A Blog From Your Kaiser Permanente Physicians

Newborn crying

How to Calm a Crying Baby

All babies cry some, and some cry a lot. Others have colic and cry for hours straight most evenings. No matter which kind of baby you have, the crying is hard on both of you!

How can a parent calm all that crying? Luckily, there are some things you can try.

Figure out why they’re crying. This sounds a bit obvious – but sometimes it helps to start at the beginning. Wet diaper? Hungry? Cold or hot? Bored or overstimulated? Run through the checklist then move on to other ideas.

Carry them. Babies who are held or carried more during the day may cry less at night. You can try:

  • Carrying your baby in a front pack or sling. They may not be a fan of this at first, but keep practicing by putting them in the carrier for a few moments while you walk. Soon they’ll love it!
  • Cuddling your baby, which helps you both feel better.
  • Comforting your baby. Don’t let them cry alone for more than 5 to 10 minutes during the first 3 months. This makes both of you feel better. Don’t worry about “spoiling” your baby.

Move. Some babies really like movement and fuss when they’re not moving. Pop them in a front carrier or stroller and head out for a walk. Being outdoors is safe for them and good for both of you! Or try sitting in a rocking chair, putting them in a baby swing, or taking them for a drive.

Have a change of scenery or arms. Babies love to be outside. Take a walk or just sit outside in the shade. Sometimes a fussy baby calms when you hand them over to someone else. I have a sister-in-law who could always instantly calm my colicky baby. She was like a magical charm. This was probably because the more he cried, the more stressed and worried I’d get. He sensed her calm and could relax himself.

Change positions. Some babies find it soothing to be:

  • Held upright.
  • Facing toward you.
  • Placed on their stomach over your knee or forearm. This can be especially effective if you gently wrap their arms around their chest and hold them face down with their arms and head supported by your hands while you gently move them up and down.

Swaddle them. Some babies feel secure when they’re wrapped up snugly. Up until 2 months old, swaddling with a thin blanket, especially at naptime and at night can help calm them. Please be sure to always have your baby sleep face up on their back – swaddled or not – to prevent the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Make soothing sounds. Any kind of “white noise” can be soothing. Try soft music, or the hum of a clothes dryer, dishwasher, bathroom fan, or bubbling aquarium. You may also be able to help prevent or decrease crying episodes by trying these tips.

Stay calm and try to relax. Hearing your baby cry is stressful, and it’s normal to need a break sometimes. If you start to lose control, take a minute to calm down. Never shake a baby. This can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

Keep a diary to identify when your baby cries most often. This might help you figure out possible causes or at least be prepared.

Keep a regular routine for meals, naps, and playtime. Babies are calmer when caregivers follow a predictable routine.

Make sure your baby is getting enough to eat. The problem may be hunger, not colic. Check with your pediatrician to be sure growth is on track.

Make sure your baby isn’t swallowing too much air while eating. Feed your baby slowly, holding them almost upright. Burp them periodically and prop them up for 15 minutes after feeding.

Experiment with your diet if you’re breastfeeding. For the most part, changing what you eat won’t help a colicky baby, but you may find some benefit from eliminating foods such as caffeine and dairy products.

Remember to comfort yourself, too. Hearing your baby cry is stressful. It’s common to feel scared, upset, or frustrated when you can’t comfort your baby – I know I did! Ask for help, or take turns with your partner, friends, or family to care for your baby.

It’s also okay to put your baby down in their crib while you take a break in another room. Once when my colicky firstborn was about 4 weeks old, his father had to travel for a long weekend. By the third night I was a frazzled, tearful mess. So I put him down in his bassinet and sat outside in the backyard for a break. After a few minutes, the fresh air helped center and calm me enough to head back in and soothe him again.

When to worry? If you’re concerned about your baby’s crying, or are have difficulty coping, please call your pediatrician’s office. Colicky babies are usually serene and happy most of the day – this is reassuring. However, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or mucus in the stool are not part of colic or normal crying and need to be evaluated by a doctor.

Most importantly know the crying isn’t your fault. And most babies cry less after 4 months of age – so this phase will pass and your baby will be calmer soon.

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.