When you're pregnant, you long for those blissed-out moments where you'll inevitably rock your baby in your arms, sing her lullabies and snuggle—but for some babies, that picture couldn't be farther from the truth. Instead of peaceful rocking chair sessions, you get a screaming baby who can't be consoled. Rocking, singing, soothing—you could try everything and still be left with an infant who seems intent on screaming until her face turns purple.
Here's the thing: all babies follow a pattern when it comes to fussiness. Periods of crying usually set in during the second week of life, build and then peak around 6 to 8 weeks of age. Finally, the inconsolable crying wears down by the third month, allowing some peace in your home. But how do you get through that first little while, when you're bone-tired and your newborn's completely inconsolable? Try these tips to calm your fussy baby and squeeze in some precious snuggle—and shut-eye—time.
- Swaddle. Your baby went from being in a confined space in utero to the wide open spaces of a huge crib, so it's no wonder she feels uncomfortable when she's left sprawled out on her bed. Swaddling helps to nurture your baby's instinct to be held closely, helping her go from screaming infant to peaceful baby burrito. There's different methods of swaddling, but all end with your infant tightly tucked inside a receiving blanket. Be sure that all heavy blankets are removed from her crib for nap time, since they present an asphyxiation hazard. Use only thin receiving blankets, and never cover your baby's mouth or leave her unattended while swaddled.
- Carry. Sometimes, the only way to get your baby to stop crying is to pick her up and carry her around. Luckily, there's really no way you can "spoil" an infant so young, so rock away! If that glaring pile of dirty dishes is too much for you to handle, invest in a sling. Slings create a pouch of fabric that allows you to hold your tiny bundle of joy without tying up your hands. That way, she stays against your body while your hands are freed up for tasks around the house. Problem solved!
- Suck. The sucking reflex is a natural instinct that makes your baby automatically feel comfortable and safe. If she doesn't take a pacifier, your breast makes for the perfect binky. Miriam Katz, parenting expert and co-author of The Other Baby Book, points out that sucking on the breast can help your baby calm down. "Nursing babies are often quickly soothed by offering the breast, whether or not they just ate," she says. If you're not breastfeeding, offer a couple of fingers to your baby for a quick, relaxing fix.
- Distract. If rocking and singing aren't working, it's time to change tactics. By offering a change of pace, you distract her from whatever is distressing her and stop the screaming. Try running a warm bath, where you can use water and a massage to calm her down. Or, pop her in the stroller for a walk around the block. Even a picture book with high-contrast images can help her feel more calm—so you feel more in control.
- Noise. Babies are soothed by monotonous sounds, no matter what they are. When in utero, your little one mellowed out to the steady sounds of your heartbeat and the distinct nuances of rushing fluid. While that might sound less appealing than your fave band, constant white noise is your baby's favorite music genre. Try turning your radio to static and cranking the volume, or download a white noise app on your smartphone. You might not love the sound, but it's music to your stressed-out baby's ears.
- Breathe. Look, every parent feels completely frustrated every now and again. When your life gets turned upside-down by a screaming infant, it's all too easy to lose your cool. But getting angry, thinking about hurting your baby or resorting to shaking can be dangerous—and even deadly. No child has ever been harmed by crying it out for a few minutes. If you feel like your temper is rising, place your whimpering baby safely in her crib and walk away for a few minutes. She'll be fine, and you'll have some time to catch your breath and try again.
It's important to remember that most babies experience a period of fussiness during the first three months, but that it eventually tapers. If your baby is inconsolable or seems to be in pain, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to check for common catalysts to crankiness, like reflux or excess gas. Your doctor's advice paired with your maternal instincts should make for a calmer baby and quieter nights in your home.