Learning the language of your newborn's cries is something that will take some practice. Most likely there will be times when it seems that you are simply guessing at what is causing his frustration and times where you are flabbergasted that the awesome "fix" that has always worked in the past, now seems to tick him off even more.
Dads may struggle with learning how to soothe their baby and may need to realize that the answer is not always simply to feed the baby (See: How Much Formula Does My Baby Need?) or to change the baby's diaper. It is a good idea to develop a bag of calming tricks that address the different needs your baby may have.
You may be able to address these needs by focusing on one or more of the following categories:
- Basic needs (feed, burp, diaper, or other physical discomfort)
- Decreased stimulation (dim the lights, reduce noise, swaddling)
- Physical touch (infant massage, comfort holds that relieve gas, carrying the child in a way that mimics the womb)
- Soothing with sound (womb sounds, rhythmic sounds, lullabies, "white noise" from a running dishwasher or vacuum)
- Calming movement or motion (swings or bouncy seats, rides in the car, walks outside, watching objects as they move)
How to Soothe a Baby, Daddy-Style
The truth is that you can soothe your baby in nearly every way the mother can (save for the few methods requiring gender-specific equipment). However, there may be some methods that work better for you. The following suggestions are methods often favored by fathers as being successful. Just be aware that if your baby uses this trick to fall asleep, this could become a sleep association, something he'll come to rely on in order to fall asleep.
- Rather than burping with the traditional "over-the-shoulder" burp method, many dads do well at burping baby in an upright position. Sit the baby in your lap, place your hand to support his chin and head, and lean him forward slightly. With your other hand pat his back firmly, but gently.
- Some babies have a strong desire to suck. Being sure that your hands are clean, allow your baby to suck on your pinky finger. Just be sure that you place the fingernail next to the tongue rather than the roof of his mouth to prevent any scraping.
- If your baby needs some stimulation, place him in a bouncy seat while you step on a tread mill or a stationary bike.
- Find ways to mimic the womb environment. Lie down and place the baby on your upper chest, belly-side down. Use your chin to place gentle pressure on the top of the head. This imitates the sensation of the cervix during the last few prenatal weeks.
In addition to all of these calming suggestions, you should stop to consider how you can prevent those moments of newborn meltdown (See Also: Understanding Baby Tantrums. Watch your baby closely for cues that indicate how he is feeling. Sometimes when a cue is missed, even when the need is addressed, it is challenging - even for him - to find his "off" button. Preventing your baby from becoming overly distressed might be your greatest tool of all.
Finally, for those moments when you are at your absolute wits ends, give yourself a break. Consider placing him swaddled in the safety of his crib, and simply allowing yourself time to regain your own peace. Call a friend, family member, or pediatrician for help. There is no shame in that at all. Moments like that are understandable and are to be expected.