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Soothing a Crying Infant

Updated on September 30, 2013
Soothing a Crying Infant
Soothing a Crying Infant | Source

Babies cry. That’s just life. They are experiencing a whole new range of feelings and emotions and simply can’t tell you what’s going on with words. Especially as you spend more time with your baby and get to know his or her better, you’ll start noticing body language and start recognizing different sounds. You’ll also better be able to anticipate your baby’s needs as you interact with him or her day after day.

However, the best way for babies to communicate with you is by crying, and there are a variety of different reasons babies cry. But it isn't always easy to know why babies cry. Can you imagine how frustrating it has to be to know exactly what you need and not be able to tell anyone?

You’d have to watch, as you were extremely uncomfortable, someone stumble and fumble all over themselves trying to figure out what you’re trying to say. It’s probably like visiting a foreign country where no one spoke your language and not being able to ask where the bathroom was or where to get some food.

Babies who regularly cry for more than three hours each day are said to have colic, a poorly understood condition that causes babies to cry excessively. (See my article on Colic for more info.) But when it's after midnight and you've been up for hours (or is it days?) with a crying baby, it doesn't matter whether you label it colic, fussiness, or just a bad night. The important thing is to be able to comfort your troubled little one.

Fortunately, a number of home remedies and products exist that may help you calm your infant. Although no remedy works for every crying baby all the time, you may find that the following suggestions will give much needed relief to you and your little one.

Main Reasons Babies Cry

If you can stop, close your eyes, and name many of the things that normal babies need, you’ve already nailed the main reasons for your baby crying. Food, diaper change, sleep, and wanting to be held are the four big ones.

If your little one is crying, the very first thing you should do is to run through these big four. Has she eaten? Does she need her diaper changed? Is she tired and just needs your help to fall asleep? Or does she simply want to be held? With 90% of babies, this will clear that crying right up. By jotting down what your baby needed, and at what times each day, you’ll eventually be able to anticipate his needs and cut crying down immensely.

If all of these needs are being met, and your little one is still uncomfortable, grunting, whining, or full-fledged crying, then there are a number of other reasons that we will walk through, to help you soothe your baby. Let’s look at all of these reasons below.

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Hunger

The younger the baby, the more often he or she will want to eat. Their stomachs are very little in the beginning and therefore can only take so much at one time. However, their quickly growing bodies need a lot of food to keep going. As your little one seems to eat all the time, this tends to be the very first thing parents think of when their children cry.

There are some very specific signs you can watch for to determine whether it is food that your little one needs. He might be smacking his lips, rooting (a newborn reflex that causes babies to turn their head toward your hand when you stroke their cheek), sticking their tongue out, sucking on anything that gets near their mouths, and putting their hands to their mouth. By keeping a schedule and learning your infant’s signs of hunger, you will be able to feed your little one before the crying stage ever comes.

Each baby will be different in how much they drink, and how often they will want to eat, which makes keeping a regular schedule that much more important. However, feeding baby cold food usually doesn’t help. He’ll probably want it at room temperature or slightly warmed, as breast milk is naturally warm.

Tiredness

You would think that, especially since new babies sleep all the time, that it would be easy for them to sleep just about anywhere any time they needed to. In reality, it's harder for them than you might think. Babies are essentially falling asleep in their arms because they can’t do anything else. Their bodies just shut off and they fall asleep.

However, as they get older, you’ll see that they need to be taught how to relax themselves and go to sleep. Instead of just going to sleep when they need to, infants usually just fuss and cry, especially if they're overly tired. To know if this is the cause of their crying, you’ll want to look for eyes closing, hands rubbing eyes or closing into fists at cheeks, yawning, arching back, and jerking arms and legs.

To comfort her, I would create a regular routine for putting her to sleep that will allow her to fall asleep quickly. Otherwise, just letting her cry herself to sleep in your arms will also work.

Need Diaper Change

Some babies let you know right away when they need to be changed. Others can tolerate a dirty diaper for quite a while. Either way, this one is easy to check.

He may be squirming and moving his bottom from side to side, grimacing, grunting, looking like he’s bearing down, and you might even hear farting. Either way, just feel the diaper. If it’s heavy and squishy, change it. It can’t hurt.

Soothing a Crying Infant
Soothing a Crying Infant | Source

Want to be Close

Babies need a lot of cuddling. Your little one has been swaddled in a warm womb for nine months, getting to know his mother’s movements, the sound of her heart beating, the sounds of both parent’s voices, and even the schedule his mother keeps when eating, sleeping and working.

It stands to reason that this is where he turns for comfort. He wants to be close, feel those familiar movements, the familiar heartbeat, and be in the arms of someone that cares about him. Crying can be his way of asking to be held close.

I know all the research says not to hold your baby too much, as that will hinder his sense of independence, but during the first few months of life, that just isn't possible. As he gets a little older, and heavier, you will definitely want to teach him to entertain and comfort himself, if not for his independence, to give your arms a break.

To give your arms some relief, try wearing your baby in a front carrier or sling. This way, she’ll get the comfort of being close, and you’ll have both arms to continue what you are doing. I promise, if you don’t already love your front baby carrier, you will learn to!

Overstimulation

This is a very common reason for babies to cry that is difficult to detect. Yes, babies love colors, and lights and music. It’s been very loud in the womb, but they were shielded from a great deal of visual and physical stimulation there. Sometimes many people trying to hold her or pass her around, screaming from others in the room, and even just too much of anything like sounds, lights, or touch can be too much for her to bear.

Crying can be a baby's way of saying, "I've had enough." When you’ve addressed all of your little one’s most basic needs and yet she is still crying, this may be a good reason why. The very first thing I always do is to go into a dark or shaded room and face him or her to a blank wall. This is a good way to cut out a great deal of stimulation.

I then return him to what he is familiar with, being swaying, rocking, bouncing, or whatever he likes, and loud shushing in his ear. Sometimes an oven fan, a bathroom fan, a hair dryer, vacuum cleaner, or other loud noise will work just as well, and give my mouth a break. I have even recorded white noise on my phone to play when it was needed.

If none of this is working after about ten minutes or so, maybe your little one simply wants to be swaddled. It seems to make some babies feel more secure when the world gets overwhelming. But some babies simply don’t like swaddling. After a few tries, and some good notes on your part, you’ll quickly learn exactly what he needs to calm down when he gets overwhelmed.

Most Common Reasons for Baby's to Cry

#1 Food

#2 Tired

#3 Want to Be Held

#4 Diaper Change

#5 Overstimulation

#6 Something Small

#7 Pain

#8 No Reason

Comfort Level

Newborns are not used to all of the different stimuli outside of their mother’s womb. If you felt like you’ve tried to attend to all of their basic needs and even tried to minimize stimulation, and he’s still crying, it could be something small, such as his clothing, the temperature, or a hair wrapped around something.

This is a good time to check for a few of these things. I know by this time you couldn’t care about clothes or hair, but just want baby to stop. I understand completely. Babies take more patience than you sometimes feel you have to give. Hopefully one of these little things may fix the problem.

Babies can be inconsolable by something as hard to spot as a hair wrapped tightly around a tiny toe or finger, cutting off circulation. Doctors call this painful situation a "hair tourniquet," and it's one of the first things they look for if a baby seems to be crying for no reason. This is easy to check for and the process alone may cheer up your little one.

It’s probably easier to do this without the onsie in the way. Slowly start with her finger and her toes and these are the main culprits. Check over her entire body for anything that may be causing her pain. I bet you just the extra attention will do the job.

And unfortunately, for little boys, sometimes that nagging hair can be wrapped around other appendages, like the one in his diaper. I’ve heard that story from many mothers. It doesn’t hurt to check, especially if it’s the cause of the crying. If no hairs can be found and your little one is still upset, check to make sure the diaper is on correctly and not pinching him in any way, and then we can move to clothing.

Some babies are extra sensitive to things like scratchy clothing tags or fabric. On the same line, being too hot or too cold can also easily be the case. Babies like to be bundled up and kept warm. Babies are less likely to complain about being too warm than about being too cold, and they won't cry about it as vigorously.

As a rule, they should be wearing one more layer than you need to be comfortable. Make sure though, that there are no scratchy tags, no beads from the dryer on their clothing that may be scratching them, and that they are dressed appropriate to the weather.

Babies can be very picky (understandably) about subtleties ranging from the position they're held in to the bottle you offer. It may take a few different tries, but for most babies, if nothing else has done the trick, this definitely will. (Baby Center)

Soothing a Crying Infant
Soothing a Crying Infant | Source

Pain

If the crying usually happens right after being fed, your little one may be trying to tell you that he’s feeling some tummy pain. You could easily try something simple to help like burping him. Burping is as much of an art that is specific to each baby as anything else. Refer to my article on Correctly Burping Your Baby for some great ideas for burping.

Sometimes babies swallow air when they breastfeed or suck from a bottle, and if the air isn't released it may cause some discomfort. Some babies are intensely bothered by having air in their tummy, while others don't need to be burped at all.

If you've addressed all of your little one’s basic needs, and you’ve tried to minimize any stimulation and even checked for little things that may have been bothering him, and he's still crying, he could be coming down with something, he may have an injury you don’t know about, or he could just be teething.

You will want to check his temperature to rule out a fever and be alert for other signs of illness. Check her entire body for any kind of bump, bruise, scratch, or any other injury that may be causing the discomfort, and take inventory of her age. Babies may start teething around 3 months old, but may not actually get their first tooth until around 6 months or so.

The crying you’re hearing could be new teeth coming in, or just about anything else. Try a few things to calm her down before rushing her to the hospital. A nice warm bath or even a shower with mommy or daddy might be just the trick, rubbing her teeth or gums with your finger or giving her something cold to chew on might help, or you could even try out some Infant Tylenol.

If nothing else seems to work, and the crying lasts for more than a few hours straight with no calming in between, or if your baby's crying "just doesn't sound right," trust your instincts and call or see a doctor. You might discover other possible causes of your babies discomfort, including reflux, stomach flu, milk allergy, lactose intolerance, constipation, and/or intestinal blockage. (Baby Center)

Soothing a Crying Infant
Soothing a Crying Infant | Source

No Reason at All

Finally, the category no parent wants to get to, the crying for no reason. For babies that seem to be crying for no reason, especially if you have been to the doctor could just require a change. Babies can be very picky. Maybe she just wants to be held differently, wants her swing versus her bouncer, wants a different bottle or pacifier, or maybe wants a different nipple on the bottle. You could even try changing your light bulb color from white to a soft yellow, or the color of the walls. (I know you’ve seen that paint commercial.)

Research does show that soft cool colors like blues, greens, and purples do help to calm fussy babies. But if nothing else works, check out my next article entitled Soothing Techniques for Fussy Babies for some alternatives that have worked for other mothers.

I know it can be frustrating when your little one is crying, and all you can think of is making it better. By trying out different things until you find what comforts her, you make your job easier in the long run. And that’s ultimately what good parenting is. You try something and if it doesn’t work, you try something else until baby is happy.

Regardless of which techniques you try, remember that your baby is more likely to stop crying if you remain calm. The good news for all parents is that at 3 months old, most babies' crying will subside to only about one hour a day. And by that time, you’ll have a pretty good hold on exactly what it is she needs.

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