10 ways to comfort a crying baby and keep yourself calm

All babies have moments, days or weeks when they cry more than usual, and it can be very upsetting and frustrating for parents who are trying to soothe them

Be prepared: Crying time generally increases from about two weeks of age, peaking at about six to eight weeks, and levelling out by about four months. Photograph: Thinkstock

Be prepared: Crying time generally increases from about two weeks of age, peaking at about six to eight weeks, and levelling out by about four months. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

All babies have moments, days or weeks when they cry more than usual, and it can be very upsetting and frustrating for parents who are trying to soothe them.

Crying time generally increases from about two weeks of age, peaking at about six to eight weeks, and levelling out by about four months.

“A parent will interpret the crying on an emotional level – so it’s not just a noise like a car alarm going off that is annoying,” says Tess Noonan, quality assurance manager with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC). It is liable to make them question their abilities as parents.

When it’s combined with other stress factors, such as lack of sleep, financial worries and isolation, the pressure can become unbearable.

An estimated 10 per cent of babies cry a lot – many of them are just more sensitive and easily overwhelmed than others. The loose term “colic” is applied to healthy babies who cry for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks.

A lot of new mothers are very isolated, says Rita O’Reilly, manager of Parentline, the confidential listening service. “The nearest person is maybe their mother-in-law and they don’t want to tell them the baby is crying.”

Parentline was originally called Parents Under Stress when it was set up in 1981 as a result of social workers’ concern for mothers and babies in this situation, she explains.

And to this day, reassuring and supporting parents who are troubled with crying babies is one of the things that the helpline does best, she says, adding: “If there is no one to turn to, all sorts of things can develop.”

Here are 10 ways to comfort a crying baby and keep yourself calm:

Try to understand what’s going on

“In the beginning the cries sound all the same; when the parent gets to know the child, they can interpret the crying: ‘that’s a tired cry’, ‘that’s a fright’ or whatever,” says Noonan. Work through the possible issues, such as hunger, nappy discomfort, temperature, tiredness, over-stimulation, and so on.

Cuddle your baby

Disregard the misguided notion some people have that babies can be “spoiled” by being picked up and held close

Offer a pacifier of choice

Give them breast, their thumb or fingers, or a dummy to suck on.

Rock them

In a cradle or pram; the movement of a pram out walking or the motion of a car can do the trick.

Tune in

Sing to them or play gentle music.

Switch on white noise

Some people swear by the soothing effect of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine; it is said to be similar to what a baby hears in the womb.

Remember it’s a phase

“It can feel like forever when you are in it,” says Noonan, “but babies do move on.”

Plan your support network

Even before the baby arrives, recognise that there are going to be bad days and plan who you can turn to for at least moral support, if not hands-on help. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody – the public health nurse, family, GP – that you are struggling to cope.

Recognise your triggers

If it’s hunger, or exhaustion, or not getting out of the house that is most likely to aggravate your response to a crying baby, try to avoid getting to that point. For example, take every opportunity to sleep when the baby sleeps, make sure you have a ready supply of nutritious snacks, and so on.

Step away

If you feel you are close to snapping, walk out of the room – having first made sure the crying baby is in a safe place of course. There you can take a few minutes to calm yourself with whatever works for you: counting to 10, deep breathing, bellowing at the walls . . .

For more information: “Avoiding a Crysis: Advice for parents on understanding and coping with a crying baby” can be downloaded from ispcc.ie; copingwithcrying.org.uk contains advice from the NSPCC; Parentline can be contacted on 1890 927 277.

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