When a baby cries, a parent’s instincts are to pick the child up and start rhythmically moving or bouncing. Most seasoned parents and newbies alike all seem to know that swings and vibrations can sometimes soothe a crying baby. But do you know why? This blog will give you the science behind why motion works to stop a baby’s wails and also tips and tricks to find the best motion to consistently calm your baby!
For nine months, babies are kept warm and safe inside the womb. Suspended in amniotic fluid, baby is in constant motion. Every move mommy makes, even just the smallest shift in weight while standing or sitting, can gently jostle baby to and fro. Just like floating peacefully in gentle ocean waves is relaxing for an adult, constant motion is soothing for baby. The motion of a rocking chair or hammock are calming and sleep inducing for humans of all ages, so it’s no wonder babies love motion when they’re upset!
Each Baby Has Different Preferences
But just like every person has different likes and dislikes, each baby is also unique in their favorite soothing motions. Some babies enjoy a vigorous motion like bouncing on a yoga ball, while others might like a simple slow rocking in the glider. Parents have come up with countless ways to calm their unhappy babies with motion including:
- Baby wearing
- Rhythmic pats on the back or bum
- Car rides
- Brisk walks
The best way to successfully use motion to calm a fussy baby is to ensure your rhythmic motions match baby’s crying! If he’s really upset, you’ll need to be fast and jiggly and only slow as his cries stop and he begins to nod off. The best way to calm even the fussiest baby is to start with small, jiggly motions. Imagine you’ve got a bad case of the shivers or your baby’s head needs to wiggle like Jello on a plate! As long as baby’s head is supported and in line with his body, fast and vigorous motions are 100% safe!
Jiggling is Not Shaking!
It’s important to take a moment to describe the difference between the quick but small jiggling motions described above and a dangerous “shake” that leads to shaken baby syndrome. Shaken baby syndrome occurs when the baby’s head is unsupported and is forcefully and repeatedly shaken creating a whiplash effect. This is an aggressive shaking where the head forcefully snaps back and forth and can cause brain damage and death. It is VERY DIFFERENT than the jiggling described above.
Jiggling is when the baby’s head is supported and in line with the body while moving quickly about 1-2 inches at a time. Jiggling has no whipping action where the head is dramatically flailing about or moving from side to side. Jiggling when done properly is 100% safe—just like jogging to catch the bus while carrying baby in his car seat! Shaken baby syndrome is dangerous and is considered child abuse!
Some other more advanced techniques include:
The Baby Cocktail: Holding baby semi-upright with his head and buttocks supported, bouncing him quickly (2-3 times per second) but in small (1-2 inch) up-and-down motions just like you are making a cocktail! It may sound strange, but you’ll be surprised how well it works! As a bonus, it’s an effective way to burp baby and build strong bicep muscles!
- The Tired Parent Total Package: Sit down with your knees together but your feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. Place your tightly swaddled baby tummy down on your lap with his head turned off to one side. Slide both hands under his head to support him and use a finger for non-nutritive sucking or holding his pacifier in place. Now start swinging your knees back and forth quickly like a windshield wiper all while shh-ing (or using a white noise phone app) at top volume!
For the really tired parent a swing, vibrating chair or Baby Brezza Soothing Mat could be just what the doctor ordered! Add the arms tightly swaddled (i.e., so legs are free to strap into the swing as directed) and a pacifier and you’ll have a sleeping baby in no time! Be sure to try several different swing settings because some babies love the classic back and forth while others enjoy a side to side motion available in many newer swings. In the more expensive $200+ swings, you can also try the “figure 8” or the “up and down bounce” settings if you’ve got a really fussy one!
Remember, no matter whether you are soothing baby in your arms, with a swing, or with the Baby Brezza Soothing Mat, start out on the fastest speed to match baby’s wails then slow down as baby settles!
Of course, if you are at the end of your patience, never shake—or even jiggle—your baby! Put your crying baby down and call for help from your partner, your family, or a friend. If need be, a crying baby alone in his crib is safer than in your arms when you are angry! It’s better to leave baby safely in his crib crying while you take a break in another room with earphones in your ears to muffle the sound of your baby’s wails. Only when you’re calm will you be better able to calm your little one!