Healthy Kids: How to soothe a fussy baby


    (Stock photo via Kelli Warner/Healthy Kids)

    When babies cry, oftentimes the reason is clear: they’re hungry, wet or tired, and they want you to make it better. Other times, babies cry for no obvious reasons and soothing your fussy infant is not so easy.

    “Some crying is physiologically normal. The brains of infants are very immature, and so babies are easily rattled and easily overwhelmed,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates. “I think a lot of parents get really concerned about which cries to worry about.”

    Is there a medical issue?

    In some cases, constant crying may indicate a medical problem. Call your doctor immediately if your crying newborn:

    • Has a fever
    • Is injured in any way
    • Has blood in their stool, which may indicate a feeding intolerance

    It’s also estimated that up to 40 percent of babies develop what’s known as colic, which means they cry inconsolably for three hours or more a day for three weeks or more. Colic usually doesn't point to any health problems and eventually goes away on its own, typically by the time the baby is 3 to 4 months old.

    Calming your little crier

    Babies who have no underlying medical reasons may also cry for long periods of time. While no single method works for soothing all babies, try these techniques to help your little one feel better:

    Rock your baby. To help soothe your fussy infant, hold and rock your baby as much as you need to; you can’t spoil a baby by holding him or her too often, and infants are used to motion.

    “Remember that for 10 months of gestation, your baby was snuggly inside your body and was rocked 24/7,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “A lot of crying newborns are just trying to get used to this environment, which feels physically different to them. So, hold your baby.”

    Swaddle your baby in a large, thin blanket to help her feel secure. Dr. Bradshaw demonstrates how to do it correctly in this video.

    Dim the lights and shut off the TV. Too much stimulation can jangle a newborn's nerves.

    Turn on calming sounds. A fan can often do the trick. Or, try making a gentle “shushing” sound softly in your baby’s ear, over and over again, which mimics what your infant heard while in the womb. You can also try white noise—any machine with a consistent rushing sound can have a soothing effect. Experiment with recordings of waves on the beach, rainfall or the sound of a waterfall.

    For more tips on soothing a fussy baby, click here.

    If you find yourself overwhelmed or frustrated by your baby’s crying, take a break.

    “I think a lot of parents have, at one time or another, reached the point where they are about to be crying as hard as their baby. When you feel yourself topping out, you need to put your baby down on their back in a safe place, in the bassinet or the crib, and you need to walk away.”

    Dr. Bradshaw says once you are calm, pick up your infant and try a different technique. If you find it becoming too much to handle, call your doctor, a friend or family member for emotional support.

    “I think it’s really important for parents with young babies to realize everybody needs a village to be the best parent they can be,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “So, if you’re feeling maxed out by your crying baby, call upon your village to help you.”

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