Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Calm a Crying Baby (I'm Learning!)

For the first two weeks of his life, Judah barely cried. When he did it absolutely wrung my heart because I knew he was really bothered. The doctor's visit where they did a follow-up PKU test that involves pricking his heel and squeezing out a significant amount of blood.... Judah absolutely wailed and I about died. The motherly protection instinct is really strong.

Then week three started, and Judah found his voice. Or rather, his cry. As a result, this week has been significantly harder. Before he slept most of the time and had short periods when he was awake and looking around with wide eyes and his mouth puckered into a tiny and adorable little "o". This week he sometimes wakes up crying. He's awake for longer and has periods where he's just fussy. He's been changed, fed, burped, and he has his paci, but he just is mad at the world and crying. A few times that has moved into the nearly-inconsolable range.  Add that on to the fact that he got up every two hours for a couple of nights.... and I have had some days when I'm just one tired mama.

So, I'm really glad that just before all of this started I finished reading The Happiest Baby On The Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer. It's by a pediatrician and most of it is just common sense... there's nothing truly new about it. But really, when you're a new mom and trying things out for the first time, I'm finding it helpful to skim things again and again to remind myself of small things. I only wish people would put things in article or blog post form instead of these overly-explained books. In this book Dr. Karp has this evolutionary theory and lets face it, he's a pediatrician and evolotionary theory should not be his expertise... but the practical aspects of his theory are great.

The book is really about calming kids with colic, and Dr. Karp presents five things that if you do all together, should calm a kid who is crying for seemingly no reason. Most kids who aren't colicky calm without using all five principles, and that's true of Judah so far.

First thing... swaddling. My family didn't really swaddle growing up, but cultures around the world swaddle, and I noted that the most skilled moms in our church nursery could magically calm frantic babies when they swaddled them. They taught us how to swaddle at our childbirth class, but let me tell you, no one can swaddle like hospital nurses. I find the regular receiving blankets to be a total failure for swaddling, but those nurses made it work. I'm super glad for the  miracle blanket, and that's what I use most often to wrap up Judah. He is generally more calm when he's swaddled, but often I have to use a few other tricks when he gets fussy.

Point two.. sucking. Some things I've been reading say that babies need a certain amount of time sucking. Not sure I buy that. I do think that when you let a baby have a pacifier, you train them to look for it and maybe be dependant on it. At the same time, I agree with Dr. Karp that sucking is so calming for a baby - the safest and happiest place for a baby is breast-feeding, and a pacifier imitates that. When my little man is getting restless and fussy, sometimes a pacifier is just what he needs to help him calm down or drift off to sleep. At nights my general method is to make sure Judah is calm, and then to swaddle him and give him the pacifier. Usually that's enough to help him get to sleep...

Point three - side or stomach. Dr. Karp says that although you should never put a baby to sleep on their stomach  in a crib(increased danger of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), when a baby is frantic they often need to be on their stomach or side. Judah sleeps faster and deeper when we put him on our chests - he snuggles into the warmth, heartbeat, and familiar scent and can sleep for hours as we watch a movie or read. Dr. Karp has several recommended positions and holds that can help calm a crying kid.

Point Four - bouncing or rocking. We tend to gently rock infants, but actually when they're frantic they need firm pats or fast rocking to distract them. This one is amazing to me. Judah loves to be patted on the butt - when he's frantic I pick him up and hold him tightly to my chest while firmly patting him on the butt and shushing (see the next point), and he almost always quiets. Same thing goes with the stroller or a moving car - the white noise and the constant shaking calms his crying. Just last night was one of those three moments I've had when Judah was totally inconsolable. We decided to head out to dinner anyways and so put him in the carseat. He was WAILING, and I jumped in beside him as Isaac drove, shushed him and let him feel my hand against his face. It took a few minutes, but once the motion of the car and the sound of my shushing sunk in, he drifted off to sleep super quickly. Also, Judah has rejected the swing we borrowed, but he loves the little vibrating bouncer. He sleeps longer in the bouncer than he does in his bed, and he wakes up if I turn off the vibration. The biggest problem with this concept, in my opinion, is that if the baby cries in the middle of the night when you're exhausted, the last thing you want to do is vigorously walk, bounce, etc.

Point Five - Shushing. Here again, we tend to gently and sweetly sing and shush babies, and this is great when Judah is awake and wide-eyed. At those points he locks in and loves the songs. However, when Judah is frantic I've been using Dr. Karp's theory that babies need really loud noises that overpower their own decibel level and imitate the loud noises of the womb (combination of lungs, heart, and digestive system always swooshing and gurgling). So yesterday just before putting Judah in the car seat as I was walking him in the bedroom, I saw my mom's hair dryer and turned it on - Judah quieted down. Other times I'll stand in our kitchen and turn the vent fan on our microwave on high, again, Judah quiets down. In the morning when I need to get ready, I can put Judah in his bouncer in the bathroom and between the vibrations and the white noise of the shower or the sink - he's amazingly calm.

So - I'm learning. He's more work this week than the last few weeks, and I'm constantly experimenting to see what he needs and what comforts him.


cclarebear said...

you should hit kevin mills up for a copy of his book ;)

i was talking to vic yesterday about it and i said - if there is anyone that DOESN'T need that book, it would be you. the oldest of 6 kids... surely you have this down?!

Kelley said...

My sis had the same experience as you - 2 weeks of super easy, sleeps alot baby and then fussiness hit! We only had 2 days of super easy baby so I barely know that.

Canaan was swaddled about 22 hours a day for his first two months. I felt bad at first and people would make comments, but he loved it and never complained when his arms got locked in the swaddle me.

Bouncing and rocking - I remember Karp talked about the bounce or rock with an added "jiggle" being more effective. So true. We soon realized no rocking was needed. If Canaan's neck was jiggling he was happy. It was way less work to gently and quickly neck jiggle then a full body motion. And patting him on the butt was one thing that did jiggle his neck so maybe that's what Judah is responding too.

Other forseeable problem for liking to sleep in a bouncer, swing or vibrator is that it's not very "restorative" sleep according to research. They say do what you need to do during those first 3 months but when they get older they really need deeper sleep (using a swing, etc. keeps them in REM sleep I think) and they have to learn to sleep without that motion.

But again, I'm ALL FOR doing whatever is necessary to get through those first stages :)

Sounds like you are learning and adapting to your little guy!