Is your baby crying, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot? Are you wondering how to soothe them?
There are times when your baby cries and 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 no matter what you do, your baby is still fussy. It can even reduce you to tears of frustration as well. Our tips on how to soothe a crying baby can help you settle your little one and restore smiles to everyone’s faces.
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, telling you they want food.
A newborn baby might start to get a bit fussy beforehand. They could be smacking their lips, or putting their fingers or hands into their mouth. They might also be 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 not really known, but doctors usually diagnose it on the rule of threes. If your baby cries for at least three hours every day, for at least three days in a week and for at least three consecutive weeks, colic will usually be mentioned.
Baby may pull their legs up toward their tummy, they might pass gas and 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 breast or bottle fed, it’s inevitable they will swallow some air as they suckle. If this is the case, the baby needs to be burped to release the trapped air.
Colic can be a very frustrating issue for parents. In most cases, the crying tends to be in the early evening hours and lasting 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 out abdominal muscles which reduces some of the pressure babies feel during colic episodes. This often allows them to pass uncomfortable gas as well. Also, doing some “belly time” can help relax these muscles and reduce discomfort as well.
Another way to prevent excessive gas build up is to make sure the infant burps well after feedings. Bottle feeding tends to cause more swallowing of air than during breastfeeding, so a good burping technique is very important. I recommend holding the baby upright against the shoulder or lying him/her belly down across the lap for burping. With less pressure on the abdomen, more air is expelled which prevents or reduces discomfort later (2).
3. Check That Diaper
Some babies will alert you to a less-than-pleasant diaper by crying. Luckily, this one is a quick and easy fix.
4. Baby Is Tired
Babies can often fall asleep with no problem, no matter where they are or what is going on around them. Nevertheless, there are times when a baby can become overtired and fussy, leading to bouts of crying.
5. 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. Crying might just be because they are feeling lonely and want to be reassured with a cuddle.
Despite what your great aunt or grandma might say, you can’t spoil a newborn 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 certainly don’t feel comfortable.
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 a bit chilly.
A good way to determine whether or not your infant is too cold is to look at his/her 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 the skin of your baby looks “flushed” and sweaty, this is a sign that he/she is 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? I know I do and it’s really annoying. Your baby might be experiencing 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. Prior to 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 erupt.
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 a variety of ways to help your baby during this uncomfortable phase (4). Exercise caution when considering teething tablets and some gels that are available over-the-counter. 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
Just like us, when there’s too much commotion happening, your baby might just want some quiet time. I love having the 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. Baby Is Bored
Some babies don’t like staying at home and sleeping and feeding all day, particularly as they are getting older. They want stimulation from games, or to go out and about 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. Baby Is Feeling Sick
If you’ve checked and dealt with 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 baby’s temperature and keep an eye open for other signs of illness.
If, after running through all these scenarios, you’re still unsure what might be wrong, have your baby checked over by your healthcare provider.
Also, newborns are susceptible to some very serious bacterial illness until the age of 3 months old. If the temperature is 100.4F or higher, your baby needs medical attention (5).
Ways You Can Soothe Your Baby
We have highlighted some of the reasons 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 which warrants medical intervention.
All checked and no signs of the obvious, but your baby is still being fussy and crying? Try some of these methods for soothing (6).
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, then wrap the baby in the blanket with the upper edge of the blanket under the 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.
3. Baby Wearing
You’re free to roam around your home and multi-task while carrying 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 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 possibly you.
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 to not 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 remove 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.
5. White Noise
The rhythmic “woosh” noise of products like hair dryers, fans, and even a vacuum, can be soothing for baby. They can block out sounds and noises which 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 the crying and soothe them.
6. Sing to Your Baby
You don’t need to have a voice which is pitch perfect 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 lullabies or your favorite tunes to your baby.
7. Give Baby a Warm Bath
Some babies are mellowed by a nice warm bath. If this applies to your little one, then turn on the faucet and run a bath. The smell of some 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 (9)
Just be sure to remember that pure essential oils should not be used when a baby is younger than three 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 baby.
8. Relax Baby With a Massage
You could stroke baby’s chest from the center out making circles around her 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.
You might even find there are 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 (11).
You could also lie baby down on their back and push their knees up toward their tummy, to try to relieve gas.
The one over-the-counter product that I do recommend to parents to relieve colic are simethicone drops. There have clinically been shown to reduce the size of gas bubbles in the intestines, hence relieving gas pressure and pain (12).
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 or it’s not conducive for strolling with a baby, get the car out. Strap your baby into their car seat and go for a drive. This was one thing that worked for my baby every time when all else had failed.
11. Keep 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.
12. Have Some Quiet Time
There are times when things all get 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 the distractions and they can 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, 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 own nerves, before giving it another shot. Who knows, your baby may fall asleep without your intervention.
Putting It Into Practice
Being a parent is sometimes hard. All babies cry at some point, some more than others. There are many reasons why a baby is being fussy, so it can be hard to work it all out.
Now you are armed with the reasons why your baby might be crying and what you can do to try to calm them. Not all of these tips will work for all babies all of the time, but at least you have an arsenal to choose from. Remember to stay calm and keep trying.