Strategies for calming your baby


Turn Cries Into Coos

As the eldest of five, Amanda Joyner from Michigan City, IN, expected her baby would cry but felt confident that she could handle it, given that she’d taken care of her siblings.Yet the frequent cries of her newborn son, Arthur, made calming him a challenge. “I tried everything I knew, from swaddling to holding him,” she says. “I had to take breaks from him just to stay composed.”

After a few weeks, Joyner began to understand Arthur’s cries. “I thought he was hungry, then learned with time that he cried for several reasons.I also found that Arthur hates being held.” Joyner eventually discovered that placing Arthur in a vibrating chair ended his discomfort.

Babies cry to communicate their physical needs, such as hunger, illness, colic, a dirty diaper, or that they feel too hot or too cold. Or they can be bored and want attention, or be over-stimulated and tired.Attending to your baby’s needs, based on what has already happened during his day, can help you get your smiling child back.But there are also a few tried-and-true techniques for calming a baby. Knowing what works to make your individual child relax can be the key to success. Not all of these tips will work for all babies all of the time , of course, but you should experiment to see which ones y our baby responds to best.

Massage: According to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at Florida’s University of Miami School of Medicine, gentle massage can decrease a baby’s stress responses to painful procedures such as inoculations; reduce the discomfort of teething, gas, constipation, and colic; and help induce sleep. Parents benefit, too: Massaging their infants makes them feel good and facilitates bonding.

Field suggests a 10- to 15-minute massage before bedtime. “Run your fingers across your infant’s skin using moderate pressure,” she says. “Every baby is different.Parents need to experiment with what their baby prefers.” Field recommends using synthetic oils, as some infants are allergic to nut oils.

Motion: Rocking in a chair or swing often helps to calm a baby, but pay attention to your child’s cues. For some little ones, the motion of a vibrating chair or bouncy swing can actually be overstimulating.Also try dancing with your infant, taking a walk in the stroller, or the going for the almost-fail-proof drive around the block.

Sound: Babies love soothing sounds, especially heartbeats.Cradle her close to your chest so she can hear your heart as she did in the womb.Seek out a machine that plays “white noise” or has nature sounds like ocean waves. Sing lullabies or put on a mellow CD to lull your baby to sleep.

Sucking: Babies find comfort in sucking. Ultrasound pictures have even shown fetuses sucking their thumbs while in the womb. Whether you opt for pacifier, your finger, or a teething toy, all can work wonders in settling baby down.

Swaddling: Snugly wrapping a baby in a blanket is an age-old technique. The slight pressure the swaddle creates around the baby’s body provides a sense of security, because it mirrors the security she felt in utero. For some babies, just the act of wrapping a blanket around them becomes the trigger f or relaxation.

To swaddle, spread out a thin receiving blanket, then fold one corner over a few inches. Lay baby face up on the blanket with her neck resting against the fold. Wrap the left corner around and tuck it beneath her right side. Bring the bottom corner over her feet, then wrap the right corner around her, leaving her head and neck exposed so she doesn’t overheat or suffocate.You may find that your baby busts out of this simple swaddle. If so, try using two thin blankets or a special swaddling blanket with Velcro tabs.


Parents sometimes blame themselves and feel incompetent when they can’t calm their crying baby.If you know that your baby’s needs have been met, it’s time to care for yourself so you don’t become too stressed. “It’s very easy to be overwhelmed when your baby is crying,” says Heidi Schrupp of Fargo, MN, and mother of Aiden. “A supportive family is important. My sister has been a big help and shares what worked with her now older kids.”

Cheryl Clark of Anchorage, AK, discovered that calling family and friends to express her frustration helped her when she was at her wits’ end. “Logan screamed so much and nothing soothed him,” she says of her son, who was eventually calmed by a running water faucet.

Postpartum depression can add to an already stressful situation, as noted in a 2006 study at Brown Medical School in Providence, RI, which found a link between a hard-to-calm baby and a depressed mom. If your baby is a frequent crier, be sure to ask a neighbor, relative, or friend to watch him while you get some fresh air, or hire a mother’s helper so you can take a breather.

Remember Your Routine

According to Melinda Blau, coauthor of the infant advice book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, daily schedules are essential to babies and parents alike.“Establishing a routine is important, as it lets the mother or father know where the baby is in his day,” Blau says. “If you fed him, and 15 minutes later he’s crying, you know that he’s not crying because he’s hungry. Something else is going on.” Not all families can get into a routine right away, so it helps to at least track your infant’s day, especially if you are using different caretakers. While many gadgets exists to track your baby’s every move, something as simple as a note pad on the kitchen counter works for jotting down the time of feedings, changes, naps, and other events.

— Nancy Duncan

Nancy Duncan is a social worker who lives in California. She frequently covers health, pregnancy, parenting, crafts, and gardening.

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