Finding your calm in the storm of an unsettled baby

The overwhelm is real....

Do you ever feel yourself bubbling up and up, unable to stop and reaching that point where you just boil over?

I have felt like this A LOT of the time since I became a parent, and never more so than in the early years when we had an unsettled baby.

I was constantly trying to cope with a crying baby, cleaning up vomit that was all over the baby, myself, and the furniture! Trying to entertain my toddler whilst feeding the baby, cooking the tea, cleaning the house, the list goes on and on. I know you know what I mean! All those things that daily life means when you are a mum with a baby. The housework may not be a priority right at this moment, but it is still there, waiting, building up and stressing you out!

The persistent struggle of so many things that need doing with the constant background theme tune of a screaming baby. That feeling of anxiety and overwhelm bubbling just below the surface, as you go round and round trying to do anything that might work to settle your baby, whilst trying to wrack your brain wondering

WHY is my baby so unsettled’?

Secretly so jealous of everyone else whose baby is amazing, hating your life and wishing you could just run away!

Taming the 'chimp'

I can remember once a colleague talking about overwhelm and reaching that point where you feel you are going to explode and her talking about needing to ‘harness your inner chimp’ (apparently this is the inner emotional thinking part of our limbic brain that is not under our control).

All I could visualise as we had this conversation was imagining myself as this wild monkey that would burst out of my brain and literally run riot, smashing things, making that screeching chimpanzee noise and thinking, I can never manage to tame the monkey, it is always out and running wild before I’ve had a chance to realise,

‘I m getting a bit overwhelmed and need to take a moment here!

I am completely rubbish at realising I am about to lose my rag. Well, that’s not entirely true, I can feel it building, I am rubbish at stopping it from escaping! And then after the meltdown occurs comes a huge dose of mum guilt!

Are you resonating with this?

Mum guilt

One example of this was actually with our first baby (who was an angel in comparison to our unsettled second) but wasn’t so fond of doing any sleeping.

On one particularly bad night, I had been up and down, tried to resettle him a million times, fed, burped, jigged, did the ninja-crib move to try and get him back into his crib, (DM me if you want to know more about this!!) shushed patted and rocked him, you get the picture!

Basically, I had tried everything to get him to sleep! I had just about managed to make it back under the covers when yep, you guessed it, he woke again! I flew out of bed, reached into the crib and swooped him up, muttering a ‘FFS’ as my husband rolled over and said,

Gently with him love’.

Red flag to a bull! Out came the torrent of ‘ maybe if you could wake up and help, why don’t you have boobs?, see how you’d like being up all night, I hate this, and NOTHING is working!!!

But then huge guilt, maybe I was a little rough? What if I had hurt him? (I hadn’t), What if this was all my fault? What if my baby now hated me? I am definitely a bad mother, Why can’t I do this? Everyone else can and I’m completely crap at it!

All the thoughts but also more than anything at that point I just wanted some bloody sleep!!!

Fight or flight?

Overwhelm is awful.

We all get it and feel it but when your baby is unsettled it builds and builds and goes on and on! You feel as though you are looking for answers everywhere, everyone is telling you different things, ‘oh just do this’, ‘have you tried doing that?’ What is working and not working really isn’t clear, professionals are all saying different things, and you will do anything to help your baby. But you have never felt so confused and unsure of what the best or right thing to do is!

When your baby is crying, their nervous system has activated the fight or flight response and calming them from this state can be really hard! What is important to recognise here is that our nervous system and our baby’s nervous system are intrinsically linked, never more so than in the early months of life.

When they are unsettled, so are you!

You cannot settle an unsettled baby when you yourself are in a state of overwhelm.

At the point of overwhelm...

So, what you need to do here is try and recognise this before that monkey escapes, and you reach crisis point!  (NOT easy I know, I find this so so difficult too).

You need to almost stop focusing on the baby, and focus on yourself.

Regulate your own nervous system, calm and settle yourself and this in turn will help settle and calm your baby, but also, just put you in a better state to avoid the overwhelm and the brewing outburst!

There are different ways to do this, different things work for different people and can depend on what is going on and what is it that is causing the overwhelm for you right now.

But here are a few things you can try:

Strategies to help

1.       Recognsie what’s happening here. Take a deep breath! Try using the 4-7-8 breathing technique to ground you, regulate your nervous system and get you back on track. In through the nose for the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, and out through the mouth for the count of 8. Repeat as many times as you need to help feel your heart rate settle and a bit of calmness and control re-entering your body

2.       Can you step away for a moment? I know this isn’t always possible, if it’s just you and the kids or there’s no one around that can watch them/hold the baby for a moment it’s not that straightforward. If you feel you are reaching boiling point, put the baby somewhere safe, step away, and take those calming breaths. If there is someone that can help,  then pass the baby over and step right away, somewhere you can’t hear your baby crying! Try a grounding technique of looking for 3 things you can see, 3 you can hear, 3 you can smell, 3 you can touch, just to help bring your senses down a notch!

3.       If you can, strap baby in a sling, go outside for a walk, for me at this point it was really a stomp rather than a walk, or try putting on your favourite song, something that lifts you and dance, sing, just move whilst holding your baby. Remember crying doesn’t damage your baby, when they are being cared for, loved and responded to, these are the things that matter. 

Overwhelm: You are not alone!

These things are not easy to do, even now, when I have had years of practice at being a mum, doing the juggle and trying to find the right balance, I still find at times there is a chimpanzee bouncing around the kitchen whilst I’m thinking 

Oh, I should have taken a moment here!’

  • Practice does help,
  • Talking about how you are feeling does help
  • Reaching out for support, can also really help.


You aren’t the only one to feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean you have to just accept this, stay there or pretend everything is ok.


What next?

Mindset, overwhelm, and coping with an unsettled baby are core elements of the unique support and framework that I use to support families with unsettled babies in my programme, The Root to Calm.

We take a stepped approach to discovering the root cause of your baby’s unsettledness, whilst giving you the tools, community and support you need to navigate parenthood.

I help you move away from overwhelm, take back control and empower you to have the confidence to thrive as a parent, not just try and survive.

If you want to know more about the Root to Calm programme then drop me a message as it’s an invite-only programme.

We can have a chat about what’s going on for you, where you want to be and if this
is the best approach and community to help you get there.

I hope this has helped you a little,  to know it’s not just you
that feels overwhelmed, and maybe given you a few things to try to help you stay
a little calmer in the moment.

You can message me here

Alice x

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Alice Lucken

I am an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parenting Practitioner. I have been a nurse for nearly 20 years and have over 10 years of experience working with families as a Health Visitor and Infant Feeding Specialist, supporting complex infant feeding challenges. I now work independently to help families overcome any infant feeding or parenting challenges they are facing.

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