10 Tips to Calm a Fussy Newborn
Tried and True tips to help new parents get through those first few weeks with baby
Over the course of my 11 years of not only being a mother, but also a professional newborn and baby photographer here in San Diego, I have learned quite a few tricks of the trade to help our little ones settle comfortably into their new outside world. You may wonder why in the world you would want to take advice from a newborn photographer. Well, as newborn photographers, our main role is to turn to our Baby Whisperer experience to soothe, calm and settle these tiny beings into comfortable poses in a limited amount of time. Below, I have streamlined my most important tips and tricks in order for you to do these at home. Enjoy 🙂
- Full Belly
Your newborn’s main job is to grow. Eating provides your little one with the nutrients he or she needs to do so. There will be times when baby is hungrier than usual. In my experience, I have found these to be related to growth spurts. As long as there are not medical issues or your doctor has advised otherwise, let your baby feed freely, and let him or her tell you when they’ve had enough. Typically, this could mean falling asleep during feeding, or just pulling away. Don’t forget to burp baby during and after feedings to avoid a painful tummy.
Your newborn baby has been living in a soothing, yet noisy environment for 9 months. Inside the belly, baby hears your heart, circulating blood and other consistently loud sounds 24 hours a day. Once born, their environment turns quiet. Making Shhhh-ing sounds reminds baby that they are in a warm and safe place, as it brings them back to the womb. So for this technique, I must absolutely recommend “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Karp. Watching his video, if you have already read the book, is also a must. 11 years ago, as a new mom, I just assumed that ‘shushing’ was to be lightly lullabied to baby. I was wrong, lol! When baby is crying, that is all they hear. In order to be effective in providing them with that comforting shushing sound, you need to distract their cry with a shush. Get close to baby, and provide consistent and repetitive ‘Shhhhhh’ sounds that are not deafening, but loud enough that baby will hear it. One tip I can’t forget is to continue repeating ‘shhh’ for minutes after baby has calmed down. This reaffirms to baby that he/she is ok and in a safe, warm place with that familiar, comforting sound.
- Upright position
I have found that in my many years of experience with handling newborn babies almost daily, that some newborns are more prone to reflux-type tummy pains. As an adult, you might have the occasional heartburn, and you might know that for you, laying on your back is the last thing you want to do. A good tip if you suspect a moment of fussiness due to reflux in your newborn, is to prop him or her upright. I personally like to place them in the froggy position (see image #1 above) while posing, but for everyday handling, a burping position will do just the same.
My mom always swore by putting me in the carseat and driving me around town in the middle of the night in order for me to fall asleep. Just like that familiar ‘shhhhh’ sounds baby would hear all day and night long while in the womb, baby is used to the movement that he or she felt as you went about your day while pregnant. In chatting with my maternity photography clients over the years, as well as in my own experiences, when pregnant, you might have noticed baby becoming more active at night time, kicking and moving around inside your belly. Well that is because while you were trying to settle your body down in bed, your baby was disrupted from his or her sleep while being lulled by the constant moment you were providing. Newborns are used to movement and find it very soothing. Pick baby up, walk around the house, closely hold your newborn as you sit and bounce from an exercise ball, rock baby, etc… just move!
I have no idea how this works, scientifically, but dude – it works! I use this technique a lot while posing newborns, but I was so excited to see this video surface last year of Dr. Robert Hamilton using this technique with one of his pediatric newborn patients. If you are a newborn photographer and are reading this, check out pose #9 above – this is where I use this technique the most, and it is super effective in calming newborns into this pose. For new parents, please watch the YouTube video above to see how this miracle tip totally works!
As long as your pediatrician gives you the ok, I am a super believer in the pacifier. Newborns need to suck. They are not always necessarily hungry, but need that comforting feeling. As a newborn photographer, I ask all of my clients to bring one along (and I have extras on hand in the studio). This helps settle a newborn that is tired but perhaps overtired and overwhelmed, settle into a repetitive sucking motion, and are immediately calmed. Be sure to discuss pacifier and any other sucking (finger, etc..) usage with your pediatrician either at the hospital or during your first well-baby visit to make sure baby is eating properly and is healthy enough for a pacifier.
- Forehead Sweep
Here is another one of those ‘I have no idea why this scientifically works, but it does’ tips… We all know that touch therapy and skin to skin contact with your newborn baby provides a wealth of benefits. I find that when I am posing my newborn babies, and they are almost asleep but are fighting it ever so slightly, a gentle, soft and slow sweeping of my fingers from the top of their hairline to the base of their nose, working through the forehead, lulls a newborn into a relaxed state.
- Tight Swaddle
With my two daughters, I was a big fan of swaddling, and I came to absolutely love it when I introduced swaddling to my newborn photography clients. The key is the keep baby in a comfortably tight swaddle, where arms and legs are comfortably but snugly molded onto belly. I love the use of jersey fabrics as they provide quite a bit of elasticity for a firm yet comfortable swaddle that will mold into baby. I do it a bit differently than how it is shown in the hospital with the baby blankets they provide. I believe the hospitals recommend folding down one corner of the blanket, then using that side to lay your newborn’s head above, then moving the remaining three corners into a burrito style wrap. That works great with that kind of blanket, but for me personally, I choose very starchy fabrics in long rectangle forms. I being by laying the fabric down lengthwise, then placing baby about 1.5 feet from the right edge. I then take baby’s arms and bring them down to his or her sides, folding them above their belly, and folding that right piece snugly over baby’s torso, tucking it behind their back. I then take baby’s legs and fold them up into a ‘criss-cross, applesauce’ position above their belly. I then take the bottom of the wrap from underneath their bums and bring that fabric up and over , tucking behind the left shoulder. Then I take the remaining fabric from the left side and ‘burrito’ wrap baby.
- White Noise
Just like tip #2 regarding ‘shhhh’ sounds, having constant white noise in the background works great. For those of you who are second time parents, you might notice how much more ‘easy’ your second newborn is, and how much they can fall asleep and remain calm when their older sibling is running around the house, singing, talking and playing. I am a big believer that newborns can hear their siblings while inside the womb, and find their ‘noisiness’ soothing. Run the dishwasher, washing machine, or simply just download an app! There’s an app for that! Here is the one I recommend. I personally like the ‘fan’ noise.
- Warm up
Babies are sensitive to temperature, and my experience has been that newborns do not like to be changed or wiped, because it’s cold! Keeping the temperature at a consistently warm (but not ridiculous) temperature will make those diaper changes or outfit swaps much more seamless and your little one won’t be startled. Ever wonder why your newborn photographer keeps her studio at a warm 85 degrees? Well, temperature is a big deal when dealing with newborns that are usually photographed undressed or lightly swaddled. Providing them with a warm and consistent environment means that not only will baby be comfortably warm, but your photographer’s hands that are constantly touching and moving baby around with will remain warm too, not startling baby with every touch. Remember that your newborn was living in a swimming pool in your 98.6 degree body – they like it warm!
- Diaper Check
Bonus tip! We all know that if a newborn is unhappy, it could mean they are hungry or need a diaper change. Not only will your newborn thank you for cleaning them up from their uncomfortably soiled diapers, but by keeping their bums clean and dry, you’ll help alleviate and/or prevent diaper rash. I also recommend keeping baby out of a diaper for a short period each day. Let that bottom air dry – this will help diaper rash heal more quickly. Just be sure to lay a blanket loosely over and under baby just in case… and as a newborn photographer, let me just tell you how often those ‘just in case’ moments occur. Although refreshing for your newborn, things can get quite messy for you.
I hope you enjoyed reading these 10 Tips to Calm a Fussy Newborn!