Mother carries her crying baby over her shoulder and kisses it on the cheek.

calming & sleep

How to soothe a crying baby

Causes and calming methods

The baby is finally here, the joy is great, but then – the little one screams. Constantly. It’s no wonder, then, when you start feel less heartfelt love and more despair. Why does it scream? What am I doing wrong? How can I end this situation or make it easier for everyone?

Why is my baby screaming?

A newborn baby has a very limited repertoire of expressions – crying is one of them. These noisy reminders can mean many things: 

Physical causes 

  • Hunger 
  • Thirst 
  • Pain: we often talk about "three-month colic". What is meant by this is that the baby's gastrointestinal tract is not yet fully developed, and pain or irritation therefore occurs during digestion and intestinal movements. 
  • Heat 
  • Cold 
  • Tiredness 

 Emotional causes 

  • Desire to be close to you 
  • Over-stimulation (e.g., due to excessive noise, light) 
  • "Blockages" or birth trauma (e.g., due to a very rapid natural birth or a cesarean section) 

It is frequently several factors in combination that make your baby restless. "Fussy babies" are usually sensitive, sometimes even temperamental children, who may react more to cramps in the tummy or other sensory stimuli than "quiet" children.

A common characteristic of fussy babies is that they sleep relatively little and/or generally find it difficult to calm themselves down and go to sleep. However, during the first 3 months in particular, this is the best way for the small body to mature further and is a "protection program" against over-stimulation.

What is a fussy baby?

If crying is completely normal, what exactly is a fussy baby?

One definition is a baby who

  • over the course of 3 weeks, and
  • for a minimum of 3 days,
  • cries for more than 3 hours (not at once, but in total over a 24-hour period)

Every minute of crying is hugely stressful for everyone present – this can also be physically measured by the heartbeat and hormones in baby’s blood, by muscle tension and, in the worst case, strains.

A mother calming her baby and holding it in her arms.

What is the best way to calm my baby?

It is important to find out what method soothes the infant at what time. Simple example: if your baby has just eaten, it is unlikely to be hungry. It can be helpful to tick off a checklist in your mind: 

  • Hungry? When was the last meal?
  • Full diaper? 
  • Tired?  The average sleep requirement changes over time. The following guidelines apply: 
    after birth: 16 hours  
    at 2-3 months: 15 hours
    a 6-week-old baby usually becomes tired again after 1.5 hours 
    at 3 months a baby can usually stay awake for up to 2 hours 

    If your baby has trouble sleeping, you can try a number of different tactics: "White noise": monotonous background noises help some infants to fall asleep. Especially popular: the hairdryer and the extractor fan, although playlists with specific sounds can also help. Some newborns who struggle to fall asleep in a crib may also prefer a baby hammock. 

  • Closeness? 
    Carrying a baby also helps, because the rhythmic rocking helps many infants struggling not only with digestive problems but also with falling asleep. There are not only plenty of stylish slings, but also carrying aids that can be put on and taken off quickly if you do not want to tie them onto yourself.

  • Strong urge to suck? 
    Babies usually have a strong urge to suck. A pacifier can help to satisfy the increased need for sucking and soothing, settle the child, and ease aches and pains.

  • The most important thing: never shake your baby – the neck and brain are still highly sensitive and this can result in severe damage or even death. If you feel overwhelmed and sense the onset of any desperation and/or aggression, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Pediatric clinics can also provide acute help and support.

Photos: Shutterstock