How to Comfort a Crying Baby
You've fed, burped, changed, and rocked your baby, but he or she is still crying. And crying. Your nerves are frayed, your sleep is wrecked, and you're losing confidence as a new parent. Now what?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it's common for infants to have "fussy" periods, especially between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight.
Some babies between 3 and 12 weeks of age cry for long stretches. At this period, there are steps in development when their sleep is less settled.
"Colicky" babies—generally, those who cry nonstop for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week—are thought to have a built-in tendency to overreact to any stimulation, be it a bowel movement or slight temperature change. In short, they don't easily adjust to the world outside the snug womb. Colic usually disappears around 4 months of age..
Every baby has a unique personality. Just as some babies are laid-back, some babies cry more than others. And the longer a baby cries, the harder it tends to be to get them to stop.
Give these tear-stopping techniques a try:
Wrap the baby like a burrito. Swaddling babies snugly in a soft blanket helps keeps their arms and legs from flailing and can switch on relaxation. If the weather is hot, however, beware of overheating. Be careful to wrap the legs loosely so that they are free to move. Wrapping the legs too tightly can cause a condition called hip dysplasia. There are special swaddling blankets that are designed to make swaddling your baby easier.
Wear your baby. Babies who are carried more cry less. But a wearing baby in a sling for several hours a day also cuts crying and provides constant sound, temperature, and motion that signal comfort. Special slings and carriers allow you to wear your baby while having one or two hands free. Babies like being close to you because they stay warm, they can hear your breathing and heartbeat, and they like the motion. It is very important to make sure that your baby’s face isn’t covered and that you can see his or her mouth and nose. Placing your baby naked against your bare chest (called skin-to-skin contact) can be very soothing to a crying baby. Some find that taking a warm bath or shower can calm a baby who is upset
Switch on a quiet, meditative noise. A running shower, a whirring fan, a white noise machine, or a recording of the vacuum cleaner helps block outside stimulation and may mimic the steady sounds of the womb. It's important to keep the volume low. Constant loud noises can damage your baby's hearing.
Get moving. A spin in the car, motion swings, or dancing can also soothe a fussy baby.
Drape your baby. Draping your baby along your forearm with his or her head in the crook of your elbow provides warmth and pressure to relax a tense, fussy baby.
Shushing noises. You can also try making a shushing noise in the baby's ear. This mimics the sounds inside the womb and can be very calming.
Pacifiers and nursing. Babies find sucking to be very soothing. If you are breastfeeding, nursing the baby is a great way to offer comfort. Pacifiers can also be used to help the baby self-soothe.
Take a stress break. If you have tried everything that you know how to do and your baby is still crying, you can place your infant in a safe place (crib, swing, etc.) and go into a quiet room for a few minutes. NEVER shake your baby. If you feel yourself losing control of your emotions, take a few minutes to calm yourself before returning to care for your baby.
Ask for help. Have your partner, family member, or neighbor care for the baby while you take a break. Having some time to walk, take a bath/shower, or take a short nap can be very beneficial. This time allows you to “recharge” and return to your baby with calm emotions. A colic support group can help you cope until your baby outgrows crying. (And they all do!)
If your baby doesn't respond to the above techniques, be sure to contact your health care provider to make sure that there are not health concerns that need to be addressed.
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
- Trevino, Heather M., BSN, RNC