It’s late in the afternoon, and you’ve just reheated your coffee for the sixth time. With feedings, diaper changes, and playtime, you’ve barely had time to brush your teeth let alone eat. Your baby wouldn’t nap no matter what you tried, and now they’re overtired and crying. You’re close to tears yourself because nothing you’ve done seems to calm your little one.
Did you know babies cry for many different reasons? They’re trying to tell you they need something, but it can be so hard to figure out what that is. As a mom of three, a registered nurse, and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I wanted to share some tips to help you determine why your baby is upset and how you can end the crying spell.
Next time you feel overwhelmed and out of options, take a few deep breaths and try one of these tips to soothe your fussy baby.
1. Ensure your baby is dressed appropriately.
Since babies can’t regulate their body temperature as well as you can, a good rule of thumb is to dress your baby in one more layer than you’re wearing. If it’s cold, add clothing in layers. If your baby is cranky and their skin is flushed, it may be a sign they’re overheated; see if removing a layer helps.
2. Hold your baby across your arm.
My father-in-law taught me this one, and since he had ten babies, I take his advice seriously. Take your baby and place them belly down over your forearm, with your hand supporting their chin. For maximum soothing, you can even bounce them lightly or pat their bottom.
3. Change their dirty diaper.
While blowouts are obvious, your baby’s diaper may become full without your realizing it. If your baby is fussy, double-check their diaper. A clean diaper can reset everything.
4. Feed your baby.
Is your baby inconsolable because they’re hungry? Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in soothing our babies that we forget how long it’s been since we fed them last. Newborns generally eat every 2-3 hours, but this can vary based on your breast milk supply, your baby’s intake, cluster feedings, growth spurts, and more.
Crying is a late sign of hunger; some early signs of hunger include smacking or licking lips, moving head side to side, and sucking on hands. While some crying babies will latch easily when offered the breast or a bottle, others may need to be calmed first.
5. Offer a pacifier.
Sucking is calming for infants, and they’ve been doing it since they were in the womb. If your baby has recently eaten and is gaining weight well, you may choose to offer a pacifier. If you aren’t offering pacifiers or are in a pinch, you could offer your clean finger.
6. Go for a car ride.
If you’re feeling a little antsy and have an inconsolable baby, buckle them into their car seat and head out for a drive. (I still use this trick with my three kids -- none of whom are infants.) If you have any luck, your baby will soon be soothed, maybe even asleep, and you can enjoy your favorite beverage or a sweet treat in silence. Drive around aimlessly in glorious silence until your little one wakes up, or if they transfer easily (don’t tell your friends!), return home and place your baby in their safe sleep area.
7. Wear your baby.
Babywearing saved my sanity more than once, especially when I had more than one child to take care of. Need to prepare dinner, do laundry, or do the dishes, but your baby is fussing? Grab your wrap, ring sling, or structured carrier, place your baby in it, and before you know it they'll be as cool as a cucumber. You can even breastfeed while babywearing.
8. Bounce them softly.
When you were pregnant, do you remember how as soon as you would lie down to sleep your baby would become more active than they had been all day? Your movement soothed them, so when you stopped moving to go to sleep, they started boogying.
Babies love being soothed with bouncing and rocking. You could cradle your little one in your arms and bounce them softly while sitting on a yoga ball. You could even babywear while bouncing to keep your arms from getting tired.
9. Swaddle your baby.
Swaddling mimics the close quarters of your womb. Most babies love to be swaddled and will calm shortly after being wrapped up. Combine swaddling with soft bouncing, and you have a dynamic duo. *Reminder that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies more than three months old or who can roll over should not be swaddled while sleeping.*
10. Take a walk.
Getting a little change of scenery can do wonders for a relentlessly crying baby. It can help your mood too! If you’re struggling to soothe your baby, take them outside for a short (or long) walk.
11. Place your baby skin to skin.
Skin-to-skin or kangaroo care has many benefits including but not limited to stabilizing heart rate, blood sugar levels, body temperature, and oxygen levels; and, yep, you guessed it, calming your baby and promoting sleep. Anyone can do skin-to-skin contact (you, your partner, or another relative).
12. Turn on a sound machine, play soothing music, or gently shush your baby.
Whether it’s a rowdy older sibling, other crying babies, or crowded settings, loud noises can overstimulate and upset your baby. A white noise machine can help drown out excess noise. Turn it on during naptime, or keep a portable one in your diaper bag for on-the-go soothing.
If you don’t have a sound machine, put a white noise recording or app on your phone. You can also try singing, playing soft music (classical is a great option), or gently shushing your baby by putting your mouth up to their ear and making a shushing sound.
13. Turn the lights down.
Lighting affects circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep-wake cycles. White light (fluorescent light bulbs and LED bulbs) and blue light (sunlight, computers, TVs, smartphones, etc.) may impact sleep.
If your baby is overly tired and fussy and you’re out and about, try putting a breathable swaddle blanket/muslin over the car seat or stroller. If you’re home, try dimming the lights or turning them (or other sources of light) off to help promote a relaxing and soothing setting.
14. Give them a bath.
Bath time is a tried-and-true method for getting babies ready for bed, so why not try it for calming your baby? You can join in on the fun for a little skin to skin, breastfeeding, and R&R. Baths even work for calming toddlers.
15. Have someone else take over.
If you find yourself still struggling to soothe your baby and feel like you need a breather, ask someone else to take over. Maybe that is a partner -- or maybe that means calling your neighbor, friend, or relative to help out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And when your baby is older, be sure to help out a struggling friend when they're in need.
As you may have noticed, many of these tips can be used in conjunction with another. When trying one (or a combination) to soothe your baby, keep with it for a few minutes before moving on to the next one.
I hope these tips for calming a crying baby help soothe your little one. Which tip is your favorite? Do you have a baby-calming method that’s not listed? What’s your trick for getting the happiest baby? Comment below!