Your 3 to 6-month old is beginning a laundry list of firsts: First smile, first laugh, first foods, and perhaps even crawling for the first time. However, some things are "same old, same old" to you, especially when it comes to crying.
Even the most well-mannered baby lets out a scream every now and again, and it's totally normal. Babies obviously can't talk, so your little one reminds you of her wants and needs through crying; sure, it's not always pleasant, but it's definitely effective. That's why checking for hunger, discomfort, or fears is a great first step to soothing a crying infant. The rest is mostly trial and error until you get the right combination to stop your baby's cries.
- Check for a problem. Your little one's wails are meant to communicate with you, so when the tears begin to trickle, check the basics. A dirty diaper, an empty stomach, or simple discomfort can all lead your baby to protest with her super-healthy lungs. Once you've made sure that all of her basic needs are met, you can assume that her crying is related to something else. Fatigue and boredom can cause a fussy baby, so make sure your babe is well-rested (putting her down for a nap can often solve the issue). If not, shake a toy, play some music, or change her scenery to help deal with baby boredom. While it's true that some babies whimper just for kicks, that period of unnecessary crying spells usually peters out about three months from birth.
- Use the 5 S's. Swaddling, swinging, shushing, sucking, and side-lying—hailed as the 5 S's—are all tried-and-true ways to soothe your blue baby. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and parenting expert, suggests trying these solutions his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. Don't try them all at once—instead, move through the list to see what your weeping little one responds to. The swaddling helps her feel secure, swinging offers soothing repetitive motions, shushing helps create white noise, sucking is an instinctual calming mechanism, and side-lying helps with tummy troubles. Adhere to safety protocol as you experiment; your baby should always sleep on her back, so only try side-lying when she's awake and you're nearby.
- Sling it. If your 3 to 6-month-old wails every time you set her down, it can be a serious problem. You might not have the time you once did to sit and snuggle with your babe, especially with work, household chores, and other kids to worry about. A sling can be your best friend when your fussy baby demands to be held all day long. With a pouch sling, you can tuck your tiny tot in comfortably while keeping both hands free for dishes, typing and other chores.
- Go for a walk. Haven't you ever longed for a change in scenery after being chained to your desk all day? Babies can feel the same way. Taking a stroll around the block can be a boredom buster to quell cries—as long as it's somewhere serene. "If you choose to walk with baby, be mindful of the visual baby is receiving," warns infant developmental nurse specialist Theresa Kledzik. "If the visual input is very exciting, it probably won't contribute to the calming. What we're going for is to reduce the input baby is receiving through her senses." Walk around a different area of your house, or head outside for a peaceful view of the backyard. Just keep rushing cars, noisy neighbors, and other stimulation out of sight.
- Try white noise. While your little one has probably forgotten what life was like in utero, she's still instinctively calmed by things that remind her of her first home. White noise is an effective way to calm a screaming baby, since the repetitive sounds are soothing to her tiny ears. "White noise is really effective at this age," notes Holly Klaassen, parenting expert and editor from TheFussyBabySite.com. "Getting your baby out into areas where there are loud, droning sounds seem to distract fussy babies from whatever it is that's bothering them, and give you some moments of reprieve." Whether it's the tumble of the dryer or the static from the radio—you can even download white noise apps on your smartphone—constant humming noises are the best way to stop the screaming and start the slumber.
- Don't offer solids. A study published in a 2010 issue of Pediatrics found that babies who were perceived as "fussy" were more likely to be given solid foods before 6 months of age, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some parents think that filling up a tummy can help reduce crying jags, but that's not always true. What's more, offering solid foods and juices before your baby is at least 4 to 6 months old can seriously cut down on his daily caloric intake, which could make for stunted development. A full stomach doesn't automatically make for a happy baby, so wait until your pediatrician gives you the go-ahead to start solid foods.
A crying infant can make even the most blissed-out parent seriously stressed. If you ever feel so anxious that you think about hurting your little one, put her down in a safe place, take a break, or call a friend. It's understandable; being a parent is hard, and no mom is perfect. The next time a screaming fit ensues, take a deep breath and try to quell the cries with these tips—as your baby grows, she'll learn to trust in your soothing ways.