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Child Development & Parenting: Infants (0-2)
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Child Development & Parenting: Early (3-7)

Soothing a Crying Baby

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Crying is a baby's way of communicating, and in the first few months, it's the only way they can communicate. Babies cry an average of two to three hours a day in the first three months of life, to let caregivers know when they need something. Babies cry because they're hungry, tired, sick, hot, cold, in pain, bored, over stimulated, want affection, or are uncomfortable in some way. Parents can often learn to differentiate their baby's cries; they may notice the baby cry one way when they're hungry and another way when they're tired. This is another way that parent-child bonding occurs. The skill to understand a baby's different cries isn't always easy, and caregivers may find it takes weeks or months to differentiate them.

crying girlThe first option is to hold and carry the baby in order to communicate back to them that they are loved and their needs will be addressed. In the first three months, a crying baby should not be ignored, or they will learn that they can't trust adults to respond to their needs. The first step to soothing a crying baby is to make sure physical needs are met. Feed the baby, change their diapers, rock them to sleep, add an extra blanket or remove a layer, play with them, check for a fever, or treat any symptoms of sickness. See Common Baby Medical Concerns or pain, like teething.

When parents or caregivers have taken care of all the basic physical needs or if the baby is sleepy and having a difficult time falling asleep, there are many things they can do to soothe the baby. Rock the baby in a rocking chair, place them in a baby swing, or take them for a stroller ride outside in the fresh air or on a car ride if it is late at night. Sing soothing songs, play soft music, or create white noise such as running the vacuum, dryer, or kitchen sink. Parents or caregivers can entertain the baby by showing them something visually interesting, such as their own reflection in a mirror or snow outside the window. They can give the baby a soothing bath or a relaxing massage. They can also provide babies with self-soothing options. Sucking is one way babies soothe themselves, even if they're not hungry. Breast-feeding babies often want to suckle at Mom's breast to relax. Parents can also teach infants to suck on their fingers or can provide a pacifier to bottle-fed babies or to breast-fed infants who have latched onto breastfeeding. Older babies can also be given a stuffed animal or soft blanket to help soothe them.

Parenting is hard work, and often caregivers can become tired, cranky, and frazzled if they and the baby haven't had much sleep or are sick. As well, some babies are naturally difficult to soothe because they have a difficult temperament and may cry a lot, no matter what caregivers do. In these situations, parents and caregivers need to remember to take care of themselves as well as the baby. In the best of situations, caregivers can work in a team situation. When one of them needs a break, the other one can soothe and care for the baby for a while. Even single parents can enroll grandparents, other family members, or trusted friends to help them out and give them physical and emotional support during tough times.

If caregivers ever feel overwhelmed by their baby's inability to be soothed and start to feel angry or resentful toward them, they should reach out to those trusted friends and relatives for support. They can also call their pediatrician or a parenting hotline. Sometimes, caregivers feel the desire to shake or otherwise physically discipline a baby, but this is not a solution. Shaking babies can cause permanent brain damage or death. There is always someone out there for parents and caregivers to talk to and who can help them.