1. Swaddle: A good swaddle can aid in long sleep sessions by preventing startle reflexes from waking the baby up. Done properly, the swaddle can recreate the closeness of the womb and provide warmth. It takes some practice to perfect a swaddle, and some commercial swaddles use velcro for extra security. For more on swaddling, check out this fact sheet from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Also, see our favorite swaddles here.
2. Side: Try holding your baby on his side and against your body. You may like to start stomach to stomach, cradling the baby’s head in your elbow. Dr. Karp advises that laying your newborn on his left side can aid in his digestion, and we find that babies are soothed by the body contact. Amazingly, babies as young as a few days old can have strong preferences for being held on their side or upright. If your baby has strong preferences, you will learn quickly from her cues as you try different positions.
3. Shush: In the womb, babies hear a constant whoosh of noise -- a combination of sounds from the real world and from the mother’s body itself. Dr. Karp recommends recreating these sounds by “shushing” your infant or using fans and white noise. Sometimes running water, like the sound of the shower, or even the bathroom fan is sufficient to calm the baby. In combination with some of these other strategies, white noise can be very calming to your infant.
4. Swing: Many parents find they unconsciously sway or jiggle when they hold their newborn. This parental reflex is fulfilling the baby’s need for movement, something they were used to in utero. Dr. Karp describes it as a “jiggle.” Many products are available to move your baby -- bouncy seats, swings, rockers, and vibrating chairs -- but the movement of your body will be most familiar to the newborn and also satisfies their desire for closeness. You can’t hold and rock the baby all the hours of the day, however, and that’s why finding what kind of seat works best for your baby can be very valuable.
5. Suck: Newborns’ strongest reflex is to suck, and they generally find it very calming. Many new parents find they offer the breast or bottle first for fussy infants. If you determine the baby is not hungry, you may choose to offer a clean finger or pacifier to satisfy the sucking reflex and help calm your baby. For more on pacifier use in newborns, see our previous blog post. To offer your infant a finger to suckle, insert your clean pinky finger, nail down, into the baby’s mouth. The soft pad of your finger should feel the baby’s palate at the top of his mouth.
Try using these strategies in different combinations; you don’t need to use all five at once to soothe your baby. Dr. Karp recommends these strategies be used up to four months of life, at which point your child may outgrow the reflexes that respond to them.
Not all babies are the same, and not all parents will find these methods the best fit for your family. However, these are some great tools to try as you learn what your child prefers.