Let me begin this with a little anecdote. After my first baby was born a few years ago, I quickly got into the best shape of my adult life.
I’m talking lean as can be, muscular, and with incredible strength in all new places, such as my arms, back, and upper body in general.
This was through no effort on my part.
While I did continue walking and jogging as I always had pretty regularly, it was the stuff I ended up needing to do – rather than choosing to do – that gave me such a great workout each and every day.
For a while when she was maybe one to three months old, I would rock, dance, and sing my sweet baby to sleep – every time she slept. This included naps. It was what got her to stop crying.
And at nighttime – oh, man. It got elaborate. I would wear her in a fabric sling and rock her with my own body as I danced in deep sways and lunges. Then she’d wake up again when I took her out of the sling to move her to a swaddling blanket, so I’d hold her in my arms and carry out the whole song and dance – literally – again, with some nursing thrown in there somewhere, too.
I now have a second baby, too, and although my routine with her was a bit less elaborate, let’s just say I have quite a bit of experience in baby soothing by now.
Allow me to guide you through 15 ways to stay calm and console a seemingly inconsolable baby.
15 Boogie, Baby
Happily, I love to dance.
Now, I don’t think I ever really pictured myself needing to do it for so long and while carrying so much weight, but how buff I got while doing this certainly was a happy side effect.
Who knew that babies responded so, so well to rhythm? I didn’t!
But it all makes sense.
A baby is used to being carried around in the womb, with the rhythmic motion of the mother’s movements acting as the norm.
According to PsychologyToday.com, I’m not the only mom who found dancing to be the most effective way to help a baby calm down.
Moms across various cultures develop such soothing dance routines, and it’s not only the rhythm but of course also the close, personal contact between caregiver and child that matter.
14 Rock Out
Get this: According to PsychologyToday.com, a 2013 study in the journal Current Biology found that “Infants experience an automatic calming reaction when they are being carried, whether they are mouse pups or human babies.”
As I was about to say here, and as the Psychology Today writer touched on, parents don’t need any study to tell them that holding and rocking a baby is the old stand-by for creating calm for a reason.
“Every parent and caregiver knows from first hand experience that babies calm down when they are picked up, gently rocked, and carried around the room,” Christopher Bergland wrote.
The response, seen as babies (of various species!) calm down and stop moving as soon as they’re picked up and rocked or carried, “is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and a region of the brain called the cerebellum.” It’s also related to proprioception, or the perception of one’s body and movements.
Whether in your arms or snuggled in a chair, rocking is scientifically proven to calm a crying baby.
13 Have A Ball
Now let me introduce you to my second baby’s soothing routine of choice – the one we found worked like nothing else and so carried out multiple times during each and every day of her young life: holding her close while bouncing up and down on an exercise ball.
There’s a period of time – in which you will likely find yourself needing a list like this one – where a baby is not so sleepy as she was when first born and also not yet quite ready for sleep training (or being guided to learn to fall asleep on her own). It’s probably somewhere between one and 3 months of age that parents can tend to find themselves needing to provide a LOT of soothing.
To help her let go and relax into sleepy time – for naps and at night – bouncing on that ball was what did the trick.
I bet it resembled the bounce of my body from when she was curled up in there during my pregnancy.
Parents.com states, also, that such motions might remind a baby of being inside mom in utero.
12 Simply Stroll
Some moms schedule their whole days around NOT having their babies out in the stroller anywhere close to an approaching naptime – in order to avoid having the baby sleep for just a bit in the stroller instead of taking a nice, long “real” nap at home.
The soothing motion of a stroller helps a baby to relax, just as you or I might feel the urge to nod off while hubs manned the steering wheel of the car on a road trip.
Especially if a baby happens to be overly tired for some reason or is just having trouble being relaxed and comfortable enough to calm down and either be happily awake for a while or get some shut-eye, a stroller can be JUST the thing.
Not to mention that a change of scenery / sound and some fresh air can often help a little one (and a mom) to snap out of a moody spell.
Parents.com explains that the motion of the stroller is smooth and consistent, and it provides a “snug comfort,” so it helps a baby to sleep.
11 Joy Ride
I remember, before I ever had babies of my own, being amused by a story my brother told of noticing a certain car was going slowly by his house over and over and over again. He went out to see if the driver was lost and needed directions or something, and it turned out to be new parents cruising around and around the neighborhood to get their new baby to sleep. Aww.
Now, as a parent to two toddlers, I schedule my day around, usually, avoiding being in the car when it’s near to a naptime (so my baby won’t fall asleep before I get her home and in her bed, where she’ll probably nap better and longer) –
or I’ll intentionally try to schedule any somewhat longer car travel when my little one does need a nap.
For many (though by no means ALL) babies, that consistent and soothing motion is just the thing to help them give into drowsiness, stop crying, and start snoozing.
Parents.com (and all actual parents that I know in my own life) recommends this soothing trick.
10 Sing A Song / Shushing
Here’s what’s so wonderful and beautiful: It’s probably not just ANY voice that will so wonderfully soothe your baby to calm down or even go to sleep. It’s YOUR voice, the one he’s been hearing for many months while riding around in your uterus – the one he hears in his home and car and anywhere he goes that lets him know comfort, safety, and food are near.
Man, did I rediscover my own love for singing once I had my first baby. And my oldest child liked it LOUD. I belted out everything from ’90s hits to Christmas carols to choral pieces I remembered from my high school days.
TheBump.com even says that singing is better for soothing your baby than talking, according to one study.
University of Montreal Professor Isabelle Peretz even told the pregnancy site, "Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity."
9 The Niceness Of Nursing
What many mothers, including yours truly, come to love about breastfeeding is that they have a built-in way to soothe their baby (often better and more quickly than anything else they might try) no matter where they happen to be. As long as mom is there, so are her milk, her close cuddles, her smell, and that sweetly soothing sucking
TodaysParent.com sites a Pediatrics journal study from 2009 that found breastfeeding to be more effective at reducing a baby’s pain after having a heel pricked than “any other intervention,” including a pacifier, being held, and other measures.
The factors considered were things like the baby’s heart rate and how much they cried.
Lactation consultant Fleur Bickford told the website that “Babies go to the breast for many reasons — they’re hungry or thirsty, they’re tired, they’re scared or hurt, they’re feeling overwhelmed. All of these are equally valid reasons for a baby to nurse.”
8 Hit Play
Music has been such an important tool on and off throughout the lives of both of my toddlers.
What’s amazing to me, too, is that sometimes a song will come on the radio that I used to play while soothing my oldest child to sleep, and she’ll pause and say, “What’s this…?” as if it holds some special significance for her.
BabyCenter.com notes how every parent knows that soothing power of the lullaby – and also that just like for us grownups, music has the power to change the mood of a baby for the better or help them relax and drift off to sleep.
Rhythm and melody, man… Something about ’em just soothes the soul.
I personally went far beyond classical music and “Rockabye Baby” to play any sort of stuff that I felt like listening to, and my little ones loved that music the best.
7 Buzz, Buzz, Baby
I’ll tell you from my firsthand experience that a parent’s touch, being held close and maybe sung to and rocked or danced around, are the best for helping a baby to quickly relax and calm down. Often it’s just being held that they need in order to stop crying and settle in for some rest at last.
But because parents are humans and humans have their limits, some moms and dads find contraptions that replicate such motions to be pretty much awesome.
Some baby swings rock to and fro to help a baby relax, just as you would in a hammock out in the yard. Others buzz or vibrate, while fancy newfangled ones plug into the wall and carry out any number of motions, including swooping up, down, and around.
Care.com highlights that during that “fourth trimester,” or newborn period, this type of motion is appropriately soothing to babies because it feels sort of like being in the womb.
6 A Guide For Sucking
A good portion of our job as parents is to teach our children to learn how to care for themselves, no? From the very basic to the most intricate of emotional experiences, we act as their guide, providing lessons and strategies in how to cope with all that this life presents successfully.
Well it might start on a quite basic level with teaching our babies how soothe themselves.
Some babies are born with their hands up near their faces – and are even seen in ultrasounds sucking their thumbs. It’s one of the most convenient and early forms of self-soothing, and perhaps your little one just needs a little guidance in how to bring that thumb up to the mouth and suck happily away.
WhatToExpect.com explains that sucking is a reflex for babies – it’s how they eat, so that’s good! It makes sense, then, that some babies are really calmed down by “nonnutritive” sucking, as well.
5 Mix It Up
Now that I’m getting into toddlerhood with my second baby, I know – as does my husband – SO well that distraction is KEY.
A little one crying seemingly inconsolably one second will switch to smiles and giggles as if a switch was flipped sometimes if there’s a change of scenery, activity, or toy.
This starts even during the newborn period. It really is like a little infant just doesn’t like the vibe of the room you’re in or something. Once there’s a new environment with distracting stimuli (or an absence thereof…), things can become all better just like that!
The sound of leaves rustling in the wind and birds chirping overhead if you go outside for a while might be just the thing.
If you’ve been in a room full of family and head to a quieter corner, the reduction in stimulation might be much less overwhelming to your little one. It’s sort of trial and error.
4 Pass Some Gas
Allergies to things like dairy might be an issue for some babies – and what you consume in your own diet may very well affect your own baby’s digestion, too, so this can be the cause of digestive (and therefore general) upset. So let’s start with that important factor.
But even babies without any specific allergies sometimes intake air or have gas produced during digestion, leading to discomfort. While adults may think little of the feeling of having to… let out some air, the tummy pain may be too much for a little tot to bear happily.
There are things you can do, such as bicycling a baby’s legs or gently pressing the knees up toward the tummy.
If you try these simple tactics when your little one seems upset beyond being able to be calmed down, you might just produce a tiny toot that turns that frown upside-down!
Parents.com even mentions talking to your child’s pediatrician about infant gas drops.
3 Time To Think Temps
Being too warm or too cold might not sound like so big of a deal, but you know what? When I really think about it, I totally understand why a baby or even young child might be super irritable or even really upset when their temperature just isn’t quite right.
Heck, when I’m too hot, I know I’m not much fun to be around.
And babies don’t have the language or understanding to express this discomfort to you or anyone else.
That’s why if you take the initiative and change clothes or environments as necessary, you might just find yourself with a much happier little one on your hands.
Clothes may also be rubbing uncomfortably or too tight, and a wardrobe change can make all the difference.
And you’ll probably end up changing that diaper while you’re at it, which is always a good thing to try to make a baby more comfortable.
Although, according to parents seeking advice at Parents.com and BabyCenter.com, some babies really fuss about actually having their clothes changed, so for some, there may be more upset before there’s (relative) calm.
2 Let It Be
I find myself writing quite often these days about how closely my own kids’ emotions seem to be tied to my own – and the reaction is always almost instant. They pick up on the subtlest cues, it seems, from the tone of my voice to my body language to the way I’m breathing.
That’s why either to allow yourself to regain calm composure (before you get too frustrated) or to just give your little one a minute to feel less overwhelmed, many consider it OK to put the baby down somewhere safe for a few minutes.
At Parents.com, Dr. Pamela High suggests taking this 5 to 10 minutes of rest so that a parent can take a breath, eat a quick snack, or call for help from a partner. The cycle of being upset might even end right then and there.
1 Something To Soothe
My babies never used pacifiers. Most babies I know do.
My kids did, of course, end up sucking on many other objects they found, such as teething toys and any small, rubbery toy that was in their path.
As newborns, it fulfills that reflexive need to suck. As older babies, it can soothe sore gums during periods of teething – big time.
Whether it’s a pacifier, if that’s your style, a rubber toy shaped like a giraffe, or something else entirely (that’s safe), it might just be the thing to help your tot soothe herself and relax for a while or drift off.
(Although let’s note that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and as noted at WhatToExpect.com, it’s not recommended to put anything in the crib with a baby for sleepy time.)
Check with your own doc about any questions you have regarding what’s safe to allow your baby to use for soothing sucking.