Wednesday, April 24, 2013

TNO's Top 8 Ways to Soothe Your Baby

Being a first time parent can be pretty scary.  All of a sudden you have this beautiful child with such teeny little features... and a big cry.  Trying to figure out what your child wants and needs can be confusing and frustrating for both parent and child.

I remember a few nights in which DH and I had a really hard time when little man was a small babe.  There were a few nights where he constantly needed rocked or soothed, that we were out of energy.  I'm talking those nights that never seem to end, when you rock your baby for literally hours, only to have them wake right back up again when you set them gently back into their crib.

There were a few nights- where out of desperation- we did anything to get him to sleep.  Somehow I figured out how to nurse him while he was in the swing because then when he fell asleep I didn't have to move him at all and he could just stay asleep.  Another night I spent almost a half hour slowly moving my hand off of his back in slow, teeny increments.  One finger this minute, wait a minute or so, lift the next finger, etc.

If you're not a parent- and this hasn't convinced you yet- this is only a small sampling of the crazy things you will do for your children, I promise.

But as a second time parent to little lady, it's a mole hill compared to that mountain.  Not only do we feel more comfortable and are more relaxed, we know more and understand more about our kids.  Here are a few of my favorite tips on soothing your baby or getting them to sleep that have immensely helped our family:

1.  Get up and move!

My first tip is if baby is crying, and you're sitting down, you should probably get up.  For some reason, babies have this internal dial of cranky that flips on when you're trying to soothe them and you sit down.  For most babies I've met, if you sit while comforting them, you'll only get more tears.  Not to blatantly stereotype, but this seems to be a dad thing in many cases I've witnessed.  Instead of getting up and moving around with a soothing baby, many dads that I've seen just try to rock them, pat them, or shush them while seated.  Baby typically just gets more frustrated and continues to cry until either dad gets up with baby or baby gets exhausted and cries him or herself out.

By simply standing up and walking baby around, a lot of times the simple motion of your body can calm baby down enough to stop crying.

2. Hold baby upright.

This is also a really easy one.  For many babies (especially reflux babes), moving the baby from a cradle hold to a vertical positioning can make them feel more comfortable when they're really upset.  Little lady tends to be a huge fan of being upright against my or DH's chest, with her head tucked just into the nook of our necks.  If she isn't too over stimulated, being upright is a great way for her to calm down by looking around the room from a new and interesting level until she is soothed to sleep from our movement.

3. Babywear.

Little Man hangin' in his sling

If you haven't hung around the blog for a few, you may not have read about how big I am into babywearing. Wearing your baby in a wrap, sling, or carrier can be an excellent way to soothe your babe and- in many cases- can soothe them right into sleep.

For example: little lady has recently decided that she's not a huge fan of going right to sleep at night.  I'm familiar with this stage, as little man did the same thing around this age.  This was right at the beginning of the time when it started taking us hours to put him to bed at night, and I became that bleary eyed, tired parent you see in a bad cartoon.  However with little lady, I know better.  Instead of spending an hour or two up in the nursery just the two of us repeating the same scenarios (nurse, rock, nurse, rock, nurse, rock), if little lady isn't having it that night, I walk downstairs, pop her in the sling, and watch a little tv in the living room while she snuggles herself up to sleep.

It is a much happier solution for our family.

4.  Figure out a soothing gesture for your baby and implement it when baby is happy.

For little lady, it is patting her bum softly.  For little man, it was gently smoothing over his hair in a forward motion toward his face and gently down his forehead.  By patting, doing light baby massage, or a gentle, soothing touch, you can use your physical presence to lightly calm your baby.  Babies are used to having the sensation of feeling you 24/7 in the womb, and when that goes away, they can become disorganized and cranky.  When your baby is calm, you can choose and begin to implement some gentle physical touch to provide comfort.  Then later when your child gets fussy or cranky, using that same soothing technique as a tool in your arsenal of calm can really be an aide in getting baby back to their happy, sweet little self.

5.  Change up your routine.

I know, this is probably the opposite advice you'll get from every baby book out there.  I know, because I've read most of them.  And I followed this advice so closely with our first child.  Don't get me wrong- a great bedtime/bath time routine can be hugely helpful in getting your child to sleep comfortably, but a routine is only so good until you have to break it.  You may have a situation in which you're unable to complete their routine (like travelling) or they may go through a growth spurt/teething/cold/you name it that changes things and they just aren't having it any more.

Little Lady loving our bath time routine!

Just because the routine had worked before doesn't mean it's going to always work and it's going to work in every situation.  Little lady is already able to fall asleep in many more different environments then I think little man will ever be able to, simply because she is exposed to more than one way to become calm enough to sleep.  If your current routine just isn't working any more, don't be afraid to switch things up.

This also leads me to my next point:

6. Go somewhere new.

I'm not talking about driving out to Target.  But, hey, you could!  I'm talking about changing up the atmosphere a little for both you and your baby.  If you try to put the baby to sleep every night in their bedroom and it works, then great!  By all means, stay with that setting.  But, if it's not working, don't be reluctant to move into a different space and change those four walls that you're both staring at during the three a.m. hour.  It might be good for both of you and calm you both down to get a small change of pace.

Personally, when little man had difficulty sleeping at night and I couldn't get him right back down in his nursery, we'd go into a totally different room.  At that time we had a guest room with only a mattress on the floor, on which we both slept.  Even if he popped back awake at that point to look around at his new surroundings, it calmed him down enough so that he would look around and begin to process- halting his crying.  Having just that small change of environment into another baby-safe space was key in helping both of us get through some rough nights.

7. Give your partner some time.

Little Man & DH having a pouty moment together

As an extremely, fiercely independent person, I wanted to do everything.  Every nighttime waking, every rock to sleep, every feeding time.  You name it?  I did it.  DH and little man had plenty of bonding time, but I wanted to be the soother, the nurturer, and the comfort my children sought when they were upset in the night.  However, it was/is good for the babies, DH, and me for my mama self to step away and let them have their own time together during sleepless nights.  Firstly, it helps your partner find their own methods and their own way of soothing your children.  The second benefit is that it gives you some rest to refresh and have a much needed recharge of your batteries.

Here's my last, and sometimes most important tip:

8.  Realize they're just not ready to sleep yet.

One of the biggest ways I've found to decrease my stress and increase our children's happiness is figuring out when they just aren't ready to rest or sleep.  I know.  As a parent we look forward to that bedtime hour for a few minutes to ourselves.  It's tough to give up even minutes of that me time.  But if you're trying to put your child down to sleep before they are ready, all you're going to end up with is a cranky baby and a frazzled self.

It's kind of like trying to climb a mountain when you're trying to get a baby to sleep before they are ready.  You're trying so hard to make it happen and you're putting so much work into it.  You're thinking of every little trick you can use to get you there.  Eventually, yes.  You will climb that mountain and they will go to sleep.  But if you try it before you're (or they're, in this analogy) ready, it's going to be about a million false starts with a ton of wasted time.

If you're seeing the tell-tale signs such as bright, wide open eyes, playful demeanor, or any level of alertness that doesn't ring "sleepy" to you, then they just may not be ready.  Even though it's after their "bedtime", you may just need to wait until they get to that point of readiness.

* This is obviously something that can be adjusted as your child gets older and understands the concept of bedtime.  But with our small babes, it is typically such a better option to just wait it out until they are actually ready!

As I said, these are just a few of the things that have really helped us along the way to getting our babies happy and sleepy.  I hope a few of these ways to soothe your babe can really help you to decrease the stress associated with fussy, upset babes and help get you on your way to happy, calm, sleepy babies.

If you don't mind sharing, what are some other tricks you've found to be helpful?  Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. What I have noticed with my babies is that if I gently trace a finger across their forehead and sometimes down the bridge of their nose that it will relax them into sleep. I really liked this post.

  2. As the mom of a high-needs baby (now a not-so-high-needs toddler), I feel like I have lots to add here that your readers may find helpful.

    The first thing, relating to your #6 tip, is specifically GO OUTSIDE. Even if it is cold/raining/whatever. If your tiny baby is losing their mind and nothing is working, there is some magic reset that happens if you step outside onto your porch for a few minutes. I think it's part of that whole "new input" thing, but it helped us a lot of times, and we still employ this for toddler meltdowns.

    Also, get creative. Do things that seem insane to grownups, but work for babies. Remember, they are used to closeness, motion, and LOUD sounds inside the womb. Things we came up with to replicate that included a white noise app, a hairdryer blowing constantly in a corner, bouncing on a yoga ball while holding/wearing the babe, and talking to one another in full voice while holding him.

    Great post!

    1. Good call on going outside! I totally agree!


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