Do you know how the Navy SEALS get trained to endure torture? They’re deprived of sleep for days on end.
Do you know how they’re kept awake? By the shrill sounds of a baby crying for hours and hours and hours.
If this situation sounds familiar to you (and you don’t happen to be a Navy SEAL), then you’re probably a new mom or dad.
And luckily for you, there’s something you can do about it. These blinks won’t only help you understand why babies cry so much; they’ll also teach you what to do about it. Babycalming is a skill, something that can be practiced and mastered. All you need to do is learn five simple and time-proven techniques – the five “S”s – and how they apply to your baby
You’ll also find out
- Why your baby loves to be shushed
- How being smart is related to premature birth
- Why bouncing babies are happy babies
Babies cry because they’re brought into the world before they’re ready.
When a foal is born, it’s able to run. But what about human babies? Well, there’s really no animal born more helpless. Newborn babies can’t sit up on their own, they can’t turn on their own and they can’t even burp without assistance.
Frail, fragile, and constantly overwhelmed, babies need a soothing, stable place with constant nourishment: the womb. Unfortunately, babies are born about three months before they’re physically ready to enter the world.
Why do we enter the world so early?
We have our big brains to thank for that one. Human survival depends on having a sophisticated brain and babies are born with rather large heads to allow for this. If the baby stayed in the womb longer than nine months, its head would grow too big for it to be born, and it’d get stuck in the birth canal.
Because of this early arrival, babies cry for help. And they rely on you to respond. Crying is a baby’s instinctual reaction, it’s a way of ensuring it gets constant care. When a baby is hungry, cold, in need of a fresh diaper, or feeling afraid, its first reflex is to cry.
Crying is natural, and parents shouldn’t worry about spoiling their baby by responding to every cry. Think about it – how can you spoil something in its very first months in the world? Letting your baby cry is dangerous, too. It’s been linked to increased breastfeeding problems, and even crib death.
Most colicky babies cry excessively because they were born too early. Only ten percent of colicky babies suffer from a physical ailment, such as food intolerance, while the rest exhibit colicky symptoms because they missed the fourth trimester in the womb.
So, as your child follows its instincts and starts crying, let your own instincts guide you and show your child love as soon as it needs it. Soon enough, your baby will learn to feel safe when you’re around. Nonetheless, you’ll sometimes need a few tricks up your sleeve to soothe your baby. We’ll explore these next.
Babies have a special calming reflex, and there’s an art to triggering it.
Do you know the knee-jerk reflex? Firmly tap your knee, right below the kneecap, and you’ll inadvertently kick your leg. This reflex obviously isn’t going to help you calm your baby. But another, equally reliable reflex will. Even the crankiest babies have a special calming reflex that protects them during pregnancy and continues to soothe them after they enter the world.
A baby’s calming reflex kicks into action during their last month in the womb, soothing the baby to prevent it from moving around too much. This is vital since at this stage in the pregnancy the womb gets rather tight! If the baby keeps tossing and turning, it might get stuck in a position that threatens its life and the life of its mother during birth.
The good news is that this calming reflex persists after birth. But triggering it is a little more complicated than the kneejerk reflex. There are five strategies you can use, which we’ll explore in the blinks to come. These can be tricky to master, and each baby responds to them slightly differently. But they’re worth practicing, and your baby will learn to respond to them more and more as you both become familiar with them.
So let’s get started with the first two of the five “S”s: swaddling and the side position!
Swaddle your baby and keep it lying on its side to trigger the calming reflex.
Swaddling your baby – the first S – is a simple way to trigger its calming reflex. And it’s surprisingly effective. But why? Well, by wrapping your baby tightly, you’re simulating the gentle, continuous pressure of the womb. Soothed and relaxed by this pressure, your baby will be more inclined to respond to further triggers.
But hold on – isn’t swaddling bad for your baby? Many parents, after seeing their crying baby writhing and flailing its arms, worry that swaddling is too constricting. (Swaddling has also been rumored to increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But, on the contrary, research shows that SIDs risk is reduced if you swaddle your baby correctly.) All this squirming and flailing isn’t something that babies enjoy; they just can’t help it, and, in fact, it upsets them further. Swaddling your baby, and thus preventing movement, helps your baby feel safe again.
However, you should limit swaddling to sleep and crying episodes, and reduce it gradually as your baby matures.
This will ensure your baby can stretch and move as much as it likes.
Okay, but maybe you’ve had trouble swaddling your baby – it won’t stay still, or it starts crying. To avert this problem, use the second S: the side position. When you lay a baby on its back, its nervous system may interpret this position as falling; the baby, reacting with the falling reflex, will startle and flail its arms. So simply roll your baby on its side, triggering the calming reflex, and swaddle away!
The side position is not the position in which a baby should sleep, however. Once your baby is calm and ready for sleep, roll it onto its back. Ensuring that your baby doesn’t sleep on its side significantly reduces the risk of SIDs, too.
Now that you’ve got some baby-calming skills, it’s time to break the crying cycle.