What do you do when you’re holding your screaming newborn and can feel anxiety rising in your chest, your throat tightening, and tears building behind your eyes?
Babies cry. Crying is the only way your baby has to directly communicate at this point! But crying can really take a toll on you. Wanting to run to your baby’s aid is normal! You are biologically wired to respond to your baby’s cries! But often your presence just isn’t enough to soothe your baby. So what do you do when you’re holding your screaming newborn and can feel anxiety rising in your chest, your throat tightening, and tears building behind your eyes? In that desperate moment, now what? Rather than driving around for hours or sleeping with the vacuum running, keep reading to learn how to calm your baby and the science behind why it works.
The three months outside of the womb is called the 4th trimester. Your baby simply is not ready to live independently outside of the womb yet! So when your newborn is overstimulated, overtired, or just crying hysterically, you need to do everything you can to recreate that cozy familiar environment of the womb. You’ll often see Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s discussed. I too utilize this method! No need to recreate the wheel for something that works! Dr. Karp uses swaddle, side, sway, shush, suck. I like to think about it in terms of a baby’s senses to recreate what they’ve experienced in the womb. Touch, sight, sound, taste, space. You’ll notice I replaced smell with the sense of space/proprioception. This simply refers to the sense of feeling your body in space. But you can still utilize your baby’s sense of smell during this calming process. Babies are born knowing what mom and mom’s milk smells like. So by placing baby near mom, we are giving them that familiar, comforting smell. The reason I choose not to include smell as one of the go to calming strategies is because, 1) It is not always feasible. Realistically, mom is not within smelling distance of baby each and every time they cry. 2) It’s simply not fair. If we think that mom is the only one that can calm the baby simply due to her smell, this puts unnecessary pressure on mom and requires her to always step in and takeover during situations that can create stress and anxiety.
Slow, rhythmical movements have a calming effect on the body. The slow linear movements are calming and function as part of the vestibular system. Integrating the vestibular system is crucial in development of children. Rocking and/or slow rhythmic movements release endorphins in the brain, which allows the body to calm/relax.
Oral seeking (such as sucking) provides a calming effect on children. Oral sucking behaviors is the first stage of self-regulation and can have lifelong benefits to calming and self-soothing. Part of sensory motor development, as the mouth is like a second pair of eyes; meaning children explore features of objects by putting them in their mouth.
Proprioception is the sense that tells the body where it is in space. Proprioception is important to the brain as it plays a role in self-regulation, coordination, posture, body awareness, and/or attention. Swaddling (aka deep pressure) is part of the proprioceptive sensory system. Proprioception is the only sense that calms and improve focus in children; when used effectively. The body cannot get too much proprioception input, so swaddling an infant helps calm. Swaddling also helps prevent the startling reflex from waking your baby.
Mastering recreating the warm and cozy environment in the womb takes practice. You’ll quickly learn exactly what your baby needs to calm. Trust me, they’ll let ya know! I do recommend going in order of how the steps are listed. The steps are listed in order of least intrusive to most intrusive intervention. By going in order, this will allow you to learn exactly what level of intervention your baby needs to calm down, rather than throwing everything at them at once and potentially teaching them to utilize a calming support that they didn’t need in the first place. Rest assured, that with these tools and education you’ll have the confidence and magic touch to calm your fussy baby in no time!