Is your baby crying, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot? Are you wondering how to soothe them?
Sometimes when your baby cries, you can calm them and restore the status quo with little effort. Then there are occasions when you just can’t console them, and they turn into a red-faced screaming banshee.
It can be difficult and trying when your baby is still fussy, no matter what you do. It can even reduce you to tears of frustration as well. Our time-tested and expert-approved tips on how to soothe a crying baby can help you settle your little one and restore smiles to everyone’s faces.
- Babies cry for various reasons: hunger, gas, diaper changes, fatigue, needing cuddles, temperature, pain, teething, overstimulation, boredom, or illness.
- Soothing techniques include swaddling, pacifiers, babywearing, rocking or gliding, white noise, singing, warm baths, massages, and alleviating colic.
- Going outside for a walk or a drive can provide fresh air and motion that help calm a fussy baby and revitalize parents.
- Quiet time and engaging play can help when a baby is overstimulated or bored, while monitoring for signs of illness and consulting a healthcare provider is important if crying persists.
Why Is My Baby Crying?
All babies cry for many different reasons. Let’s take a look at some of them.
1. Your Baby Is Hungry
Chances are this is the first thing that will cross your mind when your baby starts bawling. You can help prevent them from getting upset by recognizing the signs they give you when it’s time for them to eat.
A newborn baby might start to get a bit fussy when hungry. They could be smacking their lips or putting their fingers or hands into their mouth. They might also start rooting — turning their head toward your hand if you stroke their cheek.
2. Your Baby Has Gas or Colic
Your baby will appear to be in pain and will cry if they have gas or colic. The cause of colic is unknown, but doctors usually diagnose it on the rule of threes. If your baby cries for at least three hours every day, at least three days a week, and for at least three consecutive weeks, colic will usually be mentioned.
When experiencing colic pain, a baby may pull their legs up toward their tummy. They might pass gas and will generally be unsettled. Feeding can become difficult, as they might suck for a minute or two and then resume crying (1).
Babies who fuss directly after feeding could have gas. Whether breastfed or bottle fed, they will inevitably swallow some air as they suckle. If this is the case, you’ll need to burp your baby to release the trapped air.
Colic can be a very frustrating issue for parents. In most cases, the crying tends to happen in the early evening hours and may last through bedtime.
I recommend a few techniques that seem to be helpful. Placing the baby in a warm bath or applying a warm, moist washcloth onto the belly helps to relax the abdominal muscles, which reduces some of the pressure babies feel during colic episodes. This technique often allows them to pass uncomfortable gas as well. Tummy time can also help relax these muscles and reduce discomfort.
Another way to prevent excessive gas build-up is to ensure your baby burps well after feedings. Bottle feeding tends to cause more air swallowing than breastfeeding, so you must master a good burping technique. Hold your baby upright against your shoulder or lay them belly down across your lap for burping. With less pressure on the abdomen, more air is expelled, which prevents or reduces discomfort later (2).
3. It’s Diaper Time
Some babies will alert you to a less-than-pleasant diaper by crying. Luckily, this one is a quick and easy fix.
4. Your Baby Is Tired
Babies can often fall asleep with no problem, no matter where they are or what is happening around them. Nevertheless, there are times when a baby can become overtired and fussy, leading to bouts of crying.
5. Your Baby Needs Cuddles
Babies love to be held and cuddled. They want to hear your voice, listen to your heartbeat, see your face, and inhale your unique smell. They might cry because they feel lonely and want you to reassure them with a cuddle.
Despite what your great aunt or grandma might say, you can’t spoil a baby by giving them too many cuddles (3).
6. Your Baby Is Hot or Cold
I am sure you appreciate how we feel as adults if we are too hot or too cold. We don’t resort to crying, but we don’t feel comfortable either.
Babies let us know they are uncomfortable by crying. While they like to be warm and cozy, they might need an extra layer of clothing if it’s chilly.
A good way to determine if your infant is too cold is to look at their hands and feet. If they feel cold and look a bit pale, the blood vessels are constricting in the hands and feet to prevent heat loss from the rest of the body. Adding a warmer onesie or an additional layer of clothing can resolve this issue. On the contrary, if your baby’s skin looks “flushed” and sweaty, this is a sign that they are wearing one layer too many.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
7. Something Is Causing Them Pain
Do you sometimes find the odd tag on a piece of clothing will scratch and irritate you? I know I do, and it’s really annoying. Your baby might experience a similar thing. It could be a clothes tag or even the clothing itself that they find scratchy.
8. There’s a Tooth Coming Through
Tears and fussiness often go hand-in-hand with teething. Those pesky teeth are trying to push through your baby’s gums, causing a lot of pain.
In clinical practice, I usually begin to see discomfort from teething around 6 months old. Before this age, there can be lots of drooling and chewing on fingers or other objects, but the baby is calm and happy. This kind of pain can be present for a few consecutive days, then subside. Teething can be a source of discomfort every few weeks until after the second birthday when the last set of molars erupts.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
The teeth will be there even before you can see them, so feel your baby’s gums if you’re unsure why they are crying. If there is an extra-hard section, this may be a new tooth trying to break through.
There are several ways to help your baby during this uncomfortable phase (4). Exercise caution when considering teething tablets and over-the-counter gels. Some contain harmful ingredients, such as belladonna. We recommend consulting with your pediatrician before trying any of these remedies.
9. There’s Too Much Going On
Like us, when there’s too much commotion, your baby might just want some quiet time. I love having family over to visit but am usually relieved when the frenetic cooking and looking after them ends. I get my home back, and all is good in my world.
Babies can feel just the same — too much noise, too much being passed around, and they can’t cope. They start crying to let you know they want some quiet time as well.
10. Your Baby Is Bored
Some babies don’t like staying at home and sleeping and feeding all day, particularly as they get older. They want stimulation from games or to go out for a change of scenery.
Try to find some mother and baby groups so you can hang out with moms in the same position as you.
11. Your Baby Is Feeling Sick
If you’ve checked and dealt with your baby’s needs and they are still crying, they could be feeling ill. Maybe they’re getting a cold, or they have an upset tummy. Check your baby’s temperature, and watch for other signs of illness.
If you’re still unsure what might be wrong after running through all these scenarios, have your baby checked over by your health care provider.
Also, newborns are susceptible to some very serious bacterial illnesses until 3 months old. Your baby needs medical attention if their temperature is 100.4F or higher (5).
Ways You Can Soothe Your Baby
We have highlighted some of the reasons your baby might be crying. Now let’s look at the methods you can utilize to soothe them.
First, rule out feeding or diaper changes. These can easily be solved, and your baby will likely settle. Also, check that they aren’t showing signs of illness that warrant medical intervention.
If those methods don’t work, try some of these options for soothing (6).
Swaddling your baby in a cozy blanket can help make them feel secure and curb the crying (7). It gives your baby the feeling of being in the womb and might settle them quicker.
Some little ones don’t like their arms enclosed in the swaddle. They might use their fingers or thumb to self-soothe. In this case, wrap your baby in the blanket with the upper edge under their arms so they are free.
2. Pacifiers or Fingers for Sucking
Sucking is not always associated with food. Sometimes babies will suck their thumb or fingers to soothe themselves. They will even suck on your finger — but make sure it’s clean before they do.
Pacifiers or binkies can be a lifesaver for a baby who likes to suck to soothe. However, if you’re breastfeeding a newborn, ensure your baby has the hang of it before using a pacifier (8).
3. Baby Wearing
Babywearing using a sling or carrier has become the “in thing” in recent years. It’s no surprise, as it helps to settle and soothe a baby without tying up your hands.
You’re free to roam around your home and multi-task while carrying your baby close. Baby will enjoy the motion and feeling of closeness. Some slings will even let you nurse on the go when your baby is little.
For the first three months, your baby will need to face you in the carrier so their head and neck are supported. After this, you can wear them front facing or in a back carrier so they can see what’s going on around them.
4. Rocking or Gliding
Rocking chairs can be a help when it comes to calming your baby. Cuddle them close and gently rock back and forth. The motion will soothe them and probably relax you too.
There are also some baby-friendly, hands-free rockers you can buy. They range from motorized swings and bouncy seats to automatic cradles. Just make sure they are age- and weight-appropriate for your baby.
The other thing to think about with the hands-free options is not to let your baby get used to falling asleep in them. They could get used to motion sending them to sleep and expect it all the time. It’s better to move them to their crib when they get sleepy. It is also safer for babies to sleep on a flat surface, such as their crib, to prevent SIDS (9).
5. White Noise
The rhythmic “woosh” noise of products like hair dryers, fans, and even a vacuum, can be soothing for babies. They can block out sounds and noises that may startle a baby. You can find mobiles or machines that emit white noise to help settle your baby.
Even constantly and quietly shushing your baby can reduce crying and soothe an upset little one (10).
6. Sing to Your Baby
You don’t need to have a pitch-perfect voice to sing to your baby. They don’t care how well you can sing, just that they can hear the sound of your voice.
So break out your inner Kelly Clarkson and sing your favorite tunes or soft lullabies to your baby.
7. Give Your Baby a Warm Bath
Some babies are mellowed by a nice warm bath. If this applies to your little one, turn on the faucet and run a bath. The smell of some essential oils like chamomile can also soothe a crying baby and help relieve colic. It is best to avoid lavender, however, due to potential adverse hormone effects (11)
Pure essential oils should not be used when a baby is younger than 3 months. Neither should they be put in the bathwater. What you can do, instead, is use a diffuser to impart the soothing aroma in the room where you bathe your baby.
8. Relax Your Baby With a Massage
Massaging your baby gently and lovingly might help ease their bouts of crying. Only use oils and lotions that are safe for your baby’s delicate skin.
You could stroke your baby’s chest from the center outward, making circles around their belly button. Roll arms and legs between your warmed hands, or stroke the limbs from the torso to the tips of the fingers and toes. If your baby is happy lying on their tummy, you can also massage their back up and down and side to side.
There may even be programs in your area where you can meet up with other moms and learn about baby massage.
9. Alleviating Colic
Putting some pressure on your baby’s tummy can often help alleviate colic and the associated crying. Lay your baby tummy down across your knees, and rub their back. Alternately, hold your baby upright with their tummy on your shoulder (12).
You could also lay your baby down on their back and push their knees toward their tummy to relieve gas.
One over-the-counter product I recommend to parents to relieve colic is simethicone drops. These have been clinically shown to reduce the size of gas bubbles in the intestines, relieving gas pressure and pain (13).
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
10. Go Outside
Motion and fresh air can help soothe a fussy, cranky baby. So break out the stroller, baby carrier, or sling, and go for a walk. Not only will this calm your baby, but it might also revitalize you.
If the weather prevents you from walking around the neighborhood, get in the car. Strap your baby into their car seat and go for a drive. This was one thing that worked for my baby when all else had failed.
11. Keep Your Baby Entertained
Dancing around the room with your baby in your arms, or sitting on the floor playing with them, can help stop the crying. Babies, just like adults, can get bored.
Show them their collection of nice rattles and baby toys. Maybe get some hand puppets and act out with silly noises, or read a book to them.
12. Have Some Quiet Time
Sometimes things get to be too much, and your little one just can’t cope. Switch off the television, dim the lights, turn off your phone, and just chill with your baby.
All the new things happening in a baby’s life can be overwhelming, and the only reaction they know is to cry. Remove all distractions to help them calm down.
13. If Nothing Works
If you do find that whatever you do, your baby is still crying and you feel out of control, call on your partner, best friend, parent, or neighbor and ask them to take over for a while so you can regain composure and try again.
As long as you know there’s nothing wrong and your baby is just upset, you can leave the room and give yourself a few minutes to calm your nerves before giving it another shot. Who knows, your baby may fall asleep without your intervention.