Tips for settling a newborn baby - Sacha Klerk Photography Toronto newborn photographer

Sometimes a parent will call me up to say that they are worried about their newborn session and baby might not sleep. They may say that they are struggling to settle baby and they are exhausted.

I always try and reassure them. Not all babies are the same.

If they are unsettled there is likely a reason.

I am not a healthcare professional or a doctor and I don't have any special pediatric qualifications but I have photographed and settled many newborn babies since I starting photographing newborns in 2012.

Here are a few of my tips for settling a newborn baby. These are based on my experiences and may be able to help you figure out what works for you and your baby.

Eliminate the reasons

All the baby books will tell you this also. If baby is unsettled, try and figure out why. Is their diaper dry, are they warm enough / cool enough, is their belly full, are they tired, have they had too much stimulation and are struggling to settle in. Start at one end of this list and try and eliminate what is causing them to be unsettled.

1. Babies like a dry diaper

A newborn can easily go through 7-10 diaper changes in a day. They pee constantly! Check their diaper regularly and a dry bottom is a happy bottom!

2. Is baby warm enough?

After being so happy in mummy's womb at a balmy 37 degrees Celsius it can be quite a shock on the skin and the system when you enter earth side. Diaper changes and bath times are particularly shocking so turn up the heat in your home in winter.

3. Can I have some more?

If you are breastfeeding, baby is getting all the nourishment they need from your colostrum in the first few days. They might feed pretty frequently and may be a bit more unsettled - but once your milk comes in and they get their first big belly full, they will get suuuuuuper sleepy and satisfied. 

There are all sorts of factors that can affect feeding and as a result impact how settled a newborn baby is.

Latch is one of them. Does baby have a good latch? If you are breastfeeding try and remember that it is a skill that you are both learning! Look at their mouth, is the nipple deep in. If your nipples are super sore, it could be a sign of a poor latch. Check with your healthcare worker and also ask them to check for a tongue or lip tie.

Consider the teat if you are formula feeding. Look at baby's lips. Are they curled in or 'pouting' out. Listen... are they sucking in air? If milk is leaking out the sides of their mouth (a little is fine) the flow could be a bit to fast or they are not latched properly.

Is baby getting enough?

With formula fed babies you can see how much baby is getting but it is harder to judge if baby is breastfed. A satisfied baby will come off the nipple naturally. However, it doesn't always work like this. Some babies just like to suck and will quite happily keep your nipple in their mouth all day long if they could. Make sure baby is awake during the feed. Change their diaper to wake them up a bit if you don't think they have had long enough feed and then try again. The milk that comes first is the fore milk. This type of milk is thinner and followed by the hind milk which is thicker and creamier. This is the good stuff that will nourish their bodies so make sure that you don't swap breasts to early during a feed.

Other factors can be food sensitivities or reflux. Signs could be an unsettled baby, crying, vomiting, cramping and lots of wind which could look like baby being in pain.

Check with your healthcare worker if you think either of these are a factor.

4. Wind

Most of my little clients are ten days old or younger. Some babies need to be winded after every feed, for others it isn't so much of a factor. There are so many methods to help a baby bring up wind. You can hold baby over your shoulder and gently rub their back or I also like to lean baby forward to help them bring up the wind. A baby with trapped wind will be unsettled.

You might also find that baby is fine when you are holding them and then as soon as you put them down they start to cry. This could be because some wind is trapped and the change of position makes it more uncomfortable for them. Try winding them a bit more to release it.

As babies get older they learn how to bring the wind up themselves but newborn babies usually need a bit of help.

5. Poop

I never thought I would speak about poop so much until I had kids.

Are they pooping enough, is the consistency right, is the colour normal!?

If you are formula feeding be vigilant about constipation. Not all babies poop everyday but you will notice other signs like cramping, harder stool, straining and crying. Speak to your healthcare working if you are concerned.

6. Sleep and stimulation

I really loved reading BabySense the book. I loved the concept of the sensory diet and it made complete logical sense to me. Too much stimulation (visual, touch, smell, sound) can be hard for baby to process and can cause them to struggle to wind down.

If your baby is super unsettled, try a nice quiet day in. No visitors, not outings, low noise plus it is amazing to just spend the day in bed cuddling your baby. You need the rest and your baby could need an opportunity to just be close you.

Watch for signs (like flailing limbs and eye contact avoidance) that baby is getting tired.

Dim the lights, have a little cuddle or rock baby if you prefer, nurse them to sleep if you like. Don't be impatient and don't rush it.

I remember reading years ago that it takes a baby 15 minutes to fall asleep!

7. Swaddling

I am a big fan of swaddling. There are so many techniques for swaddling and if you want to try it you just need to pull youtube up on your phone to look at a few tutorials on how to swaddle effectively and safely.

Swaddling can help baby feel warm cozy and secure. Almost like they are still in your womb!

8. Holding baby

Many of my clients ask my about how I hold baby and how is it that they are so calm. I have developed my 'hold' over the years and I hold baby in a way that they feel surrounded, supported and secure. Baby's back is straight and supported, head is supported and arms and legs are tucked in. The majority of babies love this and will fall asleep in this position with a bit of gentle rocking. I also sometimes gently tickle their faces in a downward motion from the forehead to the their cheeks. A lot of babies find this very soothing and quickly start to close their eyes. 

9. The human pacifier

What happens if baby just wants to feed or they just want to suck on your nipple but aren't actively feeding.

Ensuring a baby is well fed is important whether you are bottle feeding or breastfeeding. Some babies do however want to suck, and if you are breastfeeding, this is tough on your nipples. Many healthcare professionals don't advocate the use of a pacifier with newborns to avoid nipple confusion,  so what can you do?

Sometimes I ask a parent to use their little finger and let baby suck on that for a little while. I ask them to turn their finger so that the finger pad rests against baby's palette. Make sure your finger is clean and then gently stroke their palette until you get suction.  If baby is unsettled for other reasons this won't work but this is one way to give your nipples a little break if baby is using you as a human pacifier! :-)

10. White noise

A final trick in my book is using a bit of white noise (I use the Baby Shusher but you could also just get an app for your phone).

What are your favorite tips for settling a newborn baby?

Leave a comment and share your experiences and wisdom!

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