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How to soothe your crying baby

Crying Baby

A mother’s heartstrings are invisibly but directly connected to her baby’s crying. When your baby cries, no matter what anyone else says about it being okay, as a mother, you know it’s anything but okay. We are genetically engineered to respond with 100% commitment to that cry!

How much is too much?

Some babies cry more than others. So how do you know how much crying is normal? Occupational Therapists and Sensory Integration Specialists for Nubabi, Carly Tzanos and Lourdes Bruwer give some insight into crying from a sensory perspective.

“There are no hard and fast rules about how much crying is normal,” says Lourdes. “Crying babies have been studied for research but have never been compared with babies who do not cry.”

Dr Nils Bergman, a local public health physician with a particular interest in perinatal neuroscience is conducting groundbreaking studies locally on parenting techniques involving “controlled crying”, but for now there is no way of really knowing how much is too much.

What we do know is that “persistent stress (in the infant) results in elevated cortisol levels that disrupt brain architecture by impairing cell growth and interfering with the formation of healthy neural circuits.” This may explain why we, as parents, react so strongly when our babies or toddlers cry.

Crying to communicate

Crying is your baby’s form of communication. From the moment they entered the world, we waited to hear their cry of “I’m okay!”

In the first few weeks and months, we as parents embark on a journey of learning to interpret those cries. “The most important task in this early stage of development is responding to your baby,” says Carly. According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, the reason for this is because, in these early months, your baby is in the life stage of “trust versus mistrust”. By meeting your baby’s needs, you prevent them from developing anxiety, which can impact every aspect of their lives, especially their relationships going forward.

Your baby’s sensory temperament

From a sensory perspective, crying could be an indication of your baby’s sensory temperament. Knowing this can help to parent them going forward.

“Each person has a sensory personality. Some people love louder, faster, brighter and more alerting sensory experiences, while others seek more soothing experiences from the sensory-harsh world they are exposed to,” says Lourdes. Instead of worrying about how much crying is too much, Lourdes encourages us to interpret our baby’s crying as “indicative of a baby or toddler’s ability to take in, make sense of and respond to the sensory world around them.” Your baby or toddler may need help to regulate this process.

Concerned your baby is crying more than usual?

Here are some strategies you can try to calm and reassure:

  • plan quiet days in your and your baby’s busy schedule
  • limit the number of people in your baby’s space as far as possible and introduce him to new people from the safety of your arms or your baby carrier
  • avoid passing your baby around
  • find a quiet place to feed or put your baby to sleep
  • try to stick to a general routine and give your sensitive baby lots of time and cues when moving on to the next activity or task
  • approach your baby from the front where he can see and hear you, indicating your desire to pick him up or touch him first, before doing so
  • move your baby slowly from one position to the next
  • be empathetic, and patient should your baby fall or hurt himself, realising that even small bumps can be perceived as more painful for him
  • give him something to chew on or suck (e.g. a teething ring or toy) while travelling in the car or while in busy sensory environments, e.g. shopping centres
  • cover car windows with window shades
  • use a small lamp in his room instead of bright overhead lights

Stick with it for a while

Whatever technique you use to calm and soothe your baby, remember to stick with it for a little while before changing methods. Often in our stressed state, we as parents try many things over a short amount of time to help soothe and calm our fussing baby. This, unfortunately, can often have the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve.

Understand and act accordingly

As moms, we sometimes give in to our baby’s cry too soon, when we could try talking our baby through tough tasks (e.g. tummy time) and distinguish the “moaning cry” from the “I’m very stressed and need my mommy cry”. It is always helpful to name your baby’s emotion when he is crying, long before he learns to talk because a baby’s understanding of language develops earlier than their expressive language.

Remember, you’ve got the magic

In times of prolonged crying, be reassured that you, as your baby’s mother, are the BEST person to soothe him. Sometimes our own anxiety can make us forget this. So, take a breath, and remind yourself that you are genetically engineered to help your baby and that nobody else can do it better for your baby than you!

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