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Ask the Pediatrician: How can parents help babies learn to calm themselves?

Patti Ideran and Dr. Mark Fishbein, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

— Put a hand on their belly or chest.

— Hold their arms toward the body or curl their legs up toward their belly.

— Roll them onto their side (only when awake).

— Pick up your baby and hold them at your shoulder, but don’t move yet.

— Hold and rock your baby.

— Swaddle your baby and rock them.

— Place a pacifier in their mouth or assist them to get their hand or thumb to their mouth.

— Feed them, if you think this will help.

 

Other strategies you can incorporate include massaging their back while you are holding them, singing to them, walking with them and using white noise. When babies are extremely fussy, we tend to try many things to help them calm. But sometimes this means we are adding more stimulation to an already overwhelmed sensory system, and this can backfire. When babies are inconsolable, we advise parents to try one strategy for about five minutes before moving on the next. This allows your baby to process the sensations and gives them time to settle.

Other things you can try include standing up and holding your baby firmly while they are sucking on a pacifier, shushing or patting them, and swaddling and rocking them. Just don't attempt all the strategies at once or in too quickly in a row, or they will get overstimulated. You can also try decreasing the intensity of the interaction; talk more quietly, move more slowly, use less animation in your face. Try to stick with one method for five minutes; if it does not help your baby calm, move on to a different strategy and give that one five minutes. Every time your baby cries, try the strategy, and do this for at least a day to see if it helps your baby to make a change. If you feel like a certain strategy works some of the time, try that one first.

As babies get older, their cries change, and so should your strategies to help them calm. Sometimes parents find a strategy that works well with their baby, such as doing squats with their baby in their arms, that is much more difficult to do with an older, heavier baby. Be open to trying something different that may be more suitable or safer for your baby as they grow.

If you and your baby are still frustrated, more resources can help. Consider contacting a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in treating infants, an infant mental health specialist, or a pediatric developmental psychologist. These professionals can help you understand your baby, help you learn how to read their cues, and help you promote self-regulation.

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ABOUT THE WRITERS

Patti Ideran has worked in the field of pediatric occupational therapy for over 35 years. Dr. Mark Fishbein is a pediatric gastroenterologist at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. They are the authors of “The CALM Baby Method: Solutions for Fussy Days and Sleepless Nights.” For more information, go to HealthyChildren.org, the website for parents from the AAP.

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