How to Soothe a Fussy Baby

Try these tips for soothing a fussy baby


August 12, 2016

That angelic bundle of joy can turn into a fussy baby sometimes. Here’s how to calm the baby and take care of yourself.


I remember when my first child was born thinking how the term “sleep like a baby” was so true; he looked so angelic with his eyes closed, waking only to nurse and briefly look at me with those deep chocolate eyes.

And then he turned 3 weeks old and all of a sudden he would cry and fuss for many hours out of the day and putting him down to sleep would take me 1-2 hours (on a good day)!

That’s right, colic had set in.

Though in my sleep-deprived delirium I was in no way ready for battle, the colic took pity on me and decided to retreat at around 3-4 months of age and I was left with my sweet boy again. In that time, I learned some things that I would like to pass on to other parents of colicky infants.

The first and most important being that “this too shall pass.” It’s difficult and can wear you down caring for a child who is fussy and at times you can feel so helpless and inadequate. However, just the knowledge that colic ends at around 3-4 months was so reassuring to me – there was an endpoint there, I just had to reach it. The tunnel may have been dark for a little while, but there was always that glimmer of light up ahead.

I still remember the day my little one turned 2 months and gave me the first of many delightful smiles just to assure me that better things were around the corner.

In terms of soothing your fussy infant, Harvey Karp, M.D., has made famous the 5 Ss for calming babies.

  • Swaddling: Wrap them tightly to make them feel secure and cozy,  similar to being in the womb.
  • Side/stomach positions: Remember to only do this to soothe your child and once they have fallen asleep, to place them on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Shushing: You can either shush quietly in your child’s ear or play some white noise in the background, anything to mimic a noisier environment.
  • Swaying/Swinging: This should be done in a gentle manner and can be anything from rocking, to bouncing softly on a medicine ball, to jiggling your baby in your arms, but it is meant to replicate the motion your baby felt in the womb as you were carrying on your daily tasks.
  • Sucking: Give your baby a pacifier or thumb to suck on, most babies are comforted by this.

In addition, I think two more Ss need to be added.

  • Sanity: When you have tried all of the above and it seems to have not made a difference, it is easy to become angered and frustrated, emotions that can be even more heightened because of a lack of sleep.  Some parents may handle their baby roughly or even shake their baby when this happens – that is NEVER OK. What is OK is to feed your baby, change the diaper and place the baby safely in a crib or bassinet so that you can take 10 minutes to drink a cup of tea, take a shower or whatever you need to regain your sanity and gain a moment’s reprieve.
  • Support: Having a small child requires a lot of time, patience and selflessness. Please ask for help if you need it and utilize those near and dear to you during this time. Let the grandparents watch the baby for a few hours if you need time to rest or spend with your other children. Ask your friends to bring over dinner a few nights per week so there is one less thing on your plate. Make sure you and your significant other are partners in this endeavor of raising your beautiful child.

Lastly, congratulations on your little one and best of luck to you.

Maya Neeley, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician specializing in hospital medicine at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She adores her husband and four young boys and loves spending time with family and good friends. As a child, she always dreamed of becoming a children’s book illustrator but for now she just dreams of getting a good night’s sleep.