Nursing Your Baby to Sleep

mom holding babyFor new parents, learning about their baby can be a delight. Each coo, burble, and giggle from their infant is something to be treasured. Unfortunately, until they learn words, babies communicate primarily through crying, and they don’t always choose the most opportune place to do it. Many a new parent has been caught in a crowded place with a screaming baby and no idea how to soothe them. The good news is that there are many methods to calm a crying infant, and determining the reason for the crying is the place to start.

When Your Baby is Tired

A tired baby can easily become a crying baby if they’re kept up or unsure how to get to sleep on their own, and make no mistake about it: babies need a lot of sleep. A newborn will snooze 16 hours or more each day, usually in two-hour segments, but by six months of age, your baby will be able to sleep in nine or twelve-hour stretches. If a baby is overtired, they may need some help calming down and getting to sleep. Minimize sensory input by avoiding loud sounds or colorful displays, since some babies may fear missing out on something important if they sleep. Cuddle them and talk to them in a soft voice or make a “shhh”-ing sound to help them wind down.

When Your Baby is Hungry

Babies younger than six months old will typically need to be fed during the night, so when you hear your baby’s cry in the early hours of the morning, there’s a good chance that they’ve woken up with a hungry belly. Your baby may show that they’re hungry by putting their hands to their mouths, smacking their lips, and turning their head into your hand. Some intrepid parents teach their infants sign language, so a baby can simply sign the word for “hungry” and eliminate the guesswork. Feed your baby with whatever food they’re consuming at the moment, whether they’re being breastfed or they’ve migrated on to baby formula. Don’t forget to burp them afterwards! Gassy stomachs can be another cause for crying.

When Your Baby is Cranky or Restless

By nine months of age, babies begin to want more autonomy over their bodies and lifestyle. This means that a baby who peacefully and calmly ate baby food three weeks ago may erupt into a screaming fit when the same spoon approaches. Never ever shake a baby to get them to stop crying, as this can cause permanent brain damage or death. Instead, try gently rocking your baby or offer a pacifier, since sucking on it can distract them from whatever was upsetting them in the first place. Going outside can help redirect their attention, and check to make sure that their clothes aren’t too hot or confining. They may even need a diaper change.

When Your Baby is Hurt

Like children and adults, babies cry when they are hurt or in pain. One of the most frequent causes of baby pain can be a hair wrapped tightly around a finger or toe, cutting off circulation through the affected digit. Teething may be the source of the issue, especially if your infant is between four and seven months of age. If this is the case, try providing them with a rubber teething ring or a washcloth dampened with cold water. In extreme cases, check with your doctor to see if infants’ acetaminophen might help. For other situations, such as a bruise or a scraped knee (common hazards as babies start to explore the world), apply a band-aid if necessary and cuddle your baby. As the pain starts to subside, introduce a toy or game to help them get their minds off their injury. One of the most important things you can do is to remain calm yourself. Many parents will panic when their baby gets a scratch or a cut, and the baby, picking up on the sense of anxiety and urgency, comes to the conclusion that they, too, should be upset.

When Your Baby is Scared

A jack-in-the-box can be a fun surprise for some children, but for babies, it can be terrifying. Even waking up in the middle of the night can be terrifying, since babies haven’t yet developed object permanence (the knowledge that something still exists even when it’s out of sight). They may fear that you’ve disappeared forever, have suffered a nightmare, or may not be quite sure of the shadows caused by the streetlights outside. Whatever the reason, gently and calmly assure your baby that they are safe. Even if they haven’t learned words yet, your actions and voice will convey the message. Rubbing their back or humming can be a source of comfort as well.

When You Don’t Know What’s Wrong

Sometimes, despite a parent’s best intentions, it may seem impossible to figure out why a baby is crying. Maybe they’ve been fed, had a nap, and started wailing for no discernible reason. If your baby cries for more than four hours a day, they may have colic, which means that the baby may be crying to release tension, to cope with the visual sights and sounds of the world, or because of cramps caused by hormone changes. When this happens, don’t despair – even if you’re not sure what’s wrong, there are plenty of ways to provide comfort to your infant. Try playing some soft music, or provide your own gentle humming or singing. Sometimes the solution may be as simple as changing the infant’s position – cradle them at different angles (always careful to support the head!), walk with them, or prop them upright against your shoulder.

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