Anyone who has tried without success to soothe a crying and restless baby, can vouch for the fact that it can be both exhausting and upsetting - for parents and childcare practitioners alike. However much experience you may have with children, it’s only natural to be concerned when none of the usual techniques seem to work and you struggle to calm baby down.
For babies, the world is an incredibly fascinating, stimulating and utterly exciting place. Everything is brand new, and although amazing, at times it can also be a little overwhelming.
The overstimulation of senses is one of many reasons a baby may be restless, but other reasons can, of course, include tiredness and trapped wind.
With this in mind, here are five ways that can work wonders to soothe and calm a baby.
Change of scenery
Babies, just like adults, need a change of scenery and fresh air. As babies become a little older, they love being out and about for their walk or play - and if it falls around the same time each day; they come to expect it. They can even get a little bit grumpy if it doesn’t happen! Sometimes, just going into the garden or taking a walk around the block can be a welcome change of scenery, greatly helping to keep them content.
As well as being understimulated, babies can also quickly become overstimulated, just as adults can. If you find there is a lot of noise and general coming and going of people and you notice that baby is turning their head away, it may be a good sign they have ‘had enough’. Babies can become ‘sensory overloaded’ and will need you to help them take it down a level. You can do this by going somewhere a little quieter – similar to when we’ve had a busy day – it’s wonderful to have a few minutes of quiet time to catch our breath.
For the beginning part of a baby’s life, they will rely on us to wind them and help to relieve gas; their little bodies can’t quite do it all on their own just yet. When a baby has wind, it is often painful. Wind may come in the form of a burp or gas in their tummy. Often, burping a baby to get rid of wind helps soothe them. This can be done by laying baby down on his/her back and doing bicycle movements with his legs and also by pushing the legs gently up towards his/her tummy. Laying baby on your lap and rubbing his back can also help to relieve gas.
This is a wonderful tool to use if baby has become overstimulated or overtired. By picking them up and allowing their head to rest on your shoulder, patting between the shoulder blades, in a very rhythmic way and shushing (not into - but past baby’s ear), you begin to take the attention away from the crying and focus it on the rhythmic motion of your patting and the soothing sound of your shushing. This should allow you to be able to help baby be calm enough so that you can lay baby in their cot and help them from there, continuing to pat and shush if needed, again, helping to focus the attention on falling asleep.
Often, an upset baby is a tired baby. A baby’s ‘awake time’ is the amount of time a baby can comfortably stay awake for between naps and bedtime, before becoming tired again – and then overtired if you miss this window.
Young babies are often misdiagnosed as having colic when in fact they are overtired, as on paper, the symptoms are incredibly similar.
*Note that as little ones get older, they can have different awake times during the day. E.g. a 9/10-month-old baby may need a 2-hour stretch between waking up for the day and their morning nap, then a 3-hour gap between waking from their morning nap and going down for their afternoon nap. Then a 3.5/4-hour gap from waking up after the afternoon nap until going down for bedtime again.
Once you spot your baby’s tired signs, reduce stimulation and start getting your baby ready for their nap by doing a short nap routine.
About the author
The content in this guide has been kindly provided by baby sleep coach and sleep consultant Tracy Newberry - mother of two and founder of Happy Baby and Me. Known as ‘The Gentle Baby Sleep Coach’, Tracy specialises in working with parents whose babies are between 6–11 months, solving their little one’s sleep issues without using any of the ‘cry-it-out’ methods. This significantly reduces stress and protects the bond parents work so hard to build. With over 14 years’ experience working with babies as a nanny and as a baby sleep coach, Tracy prides herself on helping babies sleep gently, with love, kindness and the utmost respect.