About three days into our new baby adventure we worried about everything you can think of (or have never thought of before): does the baby eat enough, is he gaining enough weight, is he too hot, too cold? Does his poo have the right colour? Will he forever be traumatised by our first clumsy attempts to give him a bath? The list is endless. Worst of all, this tiny, vulnerable human being can’t just say, Hey mum, my diaper needs to be changed, thanks! Trying to decipher a newborn’s needs can be a daunting exercise for first-time parents.
That’s when the midwife who came to our house for a regular postnatal visit handed us a short text. You might find a few answers to your questions in here, she said with a knowing smile. And we did! And I wanted to share it with you ever since. The message is so simple and yet so eye-opening: It’s all about empathy!
In other words, it’s about our ability as parents to perceive the world through our baby’s eyes (and ears and nose and skin). And here, the concept of the 4th trimester comes into play. According to this concept, which dates back to the 1970s and was made popular by US pediatrician Harvey Karp, human babies need about three months of adjustment to life outside the womb.
Just imagine the differences your baby has to cope with from one moment to the next:
- In the womb, it is dark, warm, sounds are muffled and there is a constant soft gurgling emitted by mum’s intestins. Suddenly – bam! – there is bright light, all sorts of noises, smells and changes in air temperature.
- In the womb, the baby is constantly nourished via the placenta and umbilical cord. Suddenly, the baby experiences hunger and thirst and has to do something about it (cry).
- In the womb, the baby lives in a confined space. Suddenly, there are no more boundaries for orientation and a feeling of safety.
- In the womb, the baby is gently rocked by mum’s movements, is constantly “held”. Outside – what a change! – the baby is put down in a cold, hard crib that doesn’t move one bit.
Why does this matter?
Because… If we as parents understand what our newborn is experiencing, we can better address their needs. This helps them (to calm down, feel safe, fall asleep), which in turn helps us (to get some much needed rest, too). Once I started putting myself in my son’s tiny shoes, I started to see much more clearly what he needed. From there, things started to flow naturally.
Now that we know the theory, let’s get to the practical. Here are the 3 techniques I found most effective to calm Félix down.
My top 3 baby soothing techniques
1. Feed your baby*
But how do I know if (s)he’s hungry?, you might ask. Well, baby will cry. In case of doubt, offer your breast: even if (s)he is not hungry, sucking combined with direct skin contact during breastfeeding calms baby down (and stimulates lactation, so it’s a win-win). Also, there is no such thing as over-feeding a baby on breastmilk!
*Disclaimer: This is based on my personal experience with breastfeeding. Please talk to your midwife if you are bottle-feeding.
2. Carry your baby… a lot!
And no, you cannot “spoil” a newborn with your tenderness. Why waste precious energy on trying to put your baby down when you can make your life so much easier by carrying them? All a baby wants is to feel warm, cosy and protected. Strap them to your chest in a suitable baby carrier or a sling. This practice has proven to significantly decrease infant crying.
A word of caution here: how you carry your baby is important. The choice of a suitable baby-carrier or, preferably, a sling is important for your and your baby’s postural health. Always carry your baby facing you, not the world. If you are in doubt, reach out to a midwife or doula with relevant training.
3. Keep moving, baby!
In your belly, your baby was used to constant movement. You can recreate this sensation by dancing, jumping around, bouncing on a fitness ball… and all of this you can do with your baby strapped to your chest! The positive side effect: it helps mama get back in shape too ;).
Other techniques include co-sleeping (for a short period, this worked magic for us), swaddling (didn’t work at all), exposing your baby to white noise (vacuum cleaning, for example) and singing (papa’s bass voice singing “Oh Christmas Tree” often did the trick).
Needless to say, every baby and every parent is different. It’s all about trial and error.
Now, let’s hear from you! Which techniques did and didn’t work for you?