Common ways to soothe a baby. Use these tips to settle your baby down for sleep or to calm a fussy baby.
The goal is to pick the few methods that work to soothe your baby. Try to use the ones in the order I mention, as the first three below require fewer sleep props/devices.
The “6 S’s”
- Side rock – This is a method to calm a fussy baby down who may be overtired or not settling. Hold baby on their side or on their tummy.
- Swing (or bounce) – Babies are used to bouncing up and down in utero, so a swing would mimic this motion. You can also bounce up and down on a yoga ball. You can swing them gently in your arms or in a swing. But remember for safety they CANNOT fall asleep in a swing unattended. Your eyes need to be on them at all times.
- Skin-to-skin – Let’s not forget the comfort of you. Sometimes they just want to be held or be in your arms or on your chest. This can be very soothing and a great tip for both you and baby. Remember, if you are falling asleep or baby is showing sleepy cues to place them back in the crib or bassinet so they can associate sleepy cues with a safe sleep environment.
- Suck – A pacifier can be very relaxing and a great soothing tip.
- Swaddle – This recreates the warmth and tightness of the womb, which can be calming to babies. To swaddle correctly, the arms should be straight down the side, with the swaddle blanket under the shoulders. Make sure the hips have adequate movement as well. Only swaddle for sleep, as they should be free for movement when awake. Not every baby needs a swaddle, so have one handy and see if it’s calming to your baby. Once baby begins to show signs of rolling over, it’s time to forego the swaddle. This can happen around two months of age, and for some babies, this can be earlier.
- Shush (sound machine) – A sound machine can mimic the sounds of fluid in the womb, so it can be soothing to some babies. But not all babies love it! Some will cry more! Remember, every baby is unique in their sleep needs. Of all sleep aids, implement this one as the last option, as I do feel some babies get dependent on it, making them an inflexible sleeper in other places where a sound machine isn’t with them (daycare, grandma’s house, etc.). Implement this LAST.
How to transition out of the swaddle
- Cold turkey with no sleep sack – this is a good method for a baby who has an easy-to-adjust temperament. Baby would simply be in pajamas (ideally footie pajamas for warmth).
- Cold turkey into a sleep sack – this is a good option if your house is cold. But it’s not necessary to transition them to a sack.
- Gradual – To do this, swaddle with one arm out for 1-2 weeks. If they do well, transition to both arms out for 1-2 weeks. Then, completely out of the swaddle or into a sleep sack.
How to implement (and wean!) a sound machine
- To implement – start with the lowest setting possible. Use a decibel app on your phone to check how loud it is. The dB level in the womb is about 72-88 dB. My recommendation is to not exceed 65 dB, but start as low as 30 dB and work up. Once baby falls asleep, move the dB level down. Keep the sound machine as far from the crib as you can for hearing protection.
- How to wean – you can wean any time you want to, as sound machines are not required for sleep. If baby really responds well, you can gradually wean after one year of age OR decide to use it forever. It’s up to you! I just personally recommend weaning them off so it doesn’t become a habit. You can also go cold turkey when sleep training (no more sound machine and Ferber for reassurance) or go gradual and lower the dB every few days until it’s completely off.
Other popular ways to soothe a baby
- Baby wearing
- Baby massage
- Reduced stimulation: dim light, quiet, swaddle
- Softly singing or talking
- Taking baby for a walk or outside (if daytime)
- Changing scenery (different room if nighttime)
- Changing caregiver (if one is available): Sometimes it helps to give yourself a break and have someone else’s energy take care of a fussy moment.
Some things to remember when you’re dealing with a fussy episode
- Check yourself. How are you feeling? A crying infant triggers a visceral response in us that can greatly impact us and put us into a fight or flight mode.
- Pause for 30 seconds or a minute, whatever you are comfortable with. But do pause and gather your thoughts.
- Assess basic needs—hunger (rooting), diaper, try consoling via one of your soothing mechanisms
- Remember for hunger, offer a feeding but if they’re crying or wailing, don’t panic. Calm them down, change scenery if you need to and try again. They will not take a feeding if they’re wailing and/or if you are stressed.
- If the baby hasn’t made wet diapers or has a fever, you may want to ask a medical professional. Check fingers and toes for hair tourniquets which are strands of hair wrapped around (rare but can happen around the same time as postpartum hair loss).
… If you’ve checked for all of these, and they are still crying, I want you to pass baby off to another caregiver who can help you. If there is nobody else, leave the baby alone (on their back) in a safe sleep environment and take a moment to scream, cry, or grab a glass of water outside. I recommend this because calming a baby who won’t calm is VERY stressful and can cause the caretaker to get nervous. Babies can sense this and they need us to be the calm one when there are high emotions.
Many times, the reason for the fussiness may be short lived (due to new stimulation, sleep schedules, or change in environment). If your baby under two months has a rectal temperature over 100.4, seems fussy throughout the whole day, doesn’t seem to sleep at all, is spitting up along with the fussiness, and/or if there is blood in the stool; seek medical attention.
Know that fussiness in babies isn’t easy, but you will get through it.