Calling and crying is the way your baby gets your attention because she doesn’t have any other way to ask for your help, and she only does it when she needs to.
That’s what she’s doing when she wakes. She doesn’t know how to get back to sleep without your help.
Your baby needs you to think about this from her point of view because she can’t tell you her side, yet. She doesn’t understand this is a problem for both of you. Remember, waking up after a sleep cycle is normal for her. Some babies may self-settle back to sleep, but you happen to have a baby who calls to you. This may be because:
- She has less mature sleep–wake patterns than other babies her age and it’s going to take her a little longer to self-settle and sustain longer periods of sleep.
- You are responding a bit too quickly to her when she wakes, and then trying to settle her with active settling strategies before they are needed.
The following scenario is a common one.
Scenario: calling out to you at night
You may or may not have a bedtime routine with your baby. A common routine would be a bath, pyjamas, stories, rocking, singing and feeding her to sleep. This might be quite a long routine. Your baby may then sleep for 2 to 3 hours. When your baby wakes up from one of her normal sleep cycles, it’s dark, she’s on her own and she misses all those nice bedtime routines you do. She really likes you being with her when she wakes up at night because you provide her with all the nice, comforting bedtime routines – feeding, rocking or singing her back to sleep.
This is the problem. Your baby hasn’t had to develop her own ways of self-settling, so once she wakes up she has to call out for your help to get back to sleep. When you come to her, she’s very glad to see you, but probably just as tired and grumpy as you. She’s having broken sleep as well. The difficulty for you is that she doesn’t know how tired you are or that she’s woken you up three times already. She doesn’t have the capacity to consider your point of view yet. Children only learn that after they experience someone considering their point of view first. That’s empathy. So, your little baby can’t empathise with you or make any decisions about the problem you both have; she just feels she needs you to go through the usual routine that helps her go to sleep, so instinctively she calls for you. You don’t know how else to get her to go back to sleep either, so you go through the usual routine as well.
Both of you have developed a night-time routine, it’s just that it’s not helpful to do this routine again in the middle of the night.
There are lots of ways to settle a crying baby. In fact, there are an overwhelming number of methods available in books and on the internet. There are crying baby apps, white noise apps, baby sleep sounds apps, massage oils, music, swings, baby slings, changing baby formula and prescription medicines.
But what methods work? Well, the effectiveness of these methods has been hard to measure or prove because most babies start their normal developmental crying at around 2 to 3 weeks and by 3 to 4 months their crying resolves anyway. That can mean that each of these methods to stop your baby crying seems to work because you bought equipment or used a method at the peak of her crying at 6 weeks and after a week or so it worked. At the same time, your baby’s crying is going to start decreasing and resolve at 3 to 4 months by itself. That’s why no one has proved that the methods do or don’t work. Any of these methods are perfectly fine if they work for you and you have checked that the equipment is safe for your baby’s developmental stage.
‘Well that’s no good to me!’ you say. And you’re right. The most effective method to soothe a crying baby is to carry her. Most studies have found increased carrying reduces crying. If your baby cries excessively you’re probably already carrying her most of the day, so let’s look at some other ideas.
Soothing strategies to reduce crying
It’s important to use a range of three or four gentle and affectionate strategies that are easy to follow and have a slow, soothing pace. These examples might suit you and your baby:
- Carry her in a sling next to your chest, making sure you’re as relaxed as you can be. She will be able to hear your heartbeat, so you won’t need a heartbeat app.
- Speak to her in a calm, soothing voice.
- Sing to her in a soft, low voice.
- Cuddle her.
- Put her on her back or tummy and use a gentle pat, rub or touch to soothe her.
- Take her for a walk in her pram.
- When she’s very upset and crying, place her in a firm wrap or just gently hold her arms and hands.
- If you use white noise, baby-safe massage oil, etc., then incorporate that into your soothing routine.
Whatever strategy you decide to use, don’t keep changing it for new and different ones recommended to you by friends, family or the internet. Stick with the soothing and calming strategies you feel comfortable with and make them part of your routine. Your baby needs familiarity with your soothing strategy so she can relax and not be overstimulated with too much variety and change. Remaining calm, consistent and predictable is really important to her.