Updated: Oct 9
So, baby came home from the hospital, it was nice and dreamy for a few days, they fed, poo'ed, pee'ed, slept and the cycle continued ... if you're lucky this lasted for one whole week, and you might have been high fiving yourselves thinking "we've got this nailed".
But, let me guess, then they got a little squirmy, a little slower to settle, a little fussy during feed times and a bit more grizzly during nappy changes... until you wanted to throw your hands in the air and resign from being a parent.
It's all totally normal!
The bad news is that no baby is the same, so I can't give you a magic solution that will work every time, but the good news is that I can give you techniques to have up your sleeve to try when all your first attempts fail to settle your bundle of joy.
Let's look at three mainstream topics, but give you a few new spins on what to try:
Respond by being RESPONSIVE
Sounds simple... what the..?
If you have met me then you know I'm all about routines (not schedules, but I love routines) and some people think this means you can't be responsive, but that is poppycock. Routines are for things that can, or should, happen at the same time every day. That includes things like baths, walks, stimulation time, quiet time.
But the one thing that we can't always predict is hunger and thirst. Hunger and thirst for any human being is dependent on so many factors; exercise, tiredness, stimulation, hormones, enzymes, growth factors, brain wave activity, weather, the list goes on.
Don't try to predict feeding times, don't attempt to feed every 3 hours, or 2 hours or 4 hours, just feed whenever your baby is showing hunger signs:
Rooting (automatically turning their face toward stimulus and make sucking motions with the mouth when the cheek or lip is touched)
(or course any of this may be accompanied with crying, but the aim is that over time you will notice these signs before crying occurs)
None of this comes automatically, you will learn your baby's cues over time. Just like you learnt to read your partner, or colleagues, over time; you will do the same with your newborn. Don't expect to know everything instinctively over night, give yourself a break and learn bit by bit as you go.
A word about cluster feeding - this is a real thing. If your baby seems to be hungry and fussy for continuous periods of time (but not ill), the best and easiest thing to do is to give in to it. Your baby is doing this instinctively to ensure they obtain the right nutrition for growth spurts, they are not doing this to annoy you on purpose. So my top tips for cluster feeding days (or nights) are to sit quiet, have a water bottle, snacks, remote control and phone nearby and give in to it. Get comfy, relax your shoulders, find a good series on Netflix (I recommend Outlander, The Letdown and Workin Moms...you're welcome, you can thank me by signing up as an Empowa'd Member below) and have someone check-in occasionally to ensure you don't fall asleep.
The winds of change
Babies digestion systems have to mature super quick. In your tummy they were relying on the placenta for nutrition, now they have to learn how to breath, suck and swallow all at the same time, not to mention the transition of food going in, and then poo coming out. Having a bowel movement is a big effort for such a little person. As their body adjusts to these new system requirements there are things that we can understand, and use, to help our little ones ease through these growing pains.
Sucking is an action that releases digestive enzymes in the baby’s gut and also relaxes the bowels. After a good feed, babies sometimes linger for ‘comfort sucking’. That’s just plain nice and it helps with digestion. If your baby is bottle fed, use a “paced bottle feeding” method. Allowing pauses to suck, swallow and breathe will help your baby digest more easily. Extra time to just suck, on your finger or a pacifier, can be beneficial too. “Wearing” your baby and walking around whilst they suck on your finger is convenient. This combination of upright posture, comfort sucking and patience can calm a fussy baby.
Whilst we are on the subject to "sucking", I will be so bold as to say that I am not anti pacifiers. Yes, I am pro breastfeeding, but in my experience pacifiers also have a place in newborn care, and pacifying a baby that wants, or needs, non-nutritive sucking is a good reason to use a pacifier. I do have a preference for orthodontic style pacifiers, for the first few weeks, as I believe they are much easier for babies to hold in their mouth, and I do like soft latex options if possible, although parents must be mindful that latex degrades much quicker than silicone.
Sometimes during nursing, in their sleep or other random moments, a baby will fuss, wiggle, come off the nipple and grimace. Once they’ve had a good release of gas or poo, they are normally content again. That’s normal; you’ll learn the cues. Winding a baby is made to look easy on the movies, put them up on your shoulder and pat them on the back.
In reality this is only going to dislodge a guttural bubble of air that is probably already on its way up. When this fails to stop the squirming you will probably turn to your parenting encyclopedia and it will suggest sitting your baby upright on your lap (holding their jawline gently between your thumb and finger) and patting or rubbing their back. With a strong rhythmic motion this may elicit a deeper bellied release of air.
But the really good wind releases come from three other methods:
This is the most satisfying, and funny, way to help your baby shift some gas!
Place baby on their back, on a firm surface, or your lap
Hold their feet and move their legs back and forth in a gentle pedalling motion, bending their legs at the knee and allowing their knees to make contact with their belly
You may feel some tension in your babies legs, or they may grunt a little, this is a sign that there is indeed gas in their belly, but as you gently continue you should feel them relax
Keeping a gentle hold of their feet, touch their toes to their forehead, gently repeat and hopefully you should hear a satisfying ....fshhhhh
Always be gentle, don't force their muscles to do anything they can't, and stop if they are crying in pain. But when this works it is such a satisfying solution, essentially turning your baby into a "trump" machine ha ha.
If you look at a scan image of our stomachs there is a little bit of our stomach that is higher than the esophagus. This means that air can get trapped right at the top of our stomach, and it can cause discomfort. Adults can wiggle, cough and generally move around to free this air, but babies can’t. So to help them you can tilt them to the left, this levels out this part of the stomach, giving the air a fast lane to the esophagus.
The easiest way to do this is to put them on your RIGHT SHOULDER and tilt them slightly across your body (so their head at your right shoulder, their toes at your left waist). You can do a gentle jiggle or pat, but air will often work its way up on its own.
Yoga Baby Hold
This is a bit of a secret doula trick (until now). This hold again uses their own knees and posture to help them to naturally move gas up or down.
Learn this move starting in a sitting position
Hold you baby against your body facing out. Their head should be approximately between your boobs and their bottom approximately against your tummy
Gently cross their feet over each other and hold them against their body with a wide palm. Their feet and heels should now be very gently putting pressure on their own tummy
Use your other hand to steady their head at the jaw line if needs be
Continue to apply gentle pressure with your hand on their feet, that in turn puts gentle pressure on their tummy
When you are feeling confident stand up, keeping them in this hold
Start a normal baby jig/rock/sway motion
The gentle pressure against their belly, and holding them upright, facing away from you allows your baby to apply their own internal pressure to move gas up or down as necessary
For a great demonstration of this hold please look at the ABC Doula website (which I love to follow)
Relax the Reflexes
Newborn babies usually play super nice with parents in the first week, they eat and sleep when and where we put them down. They pass out, without a care in the world, and because of this parents often forget about swaddling, and why we do it. They forget, or don't know, about their babies natural reflexes that can cause them to wake up, unsettle and startle themselves. So I often find that week 2-3 problems can be solved by reintroducing swaddle techniques.
"The Moro reflex is a normal primitive, infantile reflex. The Moro reflex is an involuntary protective motor response against abrupt disruption of body balance or extremely sudden stimulation....It can be seen as early as 25 week postconceptional age and usually is present by 30 weeks postconceptional age. The reflex is present in full-term infants and begins to disappear by 12 weeks with complete disappearance by six months."
OK, thanks for the Doctor speak, but what does this mean? Have you seen your baby's arms suddenly flap, or their eyes suddenly open like they have been startled - this is their moro reflex, and it happens to them even in their sleep, kind of like a dream moment. So to prevent this from waking them up we use swaddling techniques.
From experience, a good basic swaddle works for most babies, but I admit that there are some Houdini's out there. For special cases, premature babies and Houdini's I recommend looking at the 7 Swaddles videos.
There are many brands of pre-made swaddle bags, and to be honest they are all much of a muchness. My concern with some of them is the multiple layers of fabric, so pick lightweight options, and I personally think that velcro is the worst invention for anything made for babies (it wakes babies up and it causes what I can only describe as a cat's hairball effect with all your other washing in your washing machine).
However, there is one stand out product that I will happily endorse, Love to Dream SWADDLE UP™ are a genius invention. Only one thin layer of material, no velcro, easy access for car seat clips, moro reflex friendly, developmental friendly (for self soothing), progressive (see the Stage 2 50/50), I say it again, they are genius!
Can you sum it up for me...
If you haven't noticed already, none of what I am saying is rocket science and it all neatly fits within 3 categories:
Feed responsively - whenever needed, not according to the clock, and facilitate non-nutritive sucking if needed
Burping - be gentle, persistent and patient
Swaddling - reintroduce and consider long term solutions like SWADDLE UP™
This article isn't designed to tell you everything you should try in order to settle your baby, it's designed to tell you the things that other pages may not, the tricks Doula's use, the places we look for inspiration and the products (I think) that can genuinely help.
Of course, if you really need a break or some advice, you can always call or message me for Postpartum Doula services and advice.
Empowa is not affiliated to any company, or product, mentioned in this article.