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How to soothe a fussy baby

Updated on March 16, 2016

How to survive a fussy baby

There’s nothing harder than anticipating the arrival of your little angel than to discover that this little treasure has (seemingly)nothing in store for you other than pain. When you feel like your child has been sent to you to punish you for your life’s mistakes, big or small, then you have a fussy baby. “Fussy;” “colicky;” call it what you will, but anyone who has encountered these little darlings knows “miserable” covers it.

But there is hope! At first it is in the moments of peace when your baby looks so adorable it might be worth waking them for a little kiss or snuggle (might). Later it’s the smiles and coos. In the mean time, though, the world is not all rainbows and daffodils. So what is there to do?

First: don’t murder your friends, family, in-laws, for their unsolicited advice or “what a blessing.. blah blah blahs” because frankly, that’s the last thing you want to hear.

Remember: it is going to be all right. Your baby is not going to cry their whole life! It’s more important that YOU calm down and approach them with a level head than they be held and comforted at all times. I’m not saying leave your baby to cry, but do put the baby down in a safe space and walk away for five minutes. It is understandable to lose your patience or even get angry with your child. It’s not only understandable but it is totally normal. Heck, I’d say it’s normal to hate your child at moments. When this happens, or when you feel like you could lose your temper, walk away. Some tips for calming down are:

  • Remind yourself that this person has no other way to communicate with you.
  • Take a minute to yourself to breathe deeply and refocus (walk away for 5 minutes)
  • REMEMBER: THIS IS NOT FOREVER. When it feels like it will be forever imagine your child as a 25 year old who wants to be carried around while they cry in your arms. Not going to happen.
  • Remind yourself that you love this person, and if you forget this or convince yourself otherwise, just think of what the kind of parent you want to be. Make decisions that you will be proud of when you look back on this time. Will you let this baby defeat you? Or will you handle this baby with the most compassion you can muster? You get to choose the kind of parent you get to be.

Now that we’ve got you in order, how do we soothe this baby? It differs with every baby, so not everything will work. First make sure there is nothing wrong with your baby. Are they hungry? Have a wet diaper? Have a fever? If they are just tired, gassy, or just plan fussy, here are some strategies:

  • Swaddling-- do not be afraid to swaddle tightly, especially for all you Houdinis out there. A swaddling blanket is especially helpful because it does most of the work for you. Check out swaddling videos on youtube.
  • Sound machines-- try something that has white noise (static). The amniotic fluid in the womb was equivalent to the sound of a vacuum cleaner, so babies are used to constant, sort of loud, fluid noises. Other sounds babies enjoy are washing machines, dishwashers, and heartbeats.
  • Shush-- try making a shhhh sound in your babies ear, remember your baby can’t hear over their screams so be sure to raise your volume to match theirs. (Don’t scream in their ears, obviously)
  • Try having them suck on your finger or a pacifier. Sucking is very soothing for babies.
  • Get a front carrier. Specifically a baby wrap. Like the Moby wrap. Face your baby inward in the wrap and go for a walk. Letting your baby suck on a finger or pacifier while in the wrap may also calm them down. (there are other ways to place your baby in the wrap that may also work) These wraps are a great investment and you can wear them everywhere!
  • Bounce and rock- try bouncing up and down with your baby. Just bobbing in place works, or turn on some music and bounce and sway to that. Too tired? Sit on an exercise ball and bounce on that.
  • Try holding your baby in different positions-- try facing outwards, facing down (“flying”), facing in, or any others you may have heard.
  • Go for a car ride- many babies are soothed by the movement and sounds of car rides. Some babies do not like this-- one tip for getting your baby to like the car is give them a bottle in their car-seat.
  • Patting your baby’s back sometimes does the trick.
  • Go for a walk. I know you’re tired! Taking your baby for a walk is similar to the bobbing they did in utero and is soothing to them.
  • Give them a bath. Most babies love baths. If your baby is not calmed by a bath try feeding them before the bath, and if that does not work try feeding them IN the bath (A little awkward to maneuver, but this is possible even if you’re breast-feeding).

You can combine these techniques, like shhushing a swaddled baby while they are held facing out, down, or on their side. Or walking and patting your swaddled baby.

Another tip: if you're tired and baby is asleep in the front wrap, go ahead and take a nap. This is most easily done on a recliner, but you can try it on a couch or bed propped up with some pillows.

Good luck, and DON’T give up! Try out as many combinations of soothing techniques as you can think of. Feel free to ask me any questions! Remember-- it is not selfish to give yourself a short break to have some deep breaths. Place your baby in a safe place and take a little time to calm down.

Some odd tips that worked:
let the baby suck on an empty bottle if they take the bottle but not the pacifier. This might give them some air in their tummy, but it may calm them.


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    • profile image

      Betty 9 months ago

      I am concerned about my grandson who is now 3 months old. He has been very fussy, always cranky and crying since he was born. To soothe him, my son and his wife feed him every time he cries. He has become very overweight, not just cute chubby. My son says that it is the only time he seems happy is when being fed. I am worried about his weight and they refuse to change pediatrians to find out what is wrong. Please write back if you can give me any suggestions. Thank you.

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      Nicole 5 years ago

      My daughter is not colicky, just what I would say is a "high needs" baby. More articles like this need to be written so that mothers (especially new ones like me!) know that they're not alone. Every day is different, and most she seems to be so unhappy, but I am learning that she is just a high needs little one and that not every baby (in fact most) fits that "mold" that you expect them to. I wish more people understood this and could relate to it!

    • holysheepskin profile image

      holysheepskin 5 years ago from Canada

      Colic can be one of the most difficult things for a new mother to deal with.

      Good suggestions!

    • profile image

      amsamsc 6 years ago

      SO happy to help!!

      By the way, there's an app for android also that is free and called white noise. There are other sounds on it too!

    • profile image

      Jill  6 years ago

      This article is right on! Most of these ideas worked with my newborn. Thank you! Also, for those of us not able to keep up the shushing for very long...there's an App for that! Baby Shusher for iPhone. I like it b/c it helps in multi-tasking when you have more than one baby!

    • Donna Janelle profile image

      Donna Janelle 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very informative hub! I do not have any kids yet, but these sound like great tips that I will be able to use when I do have a baby! :)