How To Soothe A Fussy Baby: Our Survival Tips for Parents
Sometimes, it seems like the tears will never end. When trying to soothe your crying baby, here’s everything you need to know to survive this exhausting process!
Between all of the cuddling, playing, and caring for your little one, there's bound to be many moments of tears, tantrums, and fussiness. Crying is to be expected of a baby, it's one of their own ways of communicating that they need something from you. However, as expected as crying is, it can still be a very overwhelming and tiring experience for both you and your baby.
What you have to remember is that your baby just spent the last 40 weeks in a quiet, warm, dark womb. They have suddenly been brought into the loud, bright world and this can be a very intense change for them. While their senses are experiencing overload, there are some things you can do to help soothe your baby back to comfort.
Why is my baby crying?
Before trying dozens of different soothing techniques, you should start by asking the question: why the tears? Your baby crying is their way of trying to communicate something to you. So try and figure out what might be causing the problem.
- Hunger. You can expect your newborn to nurse or take a bottle every 3 to 4 hours. This will total up to about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. If your baby is crying, there’s a good chance that they are hungry and ready to feed again. Look for signs of hunger like bringing their hands to their mouth, lip smacking, or reaching for your food.
- Wet or Dirty Diaper. No one wants to be stuck sitting in a wet or dirty diaper. Newborn babies can go through 6 to 8 diapers per day so there’s a chance that they are trying to tell you it’s time for a change.
- Gas. If your baby is crying shortly after feeding, it might be because of some extra gas trapped in their belly. Gulping lots of liquid can trap air into your baby’s belly and cause a lot of discomfort. This has a quick and easy solution: burp your baby shortly after feeding to help relieve extra gas.
- Tired. Until your baby is at least 3 months old, they will probably end up sleeping about 14 to 17 hours in a full day. Their little bodies are doing a lot of active work so help them get some rest and try putting them down for a short nap.
- Boredom. Babies can feel boredom too! The tears might be their way of asking for something more exciting. Try putting them into sitting with them in a rocking chair, giving them some toys to play with, or putting them in an activity chair to cure their boredom.
- Overwhelmed. Like we said earlier, your baby’s senses are experiencing an overload. If you think your baby is feeling overwhelmed, try taking them to a quiet spot away from all the people and noises. You might consider giving them a pacifier or swaddling them in their favorite blanket to feel comforted and safe.
- Colic. If your baby is excessively crying, it could be colic. Talk to your doctor if you think your baby is experiencing this.
- Too Hot or Too Cold. Your baby might be a little too bundled up, or in need of a few extra layers. Check their outfit to see if you might need to add or subtract a layer or two.
- Sick. Sometimes your baby crying is a sign that they are not feeling well. Check your baby’s temperature and talk to your doctor if you think they might be sick.
Colic v. “Normal” Crying
Crying is completely normal for a baby. On average, a baby will cry for a total of 2 to 3 hours per day for at least the first 6 months of their life. With time, you will start to understand the cues of your baby’s tears. Different cries might signal different things (hunger, a dirty diaper, tired) and you will quickly start to figure out what means what.
Although tears are to be expected, more intense wailing or screaming is unusual. If your baby is crying excessively, you should talk to your doctor and see if there’s something more serious happening with your baby. If your doctor thinks your baby has colic, they should be able to provide recommendations on how to help. There are three main things to look for when figuring out if your baby is experiencing colic or not.
- Baby is crying for more than 3 hours in a day, lasting for over 3 weeks
- Crying is more like screaming, usually occurring in the late-afternoon or evening
- The crying does not match the typical patterns of your baby (sound, rhythm, pattern, etc.)
If you suspect that your baby might have colic, talk to your doctor for their recommendations of how to help your baby.
Learn more about symptoms and remedies for colic from Pediatrician Dr. Kyla Smith:
How to soothe your baby
Once you’ve figured out what exactly could be causing the tears (whether it’s because they are hungry, tired, in need of a diaper change) here’s some tips and tricks to keep in mind when trying to soothe your baby back down.
- Swaddle them. Wrapping your baby up in a light, familiar blanket will help to keep your baby feel nice and secure. Swaddling can help soothe a baby because it re-creates the cozy, warm feeling of the womb. Parents usually report that swaddling can also help babies go to sleep faster and stay asleep for longer.
- Cuddle Skin-to-Skin. Opposite from swaddling, you can also try to pull your baby close and give them a loving cuddle. Skin-to-skin contact is even better than the average cuddling. Research shows that cuddling with skin-to-skin contact helps to form a deeper, stronger connection between you and your baby. Similar to swaddling, it creates the movements and warmth your baby felt while in the womb.
- Sucking. One way to promote self-soothing is by giving your baby something to suck on. If your baby is crying, try to help them find their thumb, fist, or finger to calm their nerves. A pacifier will also work well in this situation but waiting to introduce the pacifier until your baby has fully learned how to breastfeed.
- Rock and Sway. Sit with your baby in a rocking chair or place them in a motorized swing or bouncy seat to try and calm them down. The rocking and swaying motions can be very comforting to your baby.
- Try a Sling or Front-Carrier. Another way to try and calm your baby down is by wearing them in a sling or front-carrier and walking around. Most babies will enjoy being close to you and feeling the rhythm of your steps. If your baby is under 3 months, try using a sling or having your baby face you in a front-pack carrier to provide extra head and neck support. A sling will also come in handy for on-the-go nursing or needing to be hands-free while multitasking throughout the day.
- Keep the Volume Low. If you are in a noisy environment and your baby starts to cry, try to find a quiet environment to bring them to. Gently rock your baby to help settle their senses.
- Try the Tub. If your baby loves the water, try filling up the tub with some warm water and giving a quick, relaxing bath.
- Give a Massage. Lay your baby down and try giving a gentle, relaxing massage to calm your little one down. You can try using a bit of lotion or specialized baby oils. Here's one method to try: Place your baby on their tummy and gently massage her shoulders, back, arms and legs for about 1 minute each. Have them also lie on their back and spend about 1 minute extending and flexing her arms and legs.
- White Noise. If your baby is feeling overwhelmed, try turning on white noise. Play a sound off your phone or use a white noise machine.
- Sing a Song. Make your baby feel extra loved and comforted by singing them a song.
- Go Outside. A change of scenery can work wonders for trying to calm your baby down. Take your baby outside to get some fresh air, light, and a change of environment. Try taking your baby for a quick stroll around the neighborhood; the new sights, sounds, and smells will help to soothe them back down.
- Try the “Colic Carry.” If you think your baby is crying because of some extra, trapped gas in their tummy, try the “colic carry” to help relieve the discomfort. Lay your baby on their stomach on your forearm and cradle their head in your hand. With your other hand, gently rub their back to help relieve the trapped gas.
- Entertain Them. If you think your baby is just crying out of boredom, entertain them to try and stop the tears. Make silly noises, read a book, play on the floor with some toys, or dance around together.
For parents, trying to calm down a crying baby can be an exhausting process so remember to take a moment for yourself. Rely on your partner, family members, and friends for some extra support along the way. Here’s some things you can do if you are feeling drained both physically and mentally.
- Take a deep breathe; inhale for 5 seconds, hold at the top, and exhale through your mouth.
- Listen to music for a few minutes.
- Call a friend or family member for emotional support.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
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