While no soothing strategy will work all of the time, these tried-and-true calm inducers work for many babies, much of the time. Experiment and see what’s most likely to push your little one’s relaxation reflex.
Method: Get in touch
What It Does: Touch stimulates pressure receptors in the brain that calm your baby and make her feel secure.
How to Do it: Massage her, swaddle her in a blanket, or “wear” your baby in a front carrier or sling. Other takes: Gently stroke your baby’s cheek or scratch her back. The touch of warm water from a bath can work, too.
Method: Rock and roll
What It Does: Any sort of rhythmic swaying—up and down, side to side, back and forth, or a combination of the two—mimics the experience of being in the womb. It’s called vestibular motion because it works on the motion sensors in your baby’s ears, producing a hypnotic, calming effect. Different babies respond to different types of movement, so try them all. Fortunately, mechanical swings now usually have both side-to-side-and back-and-forth capability. One baby we know needed Dad to pick him up and set him down while in his car seat over and over (exhausting!).
How to Do It: Rocking her in a chair, using a mechanical infant swing, dancing, taking a stroller ride, or going for a car ride can all work. Variations include bouncing gently on a fitness ball while holding your baby, or putting him in a carrier and climbing on a treadmill or stair machine. (We should add the caveat Don’t try this if you’re too tired, but of course you’re probably always too tired. Have your partner do it if your knees are buckling.)
Method: Pucker up
What It Does: It makes sense that the innate survival instinct to suck also switches on a calming reflex in your baby’s brain—he can relax when his physical need for fuel is answered.
Sucking physically lessens babies’ stress levels, lowering heart rate and blood pressure while stimulating natural pain-relieving chemicals in the brain.
How to Do It: Take advantage of this reaction by providing opportunities for sucking other than just at mealtime. Offer your baby a pacifier at bedtime to help him learn to self-soothe, or when he’s out of sorts or overstimulated at, say, a noisy family gathering. Sucking on your finger or your breast— even when it’s not feeding time—can also do the trick, but be forewarned: Too much comfort nursing can make mincemeat out of your nipples. You will often see the advice to provide a pacifier or the old boob when your baby is getting a vaccine, but we have to wonder if the latter isn’t a bit risky—couldn’t the baby come to associate your breast with pain after an experience like that? And God forbid if your tot’s got a tooth.
Method: Noisy does it
What It Does: Believe it or not, more of the right kind of sound can help your baby shut out other surrounding stimuli that are annoying her. One of the reasons this works is that when your baby was in the womb, the sound of your heart beating and your blood whooshing through your veins was loud, clear, and consistent. The operative phrase here, however, is the right kind of sound. That means noise that is similarly dull and predictably repetitive, which is typically known as white noise—the sort of sound that comes from mixing many different frequencies together. Imagine trying to pick out someone’s voice in a crowded room with everyone talking at the same time, the same speed, and the same decibel level. You’d just give up. That’s how white noise masks distracting household sounds: It basically tricks the brain into relaxing by overwhelming it with too many frequencies. You almost feel white noise rather than hear it. Before you tune out that complicated explanation, realize that white noise is readily available—your only responsibility is to turn it on.
How to Do It: Turn on a fan, hair dryer, vacuum, dishwasher, or other similar appliance, or play a soothing-sounds CD (such as waves splashing), or a musical instrument like a guitar, piano, or flute. Some say making shushing sounds in your baby’s ear works (especially combined with movement), as does running water in a sink or shower. You can also make a tape or CD of a vacuum cleaner running (but your house won’t be nearly as clean).
Method: Indulge in eye candy
What It Does: A pleasant sight gives your baby something specific to focus on when the world at large is overwhelming him.
How to Do It: Lay your baby down in a spot where he can look at an overhead mobile; let him stare at a brightly colored pat- tern on a sofa, a comforter, or a colorful painting; or give him a change of scenery by moving to a different room or going outside. Keep in mind that too much visual stimulation can also freak out a baby, so consider your nursery decor if your baby has frequent trouble settling—maybe those tartan plaid sheets or the busy patterned quilts hanging on the wall are driving him berserk.
This is an excerpt from THE BABYTALK INSIDER’S GUIDE TO YOUR BABY’S FIRST YEAR by the Editors of Babytalk Magazine. Copyright © 2008 by The Parenting Group, Inc. Published by Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.