The Fussy Baby Site

How to Soothe a Crying Baby

By Judy Arnall, Founder of Attachment Parenting Canada

It’s 8pm 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 three or four months, the average infant normally cries 1-3 hours a day, most often at suppertime/early evening. It is often thought that inconsolable crying is caused by a baby’s need to discharge the energy from the day.

Fussy Temperament

About 20% of babies are born with a fussy/spirited/high need temperament. They are not trained to be fussy and their temperament is not a reflection of your parenting skills. They are just fussy babies that need extra care and attention all day long (and probably night too).


Another 10 to 20% 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 lasts between 2 weeks and four months of age. It occurs most days. The reason is still not clear but recent research points to an immature nervous system rather then flatulence as previously thought.

Strategies to Soothe a Crying Baby

Check for Illness

As you get to know your baby, you will have intimate knowledge when things are not normal for her. Trust your “gut feeling” if you think she is sick or something is seriously wrong. Call your local health telephone advice line, or take her to the hospital emergency.

Offer Food Next

Even if you’ve heard that babies should eat every 1.5 to 2.5 hours, perhaps she is going through a growth spurt and needs to cluster feed for several days. You can’t over-feed a baby. She will turn her head away from breast or bottle and not suck.

Check Her Diaper

A heavily wet or soiled diaper won’t bother some babies, but will irritate others.

Could Be Gas

Try carrying baby with your forearm around her tummy and gently rub her back. Or lie her 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 Irritants

Check for prickly tags on 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. Try not to disturb them and encourage them to go back to sleep.

Try Motion

Motion really calms fussy babies. Walk, dance, sway, and rock. Go for a walk in the car or stroller.

Try White Noise

White noise from a fan, vacuum or dishwasher can help too. Buy a white noise machine that will play white noise or nature sounds, or make your own cassette recording.

Use a Sling

Carry your baby in a sling, snugli, or similar carrier. Studies done in cultures where babies are constantly carried on the parent’s body, show that babies cry very little. Warmth, touch and motion work magic for babies because they simulate life in the womb.

Wrap and Rock

Wrap baby in a blanket heated from the dryer. Then rock her.

Sing to Your Baby

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.

Keep the Room Dark & Quiet

Babies that are over-stimulated from too many activities can be soothed by gently rocking or holding, in a dark, quiet room.

If your baby’s doctor diagnoses colic, or you have a fussy baby, get support systems in place for you and baby. If you start feeling helpless, frustrated, and angry because baby is still screaming, hand her over to your partner, or a friend or relative that can give you a break. Make a list of her likes and dislikes to post on the fridge. If no one is around, 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. It’s more important to stay calm yourself, then to try and stop your baby’s crying.

Even though 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 time decreases immensely although for high need babies, the crying can last for years. Get support for you!

Judy Arnall, Parent Educator, mother of five and author of “Discipline Without Distress: 125 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery”,

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