The art of consoling babies
Babies cry because they are hungry, they need contact (as important as physical hunger), they hurt, they are uncomfortable, or they are tired. It also happens often that babies cry without us really knowing why. Sometimes we will realize the next day that they were coming down with a cold or were teething… Some babies are hypersensitive or more “difficult” than others. Some psychologists see it as existential unease relating to a difficult birth or prenatal experiences. Others suffer from what is called “infantile colic”, inconsolable crying, often for hours on end later in the day, every day, and whose origins are difficult to pinpoint. What we now know is that crying babies really need the presence of a compassionate adult, because they cannot console themselves.
What can parents do to help babies cry less? First of all, prevent. We know that babies in cultures where proximal nurturing is practiced (baby wearing, cosleeping, parental proximity) cry much less than North American and European babies. Research done in Montreal in the eighties revealed that young babies held for at least 3 hours a day in their parents’ arms or in a baby carrier cried 40 to 50% less than others who were only held for feeding and other necessities. Other studies reveal that babies who are breastfed more often and those who are not left to cry without consolation cry less. Basically, crying is babies’ last resort. By being attentive, you can pick up on clues to babies’ needs well before they begin to cry. It is easier to anticipate the needs of the baby you carry for a good part of the day. You learn to better understand signs of distress and satisfaction.
There are a number of “tricks” to console and calm babies: taking them in your arms, or offering a feeding, for example. Each trick works for some, but not for others. Each baby has tricks that work often, but not always. And when babies remain inconsolable despite all your efforts? Or when they wake up for the fourth time since being set down to sleep? I can’t take any more, even if I know they’re probably teething! At that point, the “CALMS” method may come in handy. This method focuses on caring for yourself first before taking care of the baby.
Step 1: Before going to the crying baby, I take a moment to be present and to identify my feelings: do I feel anxious, angry, guilty, desperate, exhausted, incompetent, like a bad mother, etc.? I take the time to feel where these feelings reside in my body. I show myself compassion, as though I were with a good friend who was going through the same thing.
Step 2: I take a few deep breaths, with my feet firmly planted on the ground.
If necessary, I drink a glass of water, or I look out the window. I wait to be calmer, more centered. Sometimes it takes a few minutes…
Step 3: Then I listen closely to my baby’s cries. “What are you trying to tell me, little one? What do I hear in your cries?” Panic, pain, frustration, anger, sadness…?
Step 4: Once I have listened to baby’s feelings, I can speak to the baby. I can take the baby and set them face to me. “I feel you are frustrated, afraid, angry... (according to what I felt). I hear you darling, I am here with you. I want to help you.” Never say “Hush now, it’s over, no need to cry.” If baby still cries in my arms once I am rooted and centered, then baby still has something to express. At this point, we can also share what we feel. “I’m tired too. I’m frustrated that I don’t understand what you need. I’m trying to calm myself to best help you.” It is possible that baby may cry even harder at this point. I let baby know that I hear them, that I understand that they are not well. Even if baby continues to howl, the message that you are there with them, that you really care, will sink in.
Step 5: We can now do what we feel is necessary to calm baby down. Take baby in your arms, offer a feeding, etc. You will realize that they will now truly be able to calm down. Often, they will fall fast asleep, much calmer that if you had picked them up while you were still filled with frustration, anger or impatience.
This method doesn’t solve everything, but it promotes a respectful, trusting relationship between baby and parents. When baby cries a lot, it is necessary to see a professional to determine the cause and to act. It is also very important not to stay for too long alone with a baby that cries a lot. Even if consoling baby doesn’t come easily to Dad, trust him. Tell him about the 5 steps. They can be learned. Contact with other mothers and those who usually support you will allow you to “recharge your batteries” and may sometimes offer you a break. Babies need a presence when they cry, but often another adult than mom or dad will do the trick just as well.
Psychotherapist, pre- and perinatal psychology specialist
This article is presented by Maman Kangourou (www.mamankangourou.com)
- CALMS. A guide to soothing your baby. By Carrie Contey and Debby Takikawa 2007. Available in the US (approximately $12 USD) on www.amazon.com Wonderful little book that discusses the needs of babies and provides examples of applying the CALMS method.
- “7 choses que les parents doivent savoir à propos des pleurs des bébés”, by Dr. William Sears: http://autourdelanaissance.over-blog.org/categorie-10212134.html
- Ne pleure plus bébé! By Claude-Suzanne Didierjean-Jouveau. 2008. Ed. Jouvence. Available in bookstores or online (approx. $9) http://www.mamanautrement.com/index.php/fr/boutique/lecture/lecture-education/12/ne-pleure-plus-bebe/43/