How to Soothe a Baby

Two Parts:Figuring Out What Your Baby WantsUsing Strategies for Soothing Your Baby

If you're a new parent, then it's likely that you're having some trouble with soothing your baby. This is perfectly natural, and so is the healthy dose of frustration you may feel when your baby is crying and you just don't know how to make it better. The first thing you should do is to make sure that your baby's basic needs are met, and after that, you should try a variety of techniques to get your baby to feel comfortable and happy in no time.

Part 1
Figuring Out What Your Baby Wants

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    Make sure your baby's basic needs are met. The first thing you should do is to make sure your baby isn't hungry or tired. Babies run on about a 3 hour cycle. Eating about every 3 hours and sleeping about every 3 hours. Before you do anything else check the clock and determine if it has been about 3 hours since the last time they started eating or started sleeping. If baby needs to eat more often than this then they are probably not getting enough to eat at each feeding. If they are constantly "snacking" instead of eating full meals they won't sleep as long. If they are acting full try burping them mid feed and then offering more. Newborns eat and sleep, eat and sleep, eat and sleep. Less than 2 hours of sleep each cycle isn't healthy.
    • If baby isn't hungry or tired then check her diaper. If baby is still crying then she is hurting. This can range from mild discomfort, or feeling lonely, to severe pain. Often you will not be able to tell by the severity of the screams. Start checking for any thing that would cause them to be uncomfortable.
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    Feed the baby if they're hungry.
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    Figure out if your baby is over tired. Put baby to bed in a quiet dark room with some white noise (ie. fan). Give your baby more opportunities to rest and she may be less cranky.
    • Read "Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake up Happy" by Kim West. Even if you don't use her sleep techniques there are comprehensive explanations of how much sleep a child should be getting depending on age and descriptions of common sleep problems.
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    Address any dirty diaper. Change diaper, preferably with warm wet wipes. Warm wipe by holding balled inside fist for 30 seconds.
    • Check for diaper rash every time you change her diaper. Prevent by promptly changing dirty diapers and carefully wiping inside all skin folds and creases. At the first sign of redness smear on some diaper cream (A&D ointment is a good all purpose fix and preventative for mild to severe skin irritations). Diaper rash can be as simple as minor skin irritation caused by rubbing of the wet diaper, an actual chemical burn from the urine interacting with something in the poop, or the start of an infection.
    • Girls can get urinary tract infections from improper wiping or sitting in poop too long. The first symptom is screaming when they pee. Drinking large amounts of cranberry juice will help flush the bacteria out of the urinary tract.
    • If baby already has a really painful rash and screams as you wipe, try laying them in a baby bath or on a folded towel and pouring or squirting warm water over her bottom to rinse as much off as possible without wiping. Pat the bottom dry and wipe only what is absolutely necessary. Glob on diaper cream or ointment instead of smearing it on with fingers since the wiping motion is the most painful.
    • Check the last time they pooped to make sure they aren't constipated. Has it been more than 24 hours? Give baby about an ounce of prune juice in a bottle, repeat in 12 hours if necessary.
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    Burp the baby if they're having gas pain.
    • Burp her and burp her again until you are sure there is no gas left. If baby seems excessively gassy think about switching formula (our NICU used Similac), you may need to switch to Soy-based or a special formulation for premature infants. If breast-feeding you may need to change your diet.
    • To burp your baby, hold the baby in your left arm, with the side of his/her face on your shoulder. Pat the back gently until you hear the baby burp. You can also rub the back from the bottom upward. There are additional burping positions if this doesn't work.
    • Perch baby on your knee, their face resting between your thumb and forefinger with your palm on their collarbone (fully supporting their head and neck with one hand). Place your other hand on their back with fingers supporting the back of their head. Gently and slowly sway baby back and forth. (similar to maneuvering air bubbles in an old fashioned bottle of soda around the constrictions in the middle of the bottle.
    • Lay baby face down across your lap and pat or rub their back.
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    Assess if there's any sickness (fever, diarrhea, vomiting). If your baby is acting in an alarming way, such as refusing to feed or sleep, then you should see a doctor immediately.
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    Address any physical needs, especially for young babies. If your baby is less than three months old, then the most common reason for him/her to be upset is because of a physical need.
    • Uncomfortable clothing. Check baby's clothes to make sure that they aren't pinching, itchy (tags or embellishments), twisted/bunched, too hot/cold, or otherwise making her uncomfortable. Change your laundry detergent and fabric softener to something with a lot less perfume if baby seems much more comfortable naked.
    • Changes in routine. Maybe you're taking him/her for a walk much earlier than usual and he/she doesn't like that. Maybe he/she's overwhelmed by all of the new visitors. Reacting really badly to changes can also be a sign she is tired, but if it persists as she gets older there could be something else going on.
    • Overwhelmed (especially for premature infants). Give the baby less stimulation if she is overwhelmed. Just ease up on all of the stimuli around your baby (too many visitors, loud TV, bright lights, phone ringing all the time, or too many toys in your baby's crib). Though babies can feel under stimulated and may want more love and attention, they can also have too much of a good thing and may just want to be left alone for a few minutes to rest and to be less stimulated.
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    Give your baby more stimulation if he/she's underwhelmed. Your baby may also be crying just because she is feeling neglected or lonely. If your baby has been left alone for a while, or if you haven't made physical contact for a while, now is the time to hold, hug, kiss, or just play with your baby. Having her dad give her a big bear hug can also offer comfort.[1]
    • If baby seems to cry all the time and nothing helps then talk to your pediatrician about other potential problems that can be causing your baby to cry, such as food allergies, your diet if you're breast-feeding, or acid reflux.
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    Learn to tell the difference between your baby's wails. As you get to know your baby and she grows older, you may be able to tell the difference between different forms of crying. She may cry one way to show she's hungry and another to let you know she's wet. If you're able to distinguish between the different ways she cries, then this will make it easier for you to soothe your baby. Though every baby is different, here are some general rules to keep in mind:
    • A hungry baby tends to fuss quietly and to squirm. As she gets hungrier, the cries will escalate. However, a newborn baby's cries are loud right away.
    • A baby who is in pain, whether it's from teething, gas, or illness, then her cry will be more piercing and she'll have a pained look on her face.
    • At about 6 months if they wake at night you can often tell by the length of the crying. Wait 5-10 minutes and if they are still crying something is wrong other than they woke up.
    • Know if your baby has colic. Babies who have colic are known to cry and to be in consistent discomfort from about two weeks after birth until 12-14 weeks after the due date. Colic is characterized by high pitched, frantic crying, sudden crying, a rigid or stiff body with clenched fists, and a look of anger or pain on a baby's face. The colic can reach a height after the six week mark, and can taper off or suddenly end after that. Though it can be very frustrating and painful, it will end. Do not confuse this with acid reflux which causes actual pain. Acid reflux pain can be lessened by keeping baby in an upright or semi-reclined position (laying down makes the pain worse), feeding smaller amounts at meals, extra burping, and pressure on the tummy (lay baby face down over your lap and rub their back or face down over your arm with one leg on each side of your arm as you walk around.) [2]
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    Don't ever shake your baby. Even shaking your baby for a few seconds can permanently harm your child.
    • Don't be afraid to give yourself a time out. Put baby in the crib and walk away before you hurt them. Calm yourself down. This may involve putting your hands over your ears or shutting yourself in the bathroom so you can't hear them screaming.
    • If you can't stand it any longer, and are perhaps finding yourself in tears, call for help from a neighbor or a friend who has had children. They know what it's like to be in your shoes, and will be happy to do what they can. Don't be shy about asking them to come over.
    • As an absolute last resort, put the baby in the crib and call emergency services. Tell them you are losing your temper, that the baby won't stop crying, and that you need help immediately. They will send someone to ensure you don't hurt the child and refer you to social services so you will have someone to contact if the problem persists.
    • Over 1000 babies die a year from Shaken Baby Syndrome. Shaking your baby can lead to death, brain damage, intellectual disability, seizures, or even blindness.

Part 2
Using Strategies for Soothing Your Baby

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    Swaddle the baby. If the baby is a newborn, just home from the hospital, remember that the baby was warm and comfortable in the mother's womb. Wrapping or swaddling the baby, like a papoose, makes it feel like it did inside the womb: safe and warm. Buy a Sleepsack/Swaddler or use a small, lightweight receiving blanket to wrap the baby in. The concept is not to allow the baby to disturb himself/herself by flailing his/her arms or legs around. Just make sure that the baby is swaddled loosely enough that he/she can still comfortably breathe. Do not swaddle a pacifier in with your baby to avoid choking and make sure to place your baby down on his/her back when he/she is swaddled. Here's how you should go about swaddling your baby:[3].
    • Fold down one corner of the blanket and place the baby's head over this folded corner.
    • Wrap one side around the baby, pinning an arm down.
    • Take the point below baby's feet and pull it up and tuck it into the top of the blanket point that was tightly wound around.
    • Take the other side of the blanket and wrap it around the baby so that the baby cannot move the other arm
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    Enable side lying in your arms. Hold the baby at an angle to allow the baby to be on a side. Sometimes, all the baby needs is to change the way he/she is lying down to feel better. However, do not lay the baby in the crib to sleep on their side. Even a very young baby can roll over onto his/her stomach, which can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
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    Soothe your baby with motion. Motion helps soothe babies, and makes them sleep. There are different forms of motion that work for different babies, and you can find what works best. Sometimes, you'll also have to think about what works best for you, because putting your baby in motion for a while can be tiring to new parents. Here are some ways to soothe your baby through motion:
    • Rock and/or bounce the baby in your arms.
    • Put the baby in a swing.
    • Lay the baby on your knees and gently swing him/her from side-to-side.
    • Pat gently on the baby's back.
    • Go for a walk.
    • Take the baby for a car ride.
    • Dance carefully with your baby in your arms or in a sling.
    • Walk around the room while holding your baby.
    • Sit on a medicine ball and gently bounce while holding your baby.
    • Hold your baby and rock back and forth in a rocking chair.
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    Give the baby something to suck on. If your baby is hungry, a breast or a bottle will be the best thing for him/her. But if your baby just wants something to suck on, you can give him/her a pacifier (if you're using those), put his/her thumb in his/her mouth, or even offer him/her your pinkie, nail side down. This can help the baby feel comforted during a challenging time.
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    Use or make a soothing noise. Sometimes, a new, comforting noise can be just the thing to soothe your upset baby. You can make the noise yourself or make the best of your surroundings. Here are some options that you can try:
    • Singing to your baby
    • Humming
    • Running a faucet
    • Turning on a white noise machine or saying "shhh shhhh shhhh shhhh shhhh shhhh shhhh shhhh"
    • Playing soft music or nature sounds
    • Turn the radio on static
    • Turning on the vacuum
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    Skin to skin contact. Take off your shirt and strip baby to her diaper. Cuddle her on your chest with a soft warm blanket over both of you.
    • This technique has been known to stimulate lactation in under-producing women as well as providing something otherwise lacking in the development of premature infants.
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    Give your baby a warm bath. This can be the perfect soothing technique for some babies. It can relax them and get them ready for a nap or just help them feel less tense, just as a warm bath would help a stressed-out adult. You should test this out to see if it does, in fact, help your baby.
    • Unfortunately, some babies get more agitated after warm baths, so you need to find out whether this technique helps or hurts your baby.
    • Pay close attention to water temperature. Check it with your elbow. Some children are more sensitive to temperature than others. Some have a distinct preference for cool baths and others may like it overly warm.
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    Give your baby a massage. Giving your baby a gently passage with your fingers can help release the tension in his shoulders, arms, legs, and other parts of his/her body. Just a gentle, loving touch from a parent can also give your baby the love and attention he/she needs.
    • Just keep in mind that, like the warm bath, a massage can also agitate a baby instead of calming him/her down, so you should find out whether this is helpful for your baby.
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    Change the scenery. Sometimes, your baby just needs a change of scenery. The additional stimulation can give your baby something new to focus on instead of his/her own agitation. It doesn't require anything more elaborate than moving to a different room, if that's all you have energy for. Here are some other ways to change the scenery to help soothe your child:
    • Turn on the overhead fan.
    • Give your child a new toy to look at.
    • Move to your front porch or backyard.
    • Carry your baby toward the window and look out together.
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    Know what not to do. There are a few soothing strategies that may be great in the short term but which may lead to more trouble later on. Here are some things you should avoid:
    • Don't pop in a pacifier the second your baby is crying. It may offer temporary relief, but you may not be able to find out what's really wrong with your child.
    • Don't feed your baby the second she starts crying. There are many reasons for a baby to be upset, and if you always try feeding first, then the baby may get used to the idea that food is always the best comfort, which can lead to overeating.
    • Don't try too many methods of stimulation for your baby. It can take a few minutes to figure out what works best for your child, and if you try eight different strategies in the same half hour, you will likely end up overwhelming and overstimulating your child.


  • Contrary to popular belief, you cannot spoil your baby by always responding to their cries. Understand that you will earn the baby's trust if you do this and some babies will immediately stop crying as soon as they see a trusted caretaker.
  • If you are calm, it is more likely that the baby will be calm also, as a baby senses their caretaker's anxiety.
  • Most babies are rocking babies, but occasionally there is a baby that likes to be bounced instead. Place the baby across your knees and lift your heels off the ground about two inches. Do this quickly to make a vibrating feeling and the baby will be soothed.
  • Providing white noise, such as an air cleaner, in the room can sometimes calm a fussy baby to sleep.
  • One other trick for newborns is to make sure the baby's legs are tucked close to their body. In addition, cupping your hand over the side of the baby's head - making sure the ear is covered - soothes a newborn too.
  • Contact your pediatrician and have the baby tested for allergies to milk, soy and gluten. Maybe she is constantly crying because of this allergy.
  • Some (albeit very few) babies are extremely uncomfortable lying on their backs and absolutely cannot sleep that way. Consider whether you might have one of those children.
  • Some babies can only be calm when being held upright against your shoulder, not lying in your arms. Try standing up and holding your baby upright, rocking from your hips, with your spine as the pivot point.
  • An alternative to the driving method is to place them on a blanket on top of the washer or dryer while it's running. (Stay there, with one hand on the baby, the whole time, if you do this.)
  • Place the baby in a car seat, and take them for a ride in the car. The sounds and rhythm of driving in the car are famous for putting a baby to sleep.
  • All of this applies to female as well as male caretakers!
  • Alternatively, a walk outside in a stroller or in arms, will settle most tired babies.
  • Make a nice warm place for your baby so it is comfortable sleeping during nighttime.


  • Be very, very careful not to cross the line from bouncing or patting on the back to shaking. A baby's spinal cord and brain are not fully protected, and their neck is very fragile. Brain damage and/or death can result from shaking.
  • Do not just leave the room and 'let them cry it out', unless you are absolutely sure that there is no problem. Even then, do not let them 'cry it out' for a prolonged period of time.
  • Consistently using a car or other method to calm a baby can turn into a "crutch" that a baby might become dependent on to actually calm down. "Crutch" type methods don't cause a problem if used occasionally (for extremely upset babies). However, you should try to teach a baby to self-soothe to avoid an unwanted dependence.
  • If the problem persists, call the pediatrician. A baby will not cry extensively for no reason. This is the way they communicate that something is wrong.
  • Be careful when swaddling the baby. Recent research suggests that wrapping a baby too tightly may be a cause of SIDS.
  • When bouncing or rocking a baby, always make sure the head and neck are fully supported.
  • Never use alcohol. It works, but is not good for development. (Call your local government support line if this even crosses your mind as an option for use. You can remain anonymous.)

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