Soothing your crying baby

All babies cry and some cry more than others. 

Babies cry when they're hungry, bored, scared, need a diaper change or want to be held. Sometimes, they may cry for no reason. And sometimes they may cry because they don't feel well. Crying is one of the few ways your baby can communicate with you.

If your baby cries often, it doesn't mean you're a bad parent. It can be very frustrating when your baby keeps crying even after your best efforts to make him feel better. But as you get to know your baby, you'll learn how much crying is normal for him and what you can do to soothe him.

How can you soothe your baby when she cries?

It's important to respond quickly when your baby cries during the first few months of life. Don't worry about spoiling your newborn baby. If you respond quickly to your baby's cries, she may cry less overall.

If your baby cries, try the following:

  • Check to make sure he isn't hungry.
  • Check to make sure he has a clean diaper. If not, change it.
  • Look for signs of illness or pain. Check if he has a fever over 100.4 degrees, swollen gums or an ear infection.
  • Rock the baby or walk with him.
  • Sing or talk to the baby.
  • Offer him a pacifier or a toy.
  • Take him for a ride in a stroller.
  • Take him for a ride in the car. Be sure baby is secured in the car seat.
  • Swaddle the baby by wrapping her snugly in a receiving blanket.
  • Play soft music or turn on TV. Be sure the sound is low and soothing.
  • Run the vacuum cleaner, put on the clothes dryer or run water in the bathtub or sink. Some babies like these rhythmic noises.
  • Hold the baby close to your body. Breathe calmly and slowly.
  • If nothing else works, put the baby in his crib on his back, close the door and check on him in 10 minutes.

If your baby cries longer than usual and nothing you do soothes him, call your baby's health care provider to see if there is a medical reason or if he's sick. If he pulls up his legs or passes gas often, he may have colic (intense crying for more than 3 hours a day).

And remember, NEVER shake your baby. If you begin to feel very frustrated, call a friend or relative for help. Not only does this give you a break, but having a new face can sometimes calm your baby.

Why is shaking a baby dangerous?

It takes only a few seconds of shaking to cause lasting brain damage in a baby. More damage can happen if the shaking ends with the baby hitting something, like a wall or mattress. When a baby is shaken to the point where his brain is damaged, it is called shaken baby syndrome (also called SBS or shaken impact syndrome).

SBS is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases in the United States. The average age of the victims is between 3 and 8 months. In most cases, the person who hurts the baby is a young male in his early twenties. He often is the baby's father or the mother's boyfriend.

When a baby is shaken forcefully, the brain strikes the inside of the skull. This causes blood vessels and nerves to burst and the brain tissue to tear. Afterwards, the brain swells, causing more pressure and more damage. About half the babies who have SBS die.

What kinds of problems can shaken babies have?

Children who survive may have long-lasting problems, including:

In mild cases, the baby may appear normal after the shaking. But over time, he may develop one or more of the problems listed above. Often a problem is first noticed when the child goes to school and has trouble learning or behaving.

SBC can be totally prevented, especially when parents recognize when they are frustrated and get help to reduce stress.

Do premature or NICU babies cry more often?

Some studies show that premature babies are more likely to be fussy than babies who are born full term. They may be harder to soothe, cry often, and have trouble eating and sleeping. If your baby is fussy, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone. Your baby will soon outgrow this difficult phase.

Some babies who have been in the NICU have trouble getting used to the quiet of home. Your baby may sleep better with some background music or a low level of noise.

Last reviewed: September, 2012