If you’re reading this, chances are your infant is crying in your ear right now, drowning out your best baby-calming ideas. It’s okay. Stay relaxed, or call for help, and read through this list of solutions for soothing your baby. (You’ve got this!)
1. She’s wet or soiled Sometimes a soiled diaper is obvious, but not always. And some babies are just more sensitive to the feel of a wet diaper than others. Calgary-based midwife Nicola Strydom suggests that after you pick up your crying baby, you check her diaper—even before feeding—and change it as necessary to make her more comfortable. Some diapers have wetness indicators, such as a line that turns from yellow to blue. When it comes to poop, a quick sniff test will tell you. Otherwise, if it has been two to three hours since the last change, it’s definitely time to do it again.
2. He’s hungry When is the last time your baby ate? Paediatrician Michael Dickinson of Miramichi, N.B., says hunger cues can be tricky for new parents as some babies can go a few hours between feedings, while others are cluster feeders who need to eat more frequently (basically all the time!). And just when you think you’ve figured out your newborn’s feeding schedule, most babies change it up again between three and six months. To confuse parents further, he says some breastfed babies use Mom as a pacifier when they want comfort—they’ll indicate they want food, and will latch, but they aren’t really eating. The best way to know for sure? “The baby will be content following a feed,” he says. If not, move on to other methods to soothe.
3. She’s too hot or too cold Check in with the surrounding temperature: Is it unusually hot or cold? Then review what kind of clothing your baby is wearing. “Hot babies will become flushed, not unlike overheated adults, while cold babies will sometimes shiver,” says Dickinson. “But sometimes those symptoms can be subtle and you might miss them.” Strydom suggests checking the back of your baby’s neck to gauge how warm she is, and she notes that, in the winter, babies can overheat in the car seat because they have so many layers on.
High or low temperatures can quickly become dangerous for babies because they’re so small. If you’re worried, check your baby’s temperature. If it’s over 37.5˚C, Strydom suggests removing a layer to cool her off, while checking for other signs of illness. Conversely, for anything below 36.4˚C, pop on another layer to stabilize your baby. Then, recheck the baby's temperature within an hour if he's still unsettled.
4. He’s not feeling well Changes in your baby’s normal temperament could signal illness, says Dickinson. For example, a happy baby who’s suddenly miserable could be ill, as could a fussy baby who is suddenly quiet and lethargic. “For a child who’s legitimately unwell, there’s typically more than just crying,” he explains. “They feel warm, have a fever, are not drinking well, or have vomiting, diarrhea or a rash.”
5. Her tummy hurts Gassiness happens—sometimes as your infant gets used to breast milk or formula; other times because of growth spurts happening inside their abdomen. Strydom suggests giving your baby a belly rub, or warming a receiving blanket in the dryer then placing your baby in a nice cozy swaddle to help soothe a sore tummy. “I often tell moms, ‘Something that might help with your period pain often helps a baby with a tummy ache,’” she explains.
If your baby suddenly stops feeding and cries, or is squirmy and unhappy when you lay her down, she may have swallowed air and needs to burp. Gently pat or rub her back to bring the air up (be ready for a little milk to come up too). But if the burp doesn’t come, don’t force it, says Dickinson. “No need to get panicked or worried if a burp doesn't happen right away.”
6. He wants to be held in a different way Sometimes all it takes is a little change in direction. Try holding your baby facing you, facing away from you, laying across your chest or with their tummy on your knees. Try skin-on-skin contact, or up and over your shoulder. “As long as your baby is safe and supported, and you’re not shaking your baby, they could be upside-down and be okay,” says Strydom. “Sometimes it’s the strangest things that work.”
7. Something painful is happening For a sudden cry that seems out of place, Dickinson says it’s worth checking fingers, toes and limbs to make sure nothing is stuck or pinched. Also, watch for everyday items, advises Strydom: artificial nails can unintentionally poke babies, as can chunky jewellery, such as necklaces or rings. Clothing tags can also be scratchy against a baby’s soft skin; she recommends cutting them out if you think they might bother your baby.
8. She has colic Textbooks define colic as crying for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks. Basically, colic is a catch-all term for babies who are otherwise healthy but cry for extended periods of time and can’t be soothed. Dickinson says it tends to be worse in the evening, and suggests movement, such as rocking, swinging or riding in a car, can help with some babies. But there is no magic cure for colic, says Strydom. You could be doing everything right and still have a very unhappy infant on your hands. Just do your best, and know that, in time, your baby will outgrow it. Colic usually ends somewhere between three and six months of age.
9. He’s just trying to wear you out Just kidding! But it can often feel that way, and that’s a sign that you deserve a break. Even the most patient mom or dad will eventually reach the end of their rope. When you’re feeling burnt out, get some help and lean on the people around you. “If you don’t have that option, even just stepping away for a minute to collect your thoughts can be helpful, too,” offers Dickinson.
Strydom says all babies have fussy periods, and that it’s sometimes too much for moms to handle on top of being tired, sore from having a baby and hormonal. Though it’s a joyful time, it’s also a time of anxiety, she says. “We’ll set ourselves up for success by having more support around and not being afraid to ask for help.”