Soothing Techniques for New Parents/Caregivers

A lot of times when a baby is crying, it can mean they are hungry, tired or wet.  Breastfeeding, if possible, is the best way to feed and bond with your baby.  However, if you have tried to feed your baby, tried to settle them down for a nap and/or changed their diaper, and they are still fussy, there are other soothing activities you can try:

  • Changing positions – This often means picking your baby up from a lying position and (usually) putting them on your shoulder.  There are lots of good things that happen with this simple movement.  One is that your baby gets a “new view” of the world.  Another is that you often have some eye-to-eye contact with your baby.  A third is that the body contact between you and your baby is typically soothing.  All of these things and more occur with this one simple change of position.
  • Repeating – It can be soothing to repeat comforting sounds, sights, touches or smells.  Almost all lullabies have parts that are repeated, either of words or of the musical tunes or both, and this is done on purpose.  
  • Rhythms – This occurs when a sound, sight or touch is not only repeated, but repeated in a pattern; that is, rhythmic.  There are lots of examples.  When a mother sings a lullaby, the music has a rhythm (in addition to words and musical tunes that are repeated).  When mothers speak to babies, they tend to use a higher tone of voice, and to exaggerate certain words.  This special way of talking to babies is called “motherese” by the scientists who study this form of talking.  This exaggeration is adding a rhythm to the words that mothers use.  When the sounds, sights or touches that have rhythms go on for a period of time, they can be even more soothing.
  • White Noise – Technically, “white noise” is sound without rhythm. It mimics the sounds a baby hears while in the womb and encourages them to calm down and sleep better.  Examples of white noise are the sounds from a fan, a hair dryer, a vacuum cleaner, rushing water, chatter of lots of voices at the same time, and the noise of a busy street.  There are also free recordings of white noise available online from websites like www.youtube.com.
  • Movement – Going for a walk with your baby in a stroller or carrier, going for a drive, and even swaying gently while holding them can be comforting.
  • Closeness – Skin-to-skin contact is a wonderful way to bond with and comfort your baby.  Holding a baby close and snuggling with them can be calming.  
  • Involving Many Sensations – “Sensations“ mean sounds, sights, touches and smells. Each of these is a different way of sensing the environment.  If what you do includes sounds, sights and touch (like reading a book to your baby) for example, it is likely to be more effective than something that just includes touch.
  • Human Sights, Sounds, and Smells – Human interaction is important to human babies. Studies have confirmed that a human voice (compared to nonhuman sounds) and human figures (compared to objects) are usually more soothing.  Also, as babies get older in the first few months, the human versions of sounds and sights become even more effective than they were earlier.
  • It is very important to remember that some things work some of the time, but nothing works all of the time.  If you have tried all that you can and your baby continues to cry and you feel yourself getting more frustrated, the best thing you can do is to put the baby down in a safe place and walk away to take a break.  Take a few minutes to calm down, recollect, and then check on your baby again.  
  • It is also important to know that soothing can work preventively if the soothing activities are done when the baby is not crying rather than just in response to crying.