How to Calm a Fussy Baby

You’ve welcomed a new member into your family. Congratulations! As a mother I remember the excitement and joy of having a new baby, and I also remember the long nights I spent caring for my son. Parenthood is a wonderful and exhausting experience all at the same time. My little boy was fussy and it took me some time to learn how to soothe him so we could both get much needed rest and safe sleep.

Why do baby’s cry?

A baby can only communicate by crying, and all babies will cry in the first six months of life. During this period babies can cry for 45 to 120 minutes every day. They will usually cry to have their needs met such as when they are hungry, sleepy, or need to have their diaper changed.

Some babies will experience colic. Colic is an excessive amount of crying, usually for more than three hours every day and most often in the evening. The cause of colic is unknown, but it typically peaks between the ages of 6-8 weeks. The good news is that colic will improve on its own!

Ideas for soothing your baby.

If your child is fussy, you may have to try a few different techniques to find one that works.

First, check to see if your baby’s needs are met. Babies like to be dressed warmly but not overheated, they like a dry diaper, and should be fed.

Consider trying a pacifier. Some babies can learn to comfort themselves by sucking and pacifier use may also help to protect against SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Try soothing your child with touch or massage. You can start by covering the baby’s head gently with your hand then stroke the baby’s head from the front of the forehead to the back of the neck. Use a slow motion – one motion for each breath you take in. This can help to calm your breathing and as you relax your baby may start to calm as well. You can do this massage while you hold your baby or after the baby is lying in a crib.

Remember the baby should be alone, on his or her back, and in a crib with no bumpers, blankets, or toys. You can add a comforting “shhh” or humming sound as you massage. This same gentle massage can be used to gently stroke the infant’s abdomen as well.

Some babies will calm with a slow gentle motion like swinging or a riding in a car or stroller. If a baby falls asleep in a swing or other area, they should be gently moved to a crib and placed alone, on his or her back.

Putting a baby in a dark, quiet room with no distractions is best for sleep. Some babies prefer a room with soothing background noise like a fan, a ticking clock, or soft music.

If you feel tired or frustrated it’s time to ask for help. If you are alone make sure your baby is fed, dry and safe, then leave your baby alone in the crib on his or her back while you step away to another room for a few moments. Never shake your baby to calm them, this is dangerous and could damage their brain.

If you are worried that your baby is crying because of illness you should call your child’s pediatrician. Signs your baby may be ill include:

  • constant crying for more than three hours
  • your baby’s cry sounds different or painful to you
  • your baby has vomiting, diarrhea or is not feeding well
  • your baby has a fever of 100.4F or more
  • you feel tired, scared, or overwhelmed

If you believe you may be suffering from postpartum depression, contact a health care provider immediately. For more information on safe sleep practices, click here or watch our Facebook Live.

Melissa Winterhalter, MD
Melissa Winterhalter, MD, has been a physician with the Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for 10 years. She lives in Granville with her husband – a family medicine doc – and their two sons, Eli (9) and Seth (7).

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