How to Soothe a Crying Baby
Crying is your baby's way of letting you know she's hungry, uncomfortable, feeling uncertain, or even just a little gassy! Although you might often be able to interpret your little one’s cries, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out why she's crying and how to comfort her. Read on to find out why your baby won't stop crying, and learn 16 soothing techniques that might help calm your fussy baby.
Crying: How Your Baby Communicates
Since your baby can't verbalize her needs, just about the only way she can communicate is by crying, and it's normal for a newborn to cry for one to four hours every day. As a parent, it’s up to you to try to figure out why she may be crying. It can be a tough job, but you're the person to do it—trust in your abilities!
After a while you may start to recognize the different cries your baby makes. For example, your little one’s hungry cry may be completely different from a cry signaling she’s feeling distressed. Eventually you'll get better at picking up on your baby's signals (cries) and you'll know how to get your baby to stop crying by responding to her cues.
12 Reasons Your Baby May Be Crying
Here are some of the main reasons your baby may be crying:
1. It may be time for a feeding. Pay attention to the signs of hunger; for example, your baby may be smacking her lips or moving her hands to her mouth.
2. She may be too cold or too hot. Your baby could be crying because she's uncomfortably overdressed or underdressed. A good rule of thumb is to dress your baby in the same number of layers that you are in.
3. It may be time for a diaper change. As a newborn, your baby pees and poops quite often, and she could be crying because she is uncomfortable from being wet or soiled. Frequent diaper changes can help keep her comfortable and also reduce the risk of diaper rash. A few ways you can check if your baby's diaper needs to be changed include:
Looking at the wetness indicator
Giving it a quick sniff
Touching the inside for wetness
Noticing if it's saggy or heavy.
4. She may have eaten too much or have reflux. Try to wait at least two to two-and-a-half hours before beginning another feeding as overfeeding may lead to discomfort. If your baby is spitting up or vomiting frequently after a feeding, she may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Contact her healthcare provider if you're seeing the following signs:
Frequent spitting up or vomiting
Fussiness after feedings
Losing weight or not gaining weight.
5. She may have a food allergy or intolerance. It could be that your baby has an allergy to soy or an intolerance for lactose, either of which can make your baby uncomfortable. Talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect your baby may have a food allergy or intolerance. If you're breastfeeding, the healthcare provider may recommend that you remove foods such as dairy products, caffeine, and spicy or gassy foods from your diet as these are common irritants. If you're formula-feeding and your baby is allergic to soy or milk, for example, the healthcare provider may recommend switching to a different formula, such as a hypoallergenic one.
6. She may be teething. The timing of teething varies quite a bit, but when your baby turns about 3 or 4 months old, her teeth may start erupting and with this can come teething pain. To ease your baby's discomfort, try massaging her sore gums with your finger or offer her a firm rubber teething ring to chew on.
7. She may have a fever. If you suspect your baby may have a high temperature, check it with a thermometer to confirm. A rectal reading of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is considered a fever. Contact your baby's healthcare provider immediately if
your baby is 2 months old or younger and has a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
your baby is between 3 and 6 months old and has a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
your baby is older than 6 months old and has a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
8. She may be overstimulated. Your baby can become overwhelmed by too much activity, such as when you go on vacation or are having houseguests. You might consider removing her from all of the action until she's settled.
9. She may be bored. If she’s crying because she is bored, singing or humming to her may help. A change of scenery, such as taking her for a stroll, can also help.
10. She may be tired. Some babies need to cry a little before falling asleep at night. Put her in her crib on her back and let her be. If she's tired, it won't be long until she stops crying and falls asleep.
11. She may be stressed or need to release pent-up energy. Your baby may have periods throughout each day where she cries for no apparent reason. Crying can be a way for her to relieve tension by blocking out the world or by expending some of that extra energy. Oftentimes, after one of these crying spells, she may seem calmer, and later on in the day or at night she may nap or sleep more restfully.
12. She may have colic. This frequent, inconsolable type of crying often sets in around the time your baby is 4 weeks old and may last until she is about 3 or 4 months old. If it’s colic, your baby may cry with her legs drawn in and she may turn red from all the crying. Although experts aren’t quite sure what causes colicky crying, some of the soothing techniques here might help limit or prevent this type of crying.
16 Methods for Soothing Your Crying Baby
In the first months, it's best to respond to your baby's cries as soon as you can. This helps reassure him that you are there and responsive to his needs. Don't think of this as spoiling your child. That's not the case. Answering your baby's cries promptly can get him to stop crying and help him to cry less in the long run.
If you know why your baby is crying—for example, he needs a feeding or a dry diaper— then it's easier to remedy the crying, but sometimes you may have to explore a few different options in order to soothe and console your baby when he won't stop crying. With some trial and error, you may start to see what works well for your little one.
Try these soothing methods to learn which ones work best to help your baby stop crying:
1. Swaddle your baby. Wrapping him in a swaddle blanket can give him a sense of security. You'll want to stop swaddling your baby when you see signs of your baby trying to roll over, which could come when he is about 2 months old.
2. Take your baby into a dim or dark room. This may work well if your baby is overstimulated from too much activity, for example. Place your baby in his crib on his back with the room dimmed or dark. If your baby is under 2 months old, you might like to swaddle him first.
3. Give your baby a soothing bath. The warm water may help calm your baby.
4. Pick your baby up and stroke his head or gently pat his chest or back.
5. Burp your baby. If you suspect your baby may be gassy after a feeding, you'll want to burp him regularly after meals. Try one of these positions for burping your baby:
Hold your baby against your chest with his chin placed over your shoulder. Meanwhile, support him with one hand as you gently pat his back with your other hand. Put a burping cloth over your shoulder first to prevent messes.
Place your baby on your lap sitting upright. Support his head and chest with one hand while you gently pat his back with your other hand.
Lay your baby over your lap with his tummy facing down. At the same time, support his head so that it is at a higher level than his chest, and gently pat his back.
6. Bring your baby to your chest and take deep breaths while holding him close to you. Skin-to-skin-contact can be a nice comfort for your baby.
7. Play calming sounds. You could use a white-noise machine or a fan, for example. These types of sounds and vibrations may give your baby a sense of security.
8. Play soft music. Your baby may calm down to the sounds of relaxing classical music, for example.
9. Sing or talk to your baby. Your voice can be reassuring to your little one. And even if you don't have the best singing voice, you could try singing or humming a lullaby.
10. Try rocking your baby. The rocking movement of sitting in a rocking chair or glider may remind your baby of the movement he felt inside the womb. You could also simply sway your baby in your arms to replicate the motion.
11. Place your baby in a swing or bouncer. The movement can have a calming effect.
12. Go for a stroll with your baby. Put him in his stroller and go for a stroll around the block or in a nearby park.
13. Take him for a car ride. Put your baby in his infant car seat and drive around the neighborhood. The car's vibrations may help soothe him.
14. Wear your baby in a carrier. Place your baby in a carrier, and walk around the house as you do chores, or go for a walk outside. The motion and closeness to you may help your baby feel secure.
15. Have your baby suck on her thumb or a pacifier. Some babies find the sucking motion soothing. Giving your little one a pacifier, for example, can help soothe your baby when it's not feeding time yet. Just keep in mind that if you're breastfeeding, you should wait until your baby is at least 1 month old before offering a pacifier. Don’t force the pacifier if your baby doesn't like it or want it.
16. Give him some quiet alone time in his crib. Place him on his back in his crib and let him cry it out. He may be tired. In fact, some babies can't fall asleep without crying. You may even find your baby falls asleep more quickly at night once he's cried it out.
Advice for Parents: How to Cope When Your Baby Cries
Sometimes, it can be really upsetting to hear your baby cry, especially when nothing you do seems to console him or if you’re not sure why he’s crying. You may have even tried multiple ways of soothing him, but you still can't get him to calm down.
During these times it's important not take your baby's cries personally. You haven’t done anything wrong and you’re not a bad parent. Remember, it's normal for babies to cry as a way to communicate their needs and even just to let off steam.
6 Coping Strategies for Parents
Here are some coping methods to help you stay calm when your baby cries:
Try taking a deep breath and count to 10
Let your baby cry it out for 10 to 15 minutes
Try listening to calming music
Give a close friend or family member a phone call for emotional support; you could even ask for help to mind your little one for a few hours so you can take a break
Do some chores around the house to distract you, like washing the dishes or vacuuming—you may even find the sound of the vacuum calms your little one!
Leave your baby safely in his crib, close the door, and regroup in another room for 10 minutes or so. It's completely normal to get frustrated, but you can't let it affect the way you react. It's never safe to shake, hit, or jerk your baby as it can cause brain damage and endanger his life! Instead, take some time out in another room and go back in when you feel calm and ready.
Whatever you do, make sure your baby is safely in his crib or playpen or being watched by your partner or another adult while you take some time out.
If nothing seems to work or if you suspect your little one has colic, call his healthcare provider. It could be that your baby needs medical attention.
FAQs at a Glance
The Bottom Line
There are lots of ways you can soothe your little one when he’s distressed, but it might take some trial and error to see which one works best for your baby. The next time your baby cries—and it's not because he's hungry or needs a diaper change—try one of the soothing methods in this article to see which one works. Although your little one’s crying spells can be heartbreaking to hear, they will pass in a little while.
How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
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