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Soothing A Crying Baby

It's 8 pm and your baby won't stop crying. You've checked for signs of illness, and she seems healthy. She's just not happy and you are desperate to soothe her. What can you do? Infants cry because it's the only way they can communicate their needs.

Between the ages of birth to four months, the average normal infant cries one to three hours a day, most often at supper time/early evening. About 20 percent of babies are born with a fussy temperament. They are not trained to be fussy and their temperament is not a reflection of your parenting skills. They are just high need babies that require extra care and attention all day long (and probably night too).

Another 10 to 20 percent of babies are afflicted with colic. Colic is different from temperamental fussiness and is a regular pattern of crying that lasts for four hours at a time and occurs daily between the ages of two weeks and four months. The reason is still not clear but recent research points to an immature nervous system rather then gassiness as previously thought.

Some strategies to soothe a crying baby:
  • Check for illness. As you get to know your baby, you will have intimate knowledge of when things are not normal for her. Trust your ‘gut feeling’ if you think she is sick. Call the Early Start line, or The Alberta Children's Hospital Advice line or take her to emergency.
  • Offer food next. Even if you've heard that babies should only eat every one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours, perhaps she is going through a growth spurt and needs to ‘cluster’ feed for several days. You can't overfeed a baby. If hunger is not the problem, she will turn her head away from the breast or bottle. • Check her diaper. A heavily wet or dirty diaper won't bother some babies, but will irritate others.
  • Check for gas. Try carrying baby with your forearm around her tummy and gently rub her back. Or lie her tummy down on your forearm with your inside elbow supporting her head and your hand supporting her pelvis. Gently rub her back with your other hand.
  • Check for prickly tags on her clothing or hairs and threads wrapped around toes or fingers or neck. Baby may be in pain from some kind of irritant. • Check if baby is too hot/too cold. Baby should wear the same amount of clothing layers that you do.
  • Check if baby needs more sleep. Some babies wake up and seem fussy. Keep the stimulation minimal and encourage them to go back to sleep. • Motion helps calm fussy babies. Walk, dance, sway, rock. Go for a stroller walk or car ride. • White noise from a fan, vacuum or dishwasher can help too. Buy a machine that will play white noise or nature sounds, or make your own cassette recording.
  • Carry your baby in a sling, backpack, or Snugli. Studies of cultures where babies are constantly carried, show that babies cry very little. Warmth, touch and motion are soothing for babies because they simulate life in the womb.
  • Wrap baby in a blanket heated from the dryer, then rock her. • Music or humming may help calm the baby.
  • Swaddle baby. Flinging arms and legs can upset some babies. Others like loose clothing that allows movement of arms and legs.
  • Babies that are over stimulated from too much activity can be soothed by gentle rocking in a dark, quiet room.

If you have a fussy baby, it's important for you to have a support system. If you start feeling helpless, frustrated, and angry because baby is still screaming, despite all your attempts to soothe her, hand her over to your partner, or a friend or relative that can give you a break. If no one is available to help you, make a safe choice and put the baby down in the crib while you take some deep breaths and calm down. It's okay to take a breather, even if baby is screaming. Although it doesn't seem like it at the time, this crying stage passes very quickly. From four to five months of age, baby's crying decreases immensely.

Judy is author of “Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery." She has also written many articles on parenting, published in various newspapers, and magazines. Combined with her 13 years of experience volunteering on the city’s crisis telephone lines, Judy has a broad understanding of the issues facing parents and relationships in the new millennium. She is a believer in helping parents make informed decisions based on research based parenting information. She can be reached at or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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