As parents learn in the first few months after their baby arrives, newborns are prone to cry… quite a lot. Sometimes, the reason is obvious. The baby is hungry, tired, or needs and changing and wants you to address their needs immediately. Other times the tears are flowing for reasons unknown and getting those tears to stop is not so simple.
In my line of work, I deal with fussy babies on a daily basis, and I have no problem with it. I have come to expect it, even revel in it! Fussy times mean my skills as a newborn photographer can really be put to work. Anyone can take a picture of a newborn. It takes a special person to be able to sooth and calm a baby into the most relaxing of poses.
My techniques are not unique, but they do work. And if they can help me perhaps they can help you. Whether you are a photographer like myself or a new parent, have no fear. Soon you will develop repertoire of techniques that will suit your child’s (or children’s) needs perfectly.
The Golden Rule
The most important thing you can do when soothing a baby is relax. Understand that the fussy baby WILL be okay, and so will you. Before you begin any of these techniques, get yourself in a calm state of mind. Take a deep breath, self-talk, or brew a hot cup of tea. Babies can sense your emotion, so if you are stressed, soothing a fussy baby will be more difficult if not impossible.
The 4 S’s for Soothing a Fussy Baby
For a baby’s first few months they need an environment that simulates what they experienced in the womb. Keep in mind, the womb is no roomy piece of real estate. Babies are used to a tight, cozy, warm environment, so recreating that makes the baby feel secure and loved. If you can, wrap the baby in a thin, lightweight blanket with her arms across her chest. This will produce a wonderful calming effect that will allow the baby to sleep longer and sounder. Learn how to swaddle a baby here.
In photography sessions when swaddling is not really an efficient option, snuggling or slinging can be good alternatives. Holding the baby snug against your body or in a sling soothes the baby and keeps her from flailing her arms.
A word of caution: Try not to overheat your baby. Babies should never be sweaty and flushed.
Side or Stomach
Laying a newborn on her side or stomach can trigger the calming reflex by emulating the baby’s position in the uterus. Counter to this is laying the baby on her back. This will make her feel as though she is falling and will likely trigger more tears.
Swaying or Rocking
Swaying and rocking are two time-tested techniques for soothing a baby and can be done in a cradle, in a rocking chair, in a swing, or simply by standing. Either way you choose to rock this simple, easy motion will be comforting to the baby. If you want to stand, place the baby in your arms, stand with your feet hip-width apart, and swivel back and forth at the hips. Your movement can be fairly vigorous as long as you’re holding the baby close. This rhythmic motion emulates the rhythmic motions the baby felt inside the uterus.
Despite what you may think, a pregnant belly is not a quiet sanctuary. Inside the uterus are a whole mess of sounds from the pounding of the mother’s heart to the rumbling of her stomach. Because of this symphony, silence is not golden for every baby. Every baby has a different tolerance for sound, so play around with different things to see what soothes them best. For some babies a simple “shush” sound over and over again will lull them to sleep. For others, soft lullabies work. You may try turning on a fan for the rhythmic whirring sound it makes. Some kids are even calmed by the jarring combination of noise and vibration that comes from a vacuum cleaner.
When none of the 4 S’s are working in your favor and you need to change it up, here is a list of other techniques that may work.
A bouncy walk
Hold the baby snug and walk with a bounce in your step until the baby calms down, or falls asleep. When your legs get tired switch to sitting on an exercise ball and bounce up and down.
A darkened room
A dark room will be less distracting than a bright one. Dimming the lights can help lull your baby into a calm and peaceful sleep.
The vibrating motion of a washing machine or dryer can work wonders. Place baby in an infant seat, put it on top of the washer, and hold it in place. Never leave the baby’s side for this one.
Drive around the block
The smooth, steady motion of a car combined with the snug comfort of a car seat has lulled many fussy babies to sleep.
Some children have strong sucking needs and are quickly soothed by a pacifier. Most babies give up the pacifier on their own around the seventh month.
Perhaps what your baby needs is a change of scenery. Walking outside can be distracting enough to calm your newborn’s cries.
Be a baby-masseuse
For some newborns stroking is soothing.
Check the temperature in your house
The baby could be too hot or too cold.