Comforting an inconsolable baby can be extremely hard.
Crying often evokes strong reactions in us. We feel the urge to solve it right away.
Is the baby hungry? Is he or she tired? Is there a dirty diaper? Is the baby in pain somewhere?
The emotions we feel almost force us to take action. And that’s a good thing, because that’s how our brain protects our baby.
But what if we can’t do anything about the cause of the crying? And comforting doesn’t seem to help?
Then we still feel the urge to solve it. Then we may feel powerless, become stressed or frustrated, or begin to doubt ourselves. And when our own emotional stress increases, it is often even more difficult to be there for our child.
Young babies usually cry for about two hours a day. But some babies cry more than three hours a day. These babies sometimes have physical problems, but often there is no clear cause.
Your baby is still so vulnerable, and as a parent you are too.
Taking care of a small baby can feel like a heavy responsibility. We are programmed to do everything we can to make our baby safe, healthy and happy.
When the baby phase doesn’t go as expected, or when those around you express their opinions, you may start to doubt yourself. You may become insecure about your qualities as a mother or as a father. You might know that this happens for many babies and parents, and that such a phase always passes. But it often feels very different.
The situation is already tough, but your own difficult feelings can add a lot to the stress. In addition to your crying baby, you also have to deal with yourself, while you hardly have the energy for anything anymore.
Shame, emotional stress, powerlessness, exhaustion, closing off emotionally, despair, it might all come along. Maybe you feel distance from your baby and you can’t access feelings of love for a while. Maybe you feel anger towards your child or express the stress towards other family members. Maybe there is guilt. Maybe loneliness.
Am I the only one going through this?
You could start thinking.
“No.” Is the answer.
As long as there have been people, there have been babies. And as long as there have been babies, there have been parents struggling.
You’re not the only one. You are not alone in this.
It is difficult. For almost everyone who experiences this. And yet, it will pass. You don’t know how long it will last this time or this phase, but it will pass.
Are you unsure whether you are taking good enough care of your child?
The answer is most likely: you are a good parent. Like many parents of colicy babies. And no, now you can’t make your baby stop crying. But you can take good care of your baby. And you will get to know your baby better and better. And learn more and more as a parent.
You have time enough.
You have years to help your child find his own balance. Even if it is difficult now, and also if it takes a long time. You have years to find your own balance, even if it is difficult now.
But now what? Exhausted and with an inconsolable baby?
Compassion and mindfulness can help you take good care of yourself and your baby.
Even if the crying doesn’t stop, you can be there for your baby.
If your baby seems inconsolable, there is one thing you can always do: accept the situation and simply be there for your baby. Full of compassion, with attention. Then your baby gets the message that whatever he or she feels, it is ok.
With your calm acceptance you let your baby know: you can be there. unconditionally.
And feelings are not the end of the world.
In the field of Infant Mental Health this is called co-regulation. Leading by example, you teach your baby that difficult feelings are part of life. That they don’t need to be tucked away, that they don’t need to be solved. That you don’t have to jump into the action. That feelings may be unpleasant, or downright miserable, but no need to cause alarm.
This applies to your child’s feelings but just as much to your own.
And if there is panic – with you – then you can accept that too. And take appropriate action if necessary. (For example: stepping away from your baby for a moment, asking for help, taking a breathing space, calming yourself with good exhalations, singing, eating and drinking, going outside together.)
Each moment that you can accept life as it is, you help yourself and your baby to slowly settle down. It is resistance to a situation that exacerbates stress.
And even if acceptance does not remove the cause of the crying, the accumulated stress has a chance to fade away.
Resistance adds fuel to the fire. If you stop feeding the fire, sooner or later it will burn out.
So there you are.
With your crying baby in your arms.
Quiet, or maybe crying along. Perhaps feeling powerless or full of resistance. But no matter what you feel, you can say to yourself:
“That’s the way it is now.”
And then simply give gentle attention to your baby. Kind attention to yourself. Warm interest in what is happening here.
You may feel your baby’s touch, see the face and hands. You may become aware of your breathing, or the sounds around you. Aware of small fluctuations in the sounds your baby makes, or of your feelings for your baby.
You give loving attention to your baby, and to yourself. And that’s all you need to do.
Consciously paying attention pulls you out of your stress response.
When you consciously focus your attention, the part of your brain that has overview turns on. You can tap into your own wisdom again.
How are we right now? What are the possibilities?
Daring to think about it is the key. Let it be how it is.
Often simply being present is enough. It is also possible that something concrete bubbles up that helps you.
Often you can do more than you think.
Sometimes you can actually do something for your child. Perhaps there is another room that is more comfortable for him or her. The light could be softer, or a blanket be comfortable. Maybe humming is comforting, or sitting quietly together.
Sometimes there is something you can do for yourself. A shift in attitude, something to eat or drink, someone giving you a hug, listening to music or doing a meditation.
The goal is not to stop the crying. The goal is to take good care of you.
Taking good care of you is not about results. It’s not about expectations, or about performance. It’s not about guilt, or about the past. It does not try to achieve anything for the future.
Taking good care of you and your baby means embracing what life is like. At this time.
Dealing with stress is not easy. We are so used to resisting difficult situations. And sometimes you can get caught up in a set pattern with your baby.
By practicing mindfulness and compassion, you don’t have to toil on autopilot. You develop the awareness to see new possibilities, and to choose to deal with stress differently. Step by step you can loosen up from stress reactions and old patterns.
If you let go of your stress reactions, you can look at yourself and your baby with new eyes. This creates space to enjoy each other.
Our baby just kept crying. I was exhausted.
And I was calm. I couldn’t solve it. I didn’t have to do anything. Just to be there for her.
I turned my attention to her touch. My body. The silence of the night. The miracle that I was allowed to take care of this sweet creature. That I could be there for her. That I could love and cherish her. That I could feel it was okay what she felt. That she was here with me, unconditionally. Together in the one boat.
One of my fondest memories.
Mindfulness and compassion, they enveloped us like a warm, loving blanket. In the middle of the night.
And who knows?
Maybe you can experience that too: full of compassion and attention, enjoying the connection when your baby cries.
Exercises that may help when you are comforting your baby:
Observing your child with full attention.