recommends its use during naps and at bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS). Quick tip: to teach a baby to keep a pacifier in their mouth on their own, gently tug on it as soon as they start sucking.
Have you tried the 5s? What was your experience? Comment below and let me know! If you haven’t, given them a try the next time your baby is in meltdown mode and come let me know how it went. And be sure to come back next week too and check out “5 common mistakes parents make with 5s and how to avoid them.”
If you’re having a hard time handling your colicky or crying baby, know that you aren’t alone. Pay attention to your internal red flags and lay your baby down and walk away if you need to. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. If you need to take a break, it's ok. If you need someone to talk to or to help you develop a plan, be sure to check out my services page. You can also download the free motherhood guide below!
You are a good mom!
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Jennifer Howard, CLC, CHBE
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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