Parenting Advice

Soothing a Crying Baby

In this guide:
- Why babies cry
- Why you're not a bad mom
- Simple soothing strategies
- Best baby holds
- Decoding the wails
- 3 strategies to avoid
- Baby massage

Every mom has been there: Your baby is crying, you have no clue how to soothe her, and you'd give anything to have someone tell you how to stop it. As frustrating as crying is, simply understanding why babies do it can take some of the stress out of the situation. And fortunately, there are several things you can do to calm your baby - and make both of you feel better.

Why babies cry
Babies can't tell us "I'm hungry," "I'd like to get out of this car seat," or "This itchy tag is driving me crazy!" So instead, they cry. It's their way of saying "Mom, I need you!" What should you do if all of your baby's
needs have been met (he's rested, fed, has a clean diaper) and he's still crying? Don't assume the worst.

All infants have periods of fussiness during their first few months, perhaps because they have an immature neurological system. And some babies are just more sensitive - noises, smells, even certain sensations can upset them. Most newborns cry for an average of three hours a day, peaking at around 6 weeks. The good news: By 3 months, most babies' crying will subside to about one hour a day.

Why you're not a bad mom
When a baby cries, it triggers the release of the hormone prolactin (dubbed"the mothering hormone") in moms, which creates an urge to pick up the baby and meet her needs. You're hardwired to soothe your baby, and when that doesn't happen, it can make you feel like a failure. But your baby's fussiness is not a reflection on your parenting skills - and it's completely normal for a baby to cry even when there doesn't seem to be a direct cause.
If you're ever in doubt, however, don't hesitate to call your pediatrician to make sure there isn't an underlying problem.

Simple soothing strategies
Not every strategy will work for every baby, and some techniques may only work at certain times, depending on your baby's mood. The key is to experiment; over time, you'll figure out what's best for your baby, and when.

Re-create the womb.Your infant may be fussy because he misses his first "home," so simulating the amniotic environment can calm him. Try these techniques, together or separately:
Swaddle him snugly in a blanket with his arms down.
Hold him while he's on his side or stomach rather than his back.
Make shushing sounds, or create other white noise by running a hair dryer or
fan (the inside of the womb sounds like a constant pulsing whoosh).
Jiggle him gently (the rhythmic swaying resembles the movement of the womb).
Give him something to suck on - either a pacifier or a finger.
Use your hands. Touch stimulates receptors in the brain that calm your baby,
and research shows that long, smooth strokes tend to work better than short,
brisk ones. Try caressing your infant's cheek, back, legs, or stomach. Or
keep your baby close by wearing her in a front carrier. You don't have to
spend all day toting her around, but the more you touch her (giving her a
mini-massage during a diaper change, for instance), the happier she'll be.
Talk. The familiar tone of Mom's voice is one of the most effective soothers
for babies, according to research. So keep the chatter going - but speak
quietly so your baby isn't overwhelmed.

Release your inner pop star. Singing can also be calming. Don't worry if your voice doesn't sound like Norah Jones's. To your baby, you're the ultimate star. Sing calm, slow songs, such as lullabies - the body responds to music by adapting heart and respiratory rates to the tempo.

Take a drive. Driving around the block combines steady motion and white noise. If driving isn't convenient, try a vibrating bouncy seat or swing, which also have the white-noise/movement combo.

Get wet. Many moms swear by baths to calm their babies. The sound of the running water and the warmth on the skin can do wonders for a crying baby. You can get into the tub, too, to add soothing skin-to-skin contact.

Distract him. Introduce a new toy or shift his attention to the family pet or a mirror (so he can gaze at himself). He may well forget all about his cranky mood.

Keep your cool. If you get frustrated, your infant will pick up on that tension and react, and this pattern can become a cycle that's hard to break. Trying too hard to calm your baby can also backfire - some simply don't like to be handled as much as others. While you shouldn't let infants under 3 months cry it out, it's okay to let them fuss for five minutes. This will give yours the opportunity to start to figure out how to soothe himself (and it may give you a chance to regroup, too).

Keep doing what works. When you find a strategy that soothes your baby, stick to it. Trying something different every five minutes can be overstimulating. Limit yourself to two or three methods that seem to work - if one fails in one instance, try the other, instead of introducing several new techniques. You almost always get results after a day or two if you stick to a consistent pattern.