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How to Soothe a Newborn

Updated on September 12, 2012
The birth of my son has resulted in a steep learning curve on how to deal with a crying baby
The birth of my son has resulted in a steep learning curve on how to deal with a crying baby | Source

How to Calm a Crying Baby

I am a new Dad and am loving it. My son, Gethin, has completely changed my outlook on life; for starters he has introduced me to the magical world of 3:45am. The birth of our first child has forced my wife and I to learn how to soothe a crying baby quickly - for the sake of our sanity!

Babies cry. This is a fact of life, and anyone looking to this hub to prevent any and all crying should go elsewhere. That is not to say, however, that there aren't tricks and tips to prevent your newborn crying, or to calm them when they (inevitably) start to bawl. The key is getting to know what works for your own child. Below are a series of helpful hints from the mums, childcarers and midwives at our parent group, along with a few things we have picked up on our own.

Whatever happens, persevere and remember that feeling frustrated by a seemingly inconsolable baby is perfectly natural. Given time you will find out what works for your baby.

Why Do Babies Cry?

Action to be Taken
Feed Baby
Wet/Dirty Diaper
Change Baby
Burp Baby
Too Hot/Cold
Add/remove layers
Put baby down in darkened room
Most of baby's cries can be halted by taking some of the above action. Think of it as a checklist: go down the list one by one until you are sure that none of the above are causing the ear-piercing, soul-shattering shriek that is coming from your lit

How to Calm a Crying Baby Video

How to Stop a Newborn Crying

As a parent, the worst noise you can ever hear is that of your baby screaming - it cuts right down to your soul. A baby's cry is designed to get your attention as quickly as possible to fix a problem: but what if you don't know what the problem is? The first port-of-call should always be the crying baby checklist (shown above). These are the most common causes of crying and you should methodically and carefully work through this list first. But that only promises that the crying will stop at some point in the future. What about stopping a newborn from crying whilst you are still figuring out what is wrong?

Stopping a newborn from crying is all about distraction: you need to keep them occupied until you find the route cause of their tears and screams.This can be with:

  • toys;
  • sounds, music and noises;
  • physical interaction and play;
  • lights and pictures.

There are some situations where certain tricks work better than others, however.

Holding your child across your forearm and firmly patting their back is a great way of relieving wind. You can also hold baby against your chest or over your shoulder. Be firm!
Holding your child across your forearm and firmly patting their back is a great way of relieving wind. You can also hold baby against your chest or over your shoulder. Be firm! | Source

Top Tips to Calm your Newborn

Ultimately, your baby will cry until you find out what is wrong with them and fix it. However, there are some quick fixes that can buy you 10-20 minutes of relative peace while you regain your composure. My best tips are:

  1. Burp your baby - you will be gobsmacked how often a baby develops wind. Not only when feeding, the panicked, sharp breaths characteristic of a crying child can also give them wind. Before you try anything else, get your baby upright and start firmly patting and rubbing their back. Do this for about 10 minutes to relieve any uncomfortable trapped wind. You need to be firm: timid pats will not help anyone
  2. Turn on the vacuum - if you need ten minutes off from baby crying, try turning on the vacuum cleaner. The white noise caused by these machines mimics the noise baby was used to (constantly) in the womb. If a sound that we are used to suddenly stops, we feel anxious as we try to figure out what is different - imagine being used to lots of (quite loud) sounds and noises over the last few months that suddenly stop. It must be very disconcerting for a newborn
  3. Take baby for a drive - the vibrations coupled with the deep background noise and constant changes of direction are just what baby was used to in the womb. This really can be a sanity-saver and can buy you up to an hour of peace...although with today's gas prices, it isn't the most economical of solutions!
  4. Swap partners - sometimes baby just wants to be with someone else. Sometimes my wife can't get my son to settle and I can, other nights I can try everything for hours and all he wants is a cuddle with mum. It is also important to give your child to someone else if you are getting frustrated. Babies will pick up on their parent's mood and tone: if you aren't relaxed and calm, baby won't be either. Take ten minutes to yourself - have a shower, walk around the block, get a cup of coffee - to recharge your emotional batteries. Then have another crack at it!
  5. Go out - you may think that taking a screaming child outside would be the worst thing possible, but with some children extra stimulation can actually calm them. Take them to the mall or round to a (willing) family member. The new sights, sounds, smells and experiences may be enough to distract them from their tears.

Tightly swaddling your baby's arms and legs can give him the security to drift off to sleep. Check out the video to see how to swaddle correctly - it's easier than you think
Tightly swaddling your baby's arms and legs can give him the security to drift off to sleep. Check out the video to see how to swaddle correctly - it's easier than you think | Source

Getting your Baby to Sleep

If your baby seems to cry most when you are trying to put them down for the night, there are a couple of things you can try

Swaddling - Your baby has spent the last few months cocooned in her mother's womb. She is not used to being able to fling her arms and legs around freely and this can upset young babies. Many newborns are comforted by the security a tight swaddle brings. My own son will not sleep in his Moses Basket without being tightly swaddled, with those distracting arms being kept well away!

Lullabies - Your baby is comforted by the sounds of your voice and loves the rhythms of music. The womb is far from a silent place to be, and babies are not used to a complete lack of noise, so sing softly to her or play music in the background. If you are holding your baby in your arms, low-pitched sounds will also vibrate soothingly through your baby and will help her drift off. I have found humming whilst holding my son to my chest and rocking slightly to be very effective.

Clothes in cot - If your baby seems to dislike their sleeping place, but will happily sleep in your arms, try securely tucking a t-shirt of yours into their basket or cot. This will reassure them that you are close to handand allow them to get to sleep.

White Noise - when in the womb, your baby was used to the rushing sound of her mother's blood, the strong thump of mum's heart and the gurgling watery sounds of the placenta. To expect baby to come into a silent world and sleep is quite extraordinary, and yet that is what we do. Baby has become so used to these background noises that silence actually distresses them. Try using white noise, or a recording of a heartbeat to soothe your baby. The Cloud B Sleep Sheep is a great product owned (or one of it's variations) by every mother at our parent group. It plays several different sounds such as 'heartbeat' and 'rain' that mimic sounds heard by baby in the womb. These are brilliant.

How to Swaddle your Baby Video

Soothing your Baby

Conair 1875 Watt Hair Dryer; White
Conair 1875 Watt Hair Dryer; White

A hairdryer may seem like the last thing on Earth to calm a crying baby, but it works. This product is cheap and has a cold setting, meaning you can even use it to blow air onto your baby


Changing your Baby

Changing your baby (clothes or diaper) can be a stressful time for all involved, but there are tricks you can use to make this a more pleasant time. After all, nothing makes this task more difficult than a squirming, distressed child!

Warm changing mat - Being placed on a slab half your body temperature would take your breath away too, so make sure that baby's changing mat is warm. Try putting some kitchen roll down on top of the mat: this will warm up the mat, and provides an absorbant and removable surface if baby does anything dastardly once you have his diaper off (My son's favourite time to wee is when his nappy comes off!)

Hairdryer - Have you ever found yourself praying for a volume switch for your child? Look no further. Believe it or not, many babies are soothed by the sound of a hairdryer near their heads; it imitates the sound of rushing blood heard by baby in utero. Switch on the hairdryer and watch (in utter amazement and confusion) your baby almost instantly calm. Make sure the hairdryer you use has a cool setting, as some babies enjoy having air blown on them. If you try nothing else from this hub, try this.

Blowing raspberries - Getting your baby dressed when they are flailing about is not easy. Try blowing raspberries into their tummy before attempting to dress each limb. This can also help relieve trapped wind that may be causing the problem.

If your baby is too stressed to realise you are trying to feed them, place your *clean* finger in their mouth as shown. This will stimulate their suckling reflex and calm them almost instantly.
If your baby is too stressed to realise you are trying to feed them, place your *clean* finger in their mouth as shown. This will stimulate their suckling reflex and calm them almost instantly. | Source

Feeding your Baby

Feeding your baby is not easy - and let nobody tell you that it is. Breastfeeding can be particularly stressful in the early days. If your baby won't feed because he is too busy bawling his lungs out, try a few of the tricks below.

Suck on a finger - A clean finger, please. Nipples are soft and tend to get knocked out of a bawling baby's reach. Most newborns calm the moment their suckling reflex is stimulated, so if your baby is too stressed to realise you are putting a breast to their mouth, try placing your little finger palm-up into the roof of your child's mouth, just behind the gums. This will stimulate the suckling reflex (dads be warned, this can be surprisingly powerful - imagine what it feels like on your partner's nipple) and calm them. This gives you enough time to reposition to feed your child.

NB Using your finger is preferable to a pacifier or dummy in the first 6 weeks of your child's life to prevent 'nipple confusion' which can make breastfeeding much more difficult.

Nipple extractors and Nipple shields -If you have small or flat nipples, or your baby is struggling to latch on, mum and baby can get very frustrated. This is where nipple extractors and nipple shields can work wonders. My son refused to breastfeed for four days as he could not latch on properly. Using nipple shields we managed to get him to breastfeed for the first time. Once they get the hang of it, you can train your baby to latch on to your nipple without any aids.

Nipple extractors use suction to extend your nipple so it is long enough to stimulate your baby's suckling reflex. Both of these products are available cheaply from most good drugstores.

Positioning - sometimes the only thing stressing baby out is they are in an uncomfortable position. Babies have their favourite breast, position and time to feed. It's your job to figure out what these are!

Breastfeeding Positions Video

How to calm a Colicky Baby

Colic is an emotionally draining condition that can develop in the first few months of baby's life. It typically only lasts until they are three months old, although this can seem an eternity if your child has colic!

If your child has colic then you will have to work a lot harder to soothe them. All of the above techniques remain valid, but you will have to combine them, stick at them longer and develop an iron will. There are many products available that claim to soothe colic - we have not tried any of these ourselves, but they seem to enjoy a good reputation. Anti-colic bottles, drops and taking baby into a steamed room (set your shower to hot and turn off the extractor fan) have all been suggested at our parent group.

Suggestions to Soothe Babies?

The above list is what my wife and I have used with our son in the first few days of his life. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we don't have all the answers. If you have tried anything or feel I have missed something, please share in the comments section!


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    • TahoeDoc profile image

      TahoeDoc 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Excellent- beautiful baby, by the way. My first son was very difficult to calm and get to sleep. The swaddling, shushing, white noise (like from "The Happiest Baby on the Block book) technique is the ONLY thing that worked and I endured months of stress and fatigue (him and me) until I discovered that. It's the only baby thing I ever wrote a hub about because I was so pleased with the results.

      Congrats again! Great tips here and a lot of people will find something that really helps, so quite a useful hub.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Awwww - you have a beautiful baby! I love the tips you've listed here; wish I had known about these many years ago. The vacuum noise makes perfect sense! I've known people to take their babies for a ride in the car, the gentle motion and slight noise calms them down.

      Voted up and up!

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I'm told I had the 'screaming abjabs' for the first 6 months of life - wish I could go back in time and have this hub pasted above my cot!

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Great suggestions. I use to walk for hours when my oldest son was a baby. I put him in the Baby Bjourn that was attached to me because he would cry in the stroller. I have to admit it was an exhausting time but I would do it all over again. Crying is the only way babies can communicate so I never believed in just letting them cry. Voted up!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      WOW! If only I'd had this to read when my eldest was born! But 44 years ago, very little of this advice, beyond your starting point checklist, was available. I did learn how to swaddle, from my then mother-in-law, who'd had 6 kids...but, it did not work. These constant middle-of-the-night screaming episodes were trying to say the least.

      For the first 3 months of that child's life, both my ex and I went through our days like zombies wearing steamer trunks under our eyes. Absolutely NOTHING worked.

      Years and years later, I learned she probably was colicky..but the pediatrician we had classified it as "a phase some babies go through." Well, that "phase" nearly put me in the looney bin. (In hindsight, I probably should have found a new doctor!)

      After trying EVERYTHING (except white noise--that's a more modern suggestion not thought of back then), she wasn't hungry--did NOT want to be held--by anyone--did not want a toy, everything we tried made her scream all the more! Finally it came down to swaddling her, putting her back in bed, and, feeling guilty and like a bad mom, going back to bed myself, closing the bedroom door, and pulling the pillow tightly over my head, and just let her scream until she was exhausted and fell asleep , so I could get SOME sleep to be able to deal with the day to come.

      Daytimes, we had to tiptoe around if she was napping--if a feather fell two inches to the floor, she'd be awake and screaming.

      When her sister came along--it was quite the opposite! I barely knew there was a baby in the house, and would have to do the "go check and see if she's still breathing" routine...I could run the vacuum right under her crib, and she wouldn't wake up. A perfect illustration of "everyone is different" ... right from birth!

      Sorry for the long comment--I am voting this up across the board and sharing everywhere, in the hopes that no one else has to go through what I did.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 5 years ago

      First, adorable pictures. Second, nicely done. What a valuable resource! I've taken many of drives around the block with my boys when they were babies!