Your Baby’s Feel-Good Position - Woodmam

Swaddling stops your baby’s uncontrolled arm and leg acrobatics that can lead into frenzied crying. In a similar fashion, the side/stomach position stops an equally upsetting but invisible type of stimulation—the panicky feeling of falling!

Being dropped was such a serious threat to our ancient relatives that their babies developed a special alarm—the Moro reflex—that went off the moment they felt they were falling out of their mother’s arms.

Most babies are content to be on their backs if they’re in a good mood. However, when your baby is crying, putting him on his back may make him feel like he’s in a free fall. That in turn can set off his Moro, which starts him thrashing and screaming.

The side or stomach positions soothe your screaming newborn by instantly shutting off the Moro. That’s why these are the perfect feel-good positions for fussy babies. When it comes to putting your small one to sleep, however, the back is the safest position for all babies. Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, no baby should ever be put to sleep on his stomach. (More on this in Chapter 9.)

3. Shhhhing: Your Baby’s Favorite Soothing Sound

Believe it or not, a loud, harsh shushing sound is music to your baby’s ears. Shhhhing comforts him by mimicking the whooshing noise of blood flowing through your arteries. This rough humming surrounded your baby every moment during his nine months inside you. That’s why it is an essential part of the fourth trimester.

Many new parents mistakenly believe their babies prefer the gentle tinkling sounds of a brook or the distant hush of the wind. It seems counterintuitive that our tender infants would like such a loud noise; certainly we wouldn’t. Yet babies love it! That’s why many books recommend the use of roaring appliances to settle screaming infants.

I have never met a cranky baby who got overstimulated by the racket from these devices. On the contrary, the louder babies cry, the louder the shhhhing has to be in order to calm them.

In a rush to get out of the house, Marjan put off feeding her hungry baby for a few minutes while she went into the bathroom and finished getting ready to leave. Two-week-old Bebe didn’t care for this plan, and she wailed impatiently for food. However, after a few minutes Bebe suddenly quieted. Marjan panicked, was her tiny baby okay? When Marjan opened the bathroom door, she was relieved to see that her daughter was fine. Then she realized that Bebe had stilled the very instant she turned on the hair dryer.

Marjan shared this exciting discovery with her parents, but they were not supportive. They warned her it was dangerous to use the hair dryer to calm an infant: “It’s so loud it will make her go crazy!”

Despite their concerns, Marjan used her new “trick” with 100% success whenever her baby was crying (but only when her family was not around).

4. Swinging: Rock-a-Bye Baby

Lying on a soft, motionless bed may appeal to you, but to your baby—fresh out of the womb—it’s disorienting and unnatural. Newborns are like sailors who come to dry land after nine months at sea; the sudden stillness can drive them bananas. That’s why rhythmic, monotonous, jiggly movement—what I call swinging—is one of the most common methods parents have always used to calm their babies. Swinging usually must be vigorous at first to get your baby to stop screaming, and then it can be reduced to a gentler motion to keep him calm.

In ancient times and in today’s traditional cultures, babies are constantly jiggled and bounced. Many third-world parents use cradles or hammocks to keep their babies content, and they “wear” their infants in slings to give the soothing feeling of motion with every step and breath. Even in our culture, many tired parents use bouncy seats, car rides, and walks around the block to try to help their unhappy babies find some peace.

Mark, Emma, and their two kids were visiting Los Angeles from London. While I was examining four-year-old Rose, little Mary, their two-month-old baby, startled out of a deep sleep and immediately began to wail. Without missing a beat, Mark scooped her up so she sat securely in his arms. He began swinging her from side to side as if she were a circus performer and he the trapeze. Within twenty seconds, her eyes glazed over, her body melted into his chest, and we were able to finish our conversation as if Mary had never cried at all.

5. Sucking: The Icing on the Cake

Once your cranky baby starts to settle down from the swaddle, side position, shushing, and swinging, he’s ready for the fifth glorious “S”: sucking. Sucking is the icing on the cake of calming. It takes a baby who is beginning to quiet and lulls him into a deep and profound state of tranquillity.

Obviously, it’s hard for your baby to scream with a pacifier in his mouth, but that’s not why sucking is so soothing. Sucking has its effect deep within your baby’s nervous system. It triggers his calming reflex and releases natural chemicals within his brain, which leads in minutes to a rich and satisfying level of relaxation.

Some parents offer their infants bottles and pacifiers to suck on, but the all-time number-one sucking toy in the world is a mother’s nipple. As was previously mentioned, mothers in some cultures help keep their babies calm by offering them the breast up to one hundred times a day.

Hannah thought her first son, Felix, was almost addicted to the pacifier. “He insisted on using it for years. So when my second child was born, I vowed to try not to use it. But once again it became an invaluable calming tool. Harmon was so miserable without it, and so content with it, that I couldn’t bring myself to deny him that simple pleasure.”

In summary, the first two “S’s”—swaddling and side/stomach—start the calming process by muffling your baby’s flailing movements, shutting off the Moro reflex and getting him to pay attention to what you’re doing as you begin to activate the calming reflex. The third and fourth “S’s”—shhhhing and swinging—break into the crying cycle by powerfully triggering the calming reflex and soothing your baby’s nervous system. The fifth “S”—sucking—keeps the calming reflex turned on and allows your baby to guide himself to a profound level of relaxation.

The 5 “S’s” are fantastic tools, but as with any tools, your skill in using them will increase with practice. Since the calming reflex works only when triggered in precisely the right way, you’ll find that mastering these ancient techniques is one of the first important tasks of parenthood.

Interestingly, not only do parents get better with practice, so do babies. Many parents notice that after a few weeks of swaddling their babies straighten their arms and begin to calm the instant they’re placed on the blanket. It’s as if they’re saying, “Hey, I remember this! I really like it!”

You might read about the 5 “S’s” and think, “So what’s new? Those soothing techniques have been known for centuries.” And you would be partly right. The methods themselves are not new; however, what is new are two essential concepts for making the old techniques really effective—vigor and combining. In Chapter 13, you will learn how to perfectly combine the 5 “S’s” in the “Cuddle” Cure, but now I would like to share with you one of the least understood and most important elements of calming a screaming baby … the need for vigor.

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