How Do I Soothe a Crying Baby?
Crying is what babies do best. It is normal and healthy normal for babies to cry early on in development. Babies can cry for different reasons. Sometimes they need food, a new diaper, or just more attention.
In these cases, it is easy to soothe an upset baby. What is maddening for parents is when it is not not clear why a baby is persistently crying. You go down your usual checklist of your baby’s wants and needs, but nothing is working. Before you know it, you’re being driven crazy by the sound of nonstop crying. If you’re dealing with this situation, don’t give up yet. Below we’ve provided some tips and techniques that may help you soothe your upset baby.First, Rule Out the Usual Causes
You want to first look for the obvious reasons why your baby is crying. Don't gloss over this paragraph. This is an obvious point but even seasoned parents skip over the obvious. (Crying babies do not facilitate logical and reasonable thinking.) Have they been changed recently? When is the last time they’ve been fed? Are there signs that they’re gassy or need to be burped? Check your baby for any signs of illness, including runny nose, fever, swollen gums, or signs of possible pain. Some of the most common reasons babies cry include:
- Feeling hungry
- Feeling too cold or hot
- Having a soiled diaper
- Spitting up or vomiting
- They’re dealing with sickness
- Feeling over or under-stimulated
- Feeling bored
If none of these seem to solve the problem, try these techniques below.Try Swaddling Your Baby
Do you know the reason why babies (and the rest of us) seem to relax so much in a wrapped blanket? The feeling of being cozy and safe reminds babies of being back in the womb. This can help babies stay asleep. Try swaddling your baby in a soft and thin blanket that is not too tight or too loose on their body in a supine position. If you’re not well versed in how to properly swaddle a baby, you can ask your nurse, midwife, or pediatrician to show you how to do it.Try Sucking or Using a Pacifier
Sucking is actually good for babies even if it’s nonnutritive. Sucking provides a way for babies to self-soothe and calm down on their own. Try encouraging your child to suck on the thumb, fist, or finger if it’s not close to their feeding time. You can also use items like binkies and pacifiers which work just as well, but it may not be the best option for early breastfeeding. If you’re new to breastfeeding, you might want to wait on giving them a pacifier until the feeding technique has been fully established.Turn on White Noise or Calming Sounds
Have you ever heard about how white noise can help people drift off into sleep? The same is true for babies. Gentle white noise or calm sounds can be a good way to soothe them. If there are certain sounds bothering them, white noise can help block it out or at least provide a distraction. There are different types of white noise machines you can buy in-store, but that may not be necessary. If you go online, there are plenty of videos that mimic white noise or other calming sounds. However, if there’s really nothing around you can use, you can always resort to the traditional “Shhh…” sound.Rock Your Baby
Rocking your baby is one of the most time-tested ways to soothe a crying baby. Mothers have been rocking their babies since probably the beginning of time. The reason why rocking may be effective is because the motion of rocking mimics the movements they felt inside the womb. For some mothers struggling with crying babies, however, cradling your baby in your arms can get tiring over time. It may help to buy a carrier for your baby, like a sling, baby swing, or bouncy seat. These can work just as well as regular rocking.Sing or Talk to Your Baby
Babies love to hear your voice and connect with you. Even if you can’t carry a tune to save your life, it doesn’t really matter. Singing or gently talking to your baby can soothe or entertain your baby. You can try singing a gentle lullaby, or even a silly upbeat tune.Walk With Your Baby
If you’ve ever been frustrated or upset, sometimes you really just need a breath of fresh air. This logic can be applied to your baby too. Sometimes a baby feels bored or under stimulated in their usual environment and needs a little change of pace. While on your walk, your baby will be exposed to new sounds, movements, and smells, which can be soothing and relaxing for them. You may be thinking, “I’m already so exhausted, I can’t go for a walk." This is okay. If you’re not feeling up to walking around, you can even use a short car ride to help change the scenery for them.
In contrast to feeling under stimulated in their environment, a baby can also feel overstimulated by everything that’s happening around them. If there’s too much new information being given to them, they can feel overwhelmed and upset. If you feel this is the case, try dimming the lights, turning down any noise, and creating a soft and peaceful environment for them to de-stress in.Try Changing Their Diet
Sometimes a baby is not happy with their diet if they’re persistently crying. You can cry switching up what they eat and see if there is any improvement in their mood. If you’re breastfeeding, try reducing your milk and caffeine intake. If you don’t see any improvement, you can rule out this possible cause. If your baby is bottle-fed, try using a different formula to see if they like it better.Use the “Colic Carry”
This technique can be very helpful if you think your baby has colic. The “colic carry” is a type of carrying that has been known to reduce the symptoms of colic and provide relief. Follow these steps:
- Lay your baby on their tummy across your forearm, with their head cradled in your hand. Use your other hand for stabilization and gently rub their back.
- Lay your baby across your lap, with one knee on their tummy and the other as head support.
- Hold your baby upright, pressing their abdomen against your shoulder.
- Lay your baby on their back and push their knees up against their tummy. Hold for 10 seconds, release, and repeat.
You’re not a bad mother or father if you feel like you need a break from your child because of persistent crying. Loud crying can have a significant impact on your level of exhaustion and overall mood. It’s not wrong to take a few steps back to briefly take care of yourself. If you feel like you’re about to burst with frustration, try these tips:
- Take a few steps away and take some long, deep breaths.
- Move your baby to a safe place, like their crib or carrier, and let them cry by themselves for 10-15 minutes. Take this time in between to use self-soothing techniques on yourself.
- Turn on some of your favorite music to help distract you from the stress.
- Contact a friend or family member that can help take care of your baby, help you calm down, or provide general support.
- Invest in some aromatherapy items like lavender or other soothing scents that can help keep you calm.
- After taking some time away from your baby, go through the calming techniques again to see if they start to help.
- Contact your baby’s doctor if you’re worried about their crying or their health.
We believe in a science based approach to approaching the problems related to children. The Internet is full of cut and paste articles regurgitating the same tips that have no scientific validity. Here is some of the medical literature on dealing with crying babies:
- Gradisar M, et al. Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 137(6) (2016) (leaving babies alone for timed intervals and bedtime fading appear to improve sleep without detrimental effects on the child or family).
- Dayton, CJ, et. al: Hush Now Baby: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Strategies for Soothing Their Infants and Associated Parenting Outcomes, J Pediatr Health Care. Mar-Apr; 29(2): 145–155 (2015) (a look at soothing techniques for babies and how fathers are simply not as good as mothers at caring for upset babies).
- Joseph D, et. al: Getting rhythm: how do babies do it? Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed., 100(1):F50–F54 (2015) (how babies sleep patterns emerge).