Best Ways to Calm Your Crying Baby

If your baby is already here, then you know that babies cry—sometimes a lot! The first thing to remember is that your baby most likely isn’t crying at you, so do your best not to take it personally. That said, a small person whose main mode of communication involves fussing and screaming can be completely overwhelming for a new parent. Read on for some ideas about helping your newborn calm down.

Try feeding your baby. One of the main reasons babies cry is that they are hungry—and they can be hungry for a lot of the day. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, you might be surprised that your baby is hungry again. But it is important to remember that baby might not always eat on a perfect schedule, especially in the early days when you are all getting used to the new normal. Newborns typically need to eat every two to three hours, and sometimes eat even more often than that. With breastfed babies especially, it is a good idea to put baby to the breast as often as they could possibly be hungry, as this helps your body make the appropriate milk supply respond to baby’s feeding needs.

Check baby’s physical comfort. Some babies are bothered by having wet or dirty diapers, while other babies couldn’t care less. Until you figure out where your baby lands on this spectrum, a fresh diaper is always something to try when your baby is crying. Other physical comfort-related ideas to think about when baby is crying are: is baby sick or feverish? Is the temperature in the room too hot or too cold for how baby is dressed? Could baby have an uncomfortable tag in their clothing or a hair tourniquet? Is something bright shining in baby’s face?

Take baby for a change of scene. Sometimes walking over to a window or outside can help calm an overwrought baby. It might be the change in lighting or the change in temperature or smells, but if you and baby are feeling frustrated, walking out the front door or standing and breathing deeply by an open window might help you both calm down. Along these lines, going skin-to-skin with your baby—where you might open up your shirt or robe and lay baby against your chest wearing only their diaper—can calm baby by helping them tune into the sound of your breath and your heartbeat.

Do you have an overtired baby? Believe it or not, newborns should only really be awake about 40 minutes to an hour at a time. If that time sounds impossibly short to you, you are not alone. The idea that you have to fit a diaper change and a feeding, not to mention some wanted bonding time with your baby, in such a short window can be tough to wrap your head around. But the more closely you can keep to this window, the better off you will be because an overtired baby can go from a calm baby to a fussy or screaming baby quickly. Once your baby is overtired, you can try some of the hints below to help them drift off and try to stick to a shorter spacing of naps in the future.

Swaddle that baby. Swaddling—that is, wrapping your baby snugly in a light blanket or specially designed swaddling cloth—is a favorite of some babies, but not of others. The idea is that wrapping baby’s arms gently but tightly helps limit their startle reflex, so they do not jerk themselves awake, and may remind them of the snugness of the womb. If your baby is a swaddling fan, they will likely cry less and sleep better when you try swaddling. If you want to try this, be sure that baby doesn’t overheat and always place baby on their back for sleeping.

Use white noise. Just like swaddling, some babies love white noise and some don’t. White noise, which can be generated by special machines, by apps on your smart phone, or by you making shushing noises with your mouth is thought to calm babies down because it is reminiscent of the sounds they became familiar with in utero.

Does baby want to be moving? Babies often calm down when you walk with them, or hold them while gently bouncing on an exercise ball. Some babies also really like swings or bouncers, as the repetitive motion feels comforting to them. And the reason why the rocker or glider is such a common piece of nursery furniture is that some babies love to rock. If you have been moving around with baby, whether rocking or walking, and baby is still upset, try removing the motion and see if baby settles.

What if nothing works? If all else fails and baby won’t stop screaming, it’s okay to lay baby down in a safe place, like their bassinet or crib, and take a five-minute break in another room. Take some deep breaths and drink a little water before you go back to try to help your baby. It’s possible that your baby might be bored enough without you there to settle down or even fall asleep on their own. If your partner or a trusted friend or family member can take over, that’s a great option, too.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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