Trying to soothe a crying baby and feel like you just can’t figure out what’s wrong?
The term mother’s instinct is actually really misleading, because that implies you should just magically always know what to do.
The truth is that when you become a parent you can second guess yourself about everything, and your baby’s reason for crying is one of the main things that keep you on your toes in the early months.
Why is my baby crying?
Your baby’s crying may seem like a mystery but there are only a few key reasons why babies cry. These are:
- Too hot
- Too cold
To help you, and your ears, survive the crying, here are 25 ways to soothe a crying baby.
Which one you use can depend on why your baby is crying, and you can also use more than one tip at a time to help calm your baby.
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1. Try to identify the source
The first thing to do is to try and identify what’s wrong with your baby. This is easier said than done of course, and can lead to a lot of stress on your part!
Your baby can’t tell you what the problem is, so you need to work through the most obvious reasons for your baby crying.
Newborn babies rarely cry because they have just done a wee or a poo. They’re generally quite happy to just sit in it if everything else is OK.
Assess whether there’s anything that might be causing your baby pain, such as a piece of clothing that’s too tight.
As your baby grows and you get more experience, you will learn to interpret your baby’s cries and mood easier and so you will feel less flustered when they are crying.
If you are concerned about colic, don’t forget to read my post about why it’s probably not colic!
If you are really stumped, and worried, go to see your doctor or visit your local drop-in health clinic.
2. Cuddle your baby
One of the hardest things to accept as a new parent can be that your baby basically wants to live in your arms 24/7.
Although you might love your own personal space, your baby does not. They love you and they just spent nine months living in you. That means they don’t want to be put down. Ever.
This is a tough one, as you actually need to get stuff done! For the first few weeks of your baby’s life, submit to this new reality. They’re still tiny and learning how to be in the world.
Then you can gradually work to help them learn to self-soothe, if that’s what you want.
3. Swaddle your baby
Babies love to feel constricted because it reminds them of the womb. Try swaddling your baby in a light fabric blanket, such as a giant muslin.
You can get readymade swaddles that make this way easier. Just zip it up and your baby is swaddled!
4. Cool them down
The general rule for how to dress your baby is that they should wear one more layer than you do to feel comfortable.
In the height of summer you may find your baby getting too hot quickly and upset that they can’t cool themselves down.
Help your baby by dabbing them with a damp wash cloth and stripping them right down to their nappy. Keep them out of the direct sun and try to cool their bedroom at night.
I have loads of tips about cooling down babies in hot weather on another post.
5. Warm them up
If it’s winter your baby may be too cold! Check your own thermostat is at a temperature that makes you feel comfortable. Add an extra blanket on top of them, or make sure they have a vest underneath their babygro.
Do be careful not to overheat your baby. It’s a delicate balancing act! Don’t leave them right next to a piping hot heater or radiator and remember to check on their bedroom temperature before you go to bed at night.
6. Wear your baby
If you have stuff to do, but your baby insists on sticking close, then try a sling. You can pop it on and hit the shops or get the housework done.
Have a look at cloth slings and baby carriers to see which you might prefer. Cloth is more comfy for just wearing around the house.
7. Try a bouncy walk
Movement is very soothing for babies, so try different varieties of walks and try to keep a rhythm going. You’ll figure out what your baby loves after a bit of trial and error.
8. Take them for a drive
The car is a great way to soothe a baby! They get distracted by the noise and motion. This is perfect for helping an overtired baby.
9. Use white noise
A bit of background noise can help to distract your baby and give them something else to focus on.
Try soft music or a white noise machine, or track on YouTube.
10. Help your baby poop
Has it been a while since your baby did a poo? If you haven’t seen a dirty nappy for a while and they seem to be in pain, it could be they are constipated. This is unlikely with breastfed babies, but can happen with formula-fed and weaning babies.
Help your baby to do a bowel movement by first laying them on their back, either on your lap or on the floor. Next take hold of their feet and move their legs as if they are riding a bicycle. The circular motion can help to get the bowel moving.
You could also try gentle tummy massage, a warm bath and extra fluids. If your baby is very young, consult a midwife or doctor before trying something such as prune juice to help.
11. Give them extra feeds
Your baby’s fussiness and unwillingness to be comforted could be down to a growth spurt.
In the early weeks, its especially important to let your baby feed whenever you think they might be hungry. If you are breastfeeding your baby will be establishing your supply and this means they will be suckling round the clock some days.
Surrender to it and get someone over as much as possible to help you out and give you little breaks here and there.
12. Offer your baby a dummy
Babies love to suckle. It can really help them ease off to sleep as it’s such a natural soothing motion for them.
Try a dummy if you are happy to. Some mums worry they shouldn’t introduce a dummy, but they can be really great at bed and naptimes for babies who struggle to fall asleep. Remember you can always wean your baby off the dummy at a later date.
Singing a soothing song to your baby can both distract and calm them down.
Try singing your favourite tune, or make something up!
14. Check for teething signs
The first sign of teething is usually tears. This is followed by a lot of dribble and more tears!
Your baby may be chomping away on their hand, irritable and, of course, crying a lot more.
If you think it could be teething, have a look in your baby’s mouth and feel around the gums with a clean finger. A tooth will cause the gum to look a little red and you will be able to feel a slight bump underneath the gum.
To soothe teething pain, you can try teething rings, breastmilk lollipops and a wet wash cloth. Check out this list of natural ways to ease teething pain.
Have a chat with your baby. Tell them anything at all about what you’re up to that day or what you do at work.
They will take comfort from the sound of your voice and it can distract them from their crying.
16. Try the colic hold
Place your baby tummy down on your forearm, with their arms and legs on either side.
You could also try this position with your baby across your legs. They find being on their tummy relaxing sometimes.
17. Go for a walk
A change of scene can make all of the difference for both of you. Being cooped up indoors might feel like it’s all you want to do right now, but actually fresh air can really help your stress levels and calm your baby down.
18. Shut out all stimulation
One of the main reasons for crying is being overtired and/or overstimulated.
Newborn babies have a very short window during which they can cope with activity. After that if they are being passed around a room or having toys shoved in their face, they will be getting stressed out by it all.
Try taking your baby to a darker room and simply holding them quietly. You could try softly saying “shhhh” to them as well to help calm them down.
19. Leave the room
If you are stressed, angry or frustrated, this can make the crying worse.
Leave the room for five minutes to give yourself time to take a deep breath and calm down before trying to help your baby again.
Make sure your baby is in a safe spot where they can’t get to anything or anywhere unsafe before you take your brief break.
20. Burp them
This one should be further up the list, because it’s such a common thing for us parents to forget to do!
All babies can get trapped wind, although it is less likely with breastfed babies.
Try burping your baby in a few different positions in case it’s a particularly stubborn bit of trapped wind.
You can hold them upright on your lap, supporting their chin with one hand while you pat their back with the other. Alternatively you can pop them over your shoulder, but make sure you wear a muslin.
21. Play with them
Your baby could just be bored! If they have been staring at the same toy for a while, try something new. Make a silly face at them, or bounce them on your knee while singing a nursery rhyme.
If you’re looking for inspiration, here are 40 things to do with your baby at home.
22. Pop them in the bath
The stimulation and excitement of a bath will often stop crying immediately. Make the bath relaxing and comfortable with lots of bubbles.
23. Try a relaxing massage
Get some baby oil or moisturiser and give your baby a gentle massage. Try spelling out letters on their tummy very gently and rub their feet and toes.
24. Elevate their bed at one end
Some babies suffer from silent reflux. This is where a little tiny bit of their last feed keeps popping up from the stomach, along with a little stomach acid, causing a burning sensation in their chest. It’s basically heartburn.
Some babies have reflux where they throw up frequently, while others the issue is not so severe that they are sick, but they do suffer pain.
Silent reflux is usually something your baby will grow out of, as the muscle at the top of their stomach develops.
In the meantime you can help them by feeding them little and often, and elevating their cot at one end.
I used to do this with a pile of books!
This helps keep your baby in a slightly elevated position which will get gravity to do its job and keep the feed down rather than rushing up.
25. If all else fails…
Surrender to the fact your baby may be going through a growth spurt or a developmental phase.
These are testing but they do pass. If you are confident your baby is feeding well and otherwise healthy, ride it out and give them all of the comfort they need. It will pass!