How to Stay Calm When Baby Won’t Stop Crying
All parents have been there. You’ve tried feeding, burping, and changing his diaper. You checked for fever. You even checked to see if his socks are too tight! Could it be gas? Is he too hot or too cold? Maybe he’s teething. Regardless, you’ve tried everything you can think of and now you’re starting to stress. He. Just. Keeps. Crying.
Some babies cry more than others for reasons we don’t fully understand. This doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong as a parent or that your baby doesn’t like you! Many parents have to cope with babies who cry a lot in the early months of life. If you have found yourself bouncing, patting, humming, or soothing a fussy baby, you are not alone!
It’s normal to feel stressed when babies cry.
A crying baby can rattle even the most level-headed person. Why? It has to do with the way our brains are wired. We feel a sense of urgency when babies cry. It’s almost like a fire alarm goes off in our brains. This is nature’s way of making sure we do our jobs: respond to our babies’ needs and take care of them! But what if we’ve done all we can to help, and the crying doesn’t stop? Here’s what might happen for you as your baby continues to cry:
- The “thinking” part of your brain shuts down, affecting your ability to be calm and think logically.
- Your reactions may be panicked, meaning that you feel out of control and are not thinking clearly.
- You may find it difficult to calm yourself down and regulate your own feelings and reactions.
Babies tune into our feelings and reactions.
For better or worse, a baby tends to “tune in” to her caregivers’ emotional state. This means that just when babies need us to be at our calmest so we can help calm them, we are often feeling stressed, frustrated and wound up! Our arms and shoulders are tense, and our facial expressions also may show the stress. A caregiver’s stress can add to the baby’s stress and intensify her fussiness.
Calming yourself is job number one.
The first trick to calming your baby is to recognize that you yourself are anything but calm. Take a moment to name how you are feeling (frustrated, angry, sad, rejected, etc.). After that crucial first step, here are some additional strategies that may help:
- Put your baby down in a safe place (like a crib) and take a break. Give yourself the gift of a few minutes to calm down and attend to your own needs. It’s just like when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting your child. Make time throughout the day to feed yourself, drink enough water, shower, get some exercise, or call a friend. This kind of self-care will help you stay calm and self-regulated. When you are in a calmer state of mind, you are better able to help your baby.
- Try taking deep, even breaths. People often breathe shallowly when stressed, so changing your breathing actually helps you feel calmer. Deep, even breathing sends the message to your nervous system that you are safe, which helps your body start to regulate. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try counting to 10, or putting your hand on your stomach as you breathe to make sure you’re taking deep breaths.
- Sleep. Not surprisingly, parents who report having a baby who cries a lot also tend to report being exhausted. Often, this exhaustion can’t be relieved by just one good night of sleep. Talk to your baby’s health care provider, or your own, if you are experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed, sad, depressed, or unable to care for your baby. New parents need and deserve support.
- Remember that your baby loves you, but is having a tough time right now. Sometimes babies cry or are fussy for reasons we just can’t figure out. But this fussiness is no reflection on your baby’s feelings for you! Your baby loves you and is doing the best she can right now. So, take breaks when you can, ask for help when you need it, and consult with your health care provider if your baby’s fussiness causes concern.
About Baby Steps
This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.