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Your Baby's Crying: Practical Tips to Help Them Stop

Updated on September 30, 2009

Your baby's crying and it's getting to you

If you've had a baby to care for then you've been there: the baby's crying, won't stop and you're getting more and more anxious about it. The first piece of advice is easy to give but much harder to do: keep your own anxiety under control. As you get anxious, your voice and body movements change and even a small baby senses these so they themselves become more anxious - and so more difficult to calm.

Let's look at why a baby cries; it's invariably one of these:

  • Hungry/thirsty
  • Wind
  • Needs nappy (diaper) changing
  • Clothing uncomfortable
  • Pain (other than wind)
  • Needs a cuddle!

That last one is often forgotten or dismissed as unimportant when in fact it's very important to the baby.

If a baby has started crying really loudly, even screaming, there is always the possibility that there is something severely wrong - although wind can have the same effect! If you do have to deal with a child in this state, spend a short time seeing if "winding" them solves the problem but if not seek medical advice quickly. In the UK, NHS Direct is a good place to start if your own doctor is unavailable (e.g. at night, when these things always seem to happen).

If the crying is "normal" then go throught the list above. You can even keep the list tacked to the wall somewhere convenient - it's surprisingly easy to forget one of them and then wonder why your baby won't stop crying.

I'm going to describe a scenario which will be all too familiar to the parent of almost any child over the age of a year or so:

The baby wakes at 3 or 4 AM, just when the parents are at their lowest ebb and least able to deal with a crying - maybe screaming - infant. Often, the first thing you do is check the nappy; it needs changing so you deal with that. Baby quietens - more or less - so you put them down and head back to bed. It takes a minute or two before the crying starts again. Sometimes, it didn't stop in the first place but you reckon that now you've removed the source of the discomfort the kid'll stop crying shortly.

And it doesn't happen.

So you pick them up again. After a bit you figure they've got wind from all that crying so you put them over your shoulder and start patting. A few burps later and the crying starts to die down so you put baby back down... and the crying starts up again.

And so on.

The problem is that you haven't realised that there is more than one problem or that, having solved the origninal reason baby woke, now something else is wrong. There's procedure, for want of a better word, which usually gets you out of this situation:

  • Change the nappy; If there are two of you available work together on this. Best of all, we found, was to feed the child whilst the nappy is being changed (if the nappy is only wet!). One of you puts them over a shoulder or in your arms, depending if you're breast or bottle feeding (yeah, in one case it has to be the woman :), The other one of you changes the nappy. If hey're disposables it's very easy to do.
  • If feeding and changing at the same time wasn't possible, change the baby immediately they lose interest in the food. You don't have to wait till they're sated.
  • Now "wind" the baby using your preferred method - we usually used the "over-the-shoulder and pat the back" method but use whatever works for your child. Don't treat this as a chore - treat it as quality time with your child: whilst patting or whatever, talk or sing to them, stop every few minutes and have a simple cuddle. By this time should have a relatively quiet baby, if not virtually asleep!

Start to finish, the whiole lot should have taken no more than 15 minutes. If the foregoing doesn't work and the child is still grumpy but not as bad as when you started, offer some more food and check the nappy again.

If none of the advice above works but here's nothing obviously wrong and the baby's not ill, then I'm afraid you've got a (hopefully temporarily) grumpy baby and you'll have to wait till they come out of it. Again, if they don't come out of it and you're getting worried, get some medical advice. Better safe than sorry.

Some hints

  • Keep your perspective. You're not failing your baby or being lazy if you can't stop a crying spell. Sometimes babies simply need to cry.
  • Slow down. Take a deep breath and count to 10. Repeat a calm word or phrase, such as, "Take it easy."
  • Use your imagination. Take your mind off the crying by picturing yourself in a calm, relaxing place. Play soothing music in the background.
  • Take a break. If you're alone, put your baby in a safe place, such as the crib or bassinet. Let your baby cry while you take a few minutes to regroup in another room.
  • Ask for help. Let your spouse or another loved one take over for a while. Take advantage of baby-sitting offers from friends, neighbors or other close contacts.
  • Express your emotions. When you're getting frustrated, speak up. Saying the words out loud — either to yourself or to an understanding friend or loved one — can help ease the tension.
  • Take a walk. Put your baby in the stroller and take a brisk walk. The exertion may take your mind off the tears. If it's too cold for an outdoor stroll, walk laps in a local shopping mall or other indoor spot. You might even buckle the baby into his or her car seat and take a short drive.
  • Sleep when your baby sleeps. Sleep deprivation may only make it harder to cope with a crying baby.
  • Recognize your limits. If you're worried about your ability to cope with a crying baby, contact your doctor, a local crisis intervention service or a mental health help line for support. Post a crisis number on the refrigerator or in another visible spot.


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