When your fussy baby won’t stop crying and you feel like you’re going to LOSE IT, it can be helpful to have a list of soothing techniques you can try.
Most of us end up getting stuck using the same old techniques, again and again, regardless of whether they’re working or not.
Following is a list of 40 techniques you can try to soothe your colicky, crying infant (they’re not in any particular order).
1. Bouncing on the exercise ball
This is the technique I hear most often from parents of babies 0-6 months. If I had to pick a single ‘go to’ technique, this would be it. Ideally, you’ll want to swaddle your baby up nice and snug, and then hold her up against your chest, or up high on your shoulder. Now bouncity-bounce while holding her, until she’s fast asleep. This technique works even better when you combine it with a pacifier or letting her suck on your pinky.
2. Gently rolling baby on an exercise ball
If gas is the problem, gently rolling baby across the top of the exercise ball can help. It works by adding a bit of extra pressure to his tummy, releasing those nasty gas bubbles. It also gives your little one a change of scenery, as well as that little bit of extra motion.
3. The standing jiggle
If you don’t have an exercise ball, the next best thing is the standing jiggle. If possible, swaddle baby up nice and snug, and then hoist him up high onto your shoulder. The key is that his entire head should be above your shoulder. Now jiggle up and down (quickly!) so that baby’s head is gently bobbing. This is the same technique you should use on the exercise ball.
4. The rocking chair
I know, you’re going to tell me the rocking chair is too gentle for your baby, and that it only makes her mad. I hear you. I had two babies like that. If you’re lucky enough to have a baby who likes the gentle sway of a rocker, you’re lucky! If not, you need to take things up a notch: Sway back and forth as HARD and as FAST as you can. Clear some space around the chair: you’re going to need it!
5. The car seat swing
This is a favourite among dads especially. While not sustainable for long periods of time, this can be an instant ‘super soother’. Put baby in her car seat (be sure to buckle her up), and then swing that thing back and forth in a wide arc. Little movements won’t cut it…as long as she’s buckled in, she’s not going anywhere!
6. Baby swing
This is another one that some babies initially appear to hate, but simply need to be convinced of. If possible, swaddle baby up nice and snug (there are swaddles available that only swaddle the arms), soothe him in his preferred method, and then place him (drowsy or completely asleep) in the swing.
Now crank up the swing to the highest setting (important!), preferably accompanied by some loud white noise. It’s super important that your swing goes FAST! Most of the swings on the market are far too slow – the only one I know for a fact is fast enough is the Fisher Price Ocean Wonders Cradle Swing (or any swing in that line).
Do not, I repeat DO NOT, put him in the swing if awake and fussy. As Harvey Karps says, “put a screaming baby in a swing, and you have a swinging screaming baby”.
7. Rocking in the car seat
If you don’t have a swing, or are on the go, rocking your baby in the car seat is a good alternative. Buckle her up, and rock that baby back and forth: fast and hard! We went on an overseas trip when Sammy was 4 months old, and without his swing, this is how I had to get him to sleep.
8. Car ride
The old stand by: the 2am car ride. Certainly not ideal, but most of us have resorted to it when all else fails. Buckle baby up, put some loud white noise in the CD player and drive until the crying stops. If you don’t have a white noise CD, try a white noise app, or even just loud radio static can do the trick.
9. A sling or baby carrier
This is another one you may have to convince your baby of. Strap on a pouch, sling, wrap or carrier, and start moving. The trick is to always combine it with movement; try it in combination with the standing jiggle (#3), or take a short walk outside. Once he’s asleep, you may be able to carefully lay him down. If not, plan to do your housekeeping with baby attached!
10. Stroller ride
Although not all babies enjoy the stroller, a brisk walk can work wonders on babies who do. Bundle her up, pop her in the stroller, and start moving. Just be sure not to slow down or stop. Ever.
11. Baby rocker
I’ve heard very good things from parents about the Fisher Price Rock and Play Sleeper. It’s kind of a cross between a bassinet, bouncy seat and swing. With a nice deep bucket seat, your baby will feel secure while you rock away.
12. The sway
Another technique that’s most effective for mild fussiness, but worth trying nonetheless. Hold baby, preferably in a swaddle, and sway back and forth. The bigger the sway, the better!
13. Knee bends
Want to lose that extra pregnancy weight while calming your fussy baby? In big, fluid motions, bend your knees into a squatting position, and then straighten yourself up. This one works best if your baby is swaddled at the same time. Looking to build those calf muscles? This is the soothing technique for you!
14. Comfort feeding
I’m a ‘do whatever works’ kind of gal. While some may disagree, I say if nursing works, go for it! Particularly during the ‘witching hours’ of around 5pm-midnight, babies may need to cluster feed, or may simply need the comfort that comes with nursing. Don’t be afraid to feed all evening if that’s what it takes…just try to stay on one side if you’re sure it’s comfort he’s needing, and not food.
If you’re lucky enough to have a soother-loving baby, count your blessings! Yes, I’ve heard of nipple confusion too, but from what I can tell, this is largely a myth. Talk with a nurse or lactation consultant, but as far as I’m concerned, if the pacifier helps calm your baby, more power to you! You’re lucky to have something that works.
16. The pinky
Babies that won’t take a pacifier often tend to prefer something closer to the ‘real thing’. Letting him suck on your pinky can be a great alternative to the soother. Weird looking? Kind of. But in that moment, who really cares.
17. The vacuum cleaner
Another cliche, but one that can actually accomplish the herculean task of knocking out a screaming baby. Remember that the womb was loud – we’re talking jet engine loud – so the vacuum isn’t going to hurt her little ears.
18. White noise app
There are many white noise apps available for free for your phone or iPad, if you’re willing to sacrifice your mobile device for the sake of your sanity. Sounds like ‘gentle waves’ and ‘soothing lullabies’ will more than likely just make baby madder, so try to use sounds like radio static, vacuum cleaner, or the generic ‘white noise’ sound.
19. White noise machine
If you’re tired of sharing your iPhone with your baby, it may be time to upgrade to a white noise machine. These will be loud enough for your fussy baby, and are useful to mask household sounds even as your child gets older.
20. The blow dryer
There’s something about the harsh loudness of a blow dryer that’s strangely comforting to fussy babies. A word of warning on this one: make sure to keep it far away from baby, and never leave it on unattended.
21. The fan
While the sound of a standard fan may not be enough to calm really fussy babies, it can work with easier babies. If a regular fan doesn’t work, try a loud bathroom fan or the fan above your stove (which tends to be quite a bit louder).
22. Loud ‘SHUSH’ in the ear.
If you’re stuck with absolutely no other white noise options, a LOUD shushing sound in the ear is usually successful. You may notice your baby suddenly stops crying and looks you in the eyes in surprise. While this one is effective, it’s difficult to do for more than a minute or two without feeling like you’re going to pass out.
23. Sitting next to dishwasher or dryer
The beauty of the dishwasher and dryer is that it’s a combination of cozy warmth, vibrations and soothing white noise. If this alone doesn’t work, try putting the swing right next to it and see if that works.
24. Loud music
While standard white noise is ideal, loud music can do the trick as well. While you don’t want to burst their little ear drums, generally speaking, the louder the better. Watch your baby for cues: if she continues crying, it may be too loud or not quite loud enough.
As we know, babies like to feel as if they’re back in the womb. Swaddling helps achieve this sensation by helping your baby feel warm, secure, and by keeping her flailing little arms in place. But while many babies sleep better with the swaddle, they will often resist the swaddle at first…so much so that you assume he doesn’t like it. Here’s the trick: keep moving. Combining the swaddle with any kind of movement – carrying, the swing, or the exercise ball, for example – can be just the trick to stop the fussies and encourage sleep.
26. The bicycle motion
Place baby on her back in her crib or on a comfy surface, and gently rotate her legs in the air as if she was riding a bicycle. This can help release gas and aid in digestion.
27. Infant massage
You don’t need to have a specific technique or be skilled in massage therapy to be effective at infant massage. Whether it’s the gentle pressure or simply the human contact, I don’t know. But gently rubbing baby’s arms, legs, back and tummy can temporarily provide some needed relief.
28. The 5 S’s from The Happiest Baby on the Block
This is of course a combination of some of the other soothing techniques on this list. The ultimate in baby soothing, these 5 techniques from Harvey Karp’s book The Happiest Baby on the Block are perhaps the most important tool you can have in your arsenal. The 5 S’s are:
29. The colic hold
While this one has only worked for us once or twice, maybe it will work for you. Place your baby face down on your forearm, with her head resting in your hand. This theoretically releases gas and provides gentle pressure on her tummy.
30. Fresh air
Another cliche, but one that often works some soothing magic. Even if all you do is stand out on the front porch for a minute or two, it can be just what your baby needs to distract him from whatever’s bugging him.
31. Give a bath
As a newborn, warms baths were one of the few things that actually calmed our son down. Even now (at 7 years old), he often hops in the bathtub when he’s feeling sad or angry. Make sure the water is the optimal temperature: too cold and he’ll scream even louder. If he still doesn’t like the tub, try getting in with him and see if that helps. This is also a great trick for babies who are having trouble breastfeeding: Feed them in the tub. It may relax them enough that they can finally eat a proper meal.
32. Cut out all stimulation
While many newborns prefer to be surrounded by distractions and loud, droning noises, sometimes it can all get to be a bit much. When all else fails, go into a dark, quiet room, and see if that settles him.
33. Put her down
Even little cuddle bums sometimes need some space. If you’ve tried everything and you find your baby is getting more and more frantic, put her down in a safe place, and see if that helps. When my daughter got particularly fussy, sometimes all she needed was to be put down on the floor so she could flex her arms and legs and cool off a bit!
34. The bum pat
Combined with the standing jiggle, this one can be a lifesaver. Bounce quickly up and down while patting her bum. The trick is to pat it HARD…remember she’s got a diaper on, so you’re not going to hurt her!
35. Warm compress on tummy
For mild fussiness, a warm ‘magic bag’ or hot water bottle (with WARM water) on your baby’s tummy can give some temporary relief. I’ve never seen this one work for the big fussies though!
36. Gripe water
Some people swear by it. It never did anything for us, but when you’re at the end of your rope, it can feel good just to try something. Look for gripe waters without charcoal or other yucky ingredients.
37. Gas drops
If you suspect gas is the issue (it’s usually not), it doesn’t hurt to try giving a few gas drops.
38. Skin-to-skin contact
Particularly effective with newborns, having some skin-to-skin contact can help comfort and calm your baby. Most effective when combined with bottle or breastfeeding.
39. Take his clothes off. All of them.
Some babies HATE being undressed. Others LOVE it. Do you know what your baby prefers? Be a little bit daring, and take ALL his clothes off. Even his diaper. Lay him on a soft towel, and see what happens. You may be surprised! (and would you rather have to clean up a bit of pee, or have him cry for another hour?)
40. Let baby hang out while you shower.
Put your baby in his seat of choice (bouncy seat, car seat or swing) in the bathroom while you shower. For added effect, try turning on the bathroom fan. There’s something about the warmth and the droning white noise of the shower that helps calm and soothe the fussiest baby.
If you’re looking for more answers and guidance regarding your high need or fussy child, you might be interested in my new ebook, The Fussy Baby Survival Guide. It’s jam-packed with information, strategies, stories and the full results of two surveys I’ve done of parents of high need babies. It answers questions like:
Top 10 Natural Remedies for Colicky Babies
Colic Relief: 17 Ways to Calm Colic
Ann’s Story: Not What I Expected
Christine’s Story: Surviving Silent Reflux
Home Remedies for Colic
How to Wear a Fussy Baby