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11 Soothing Techniques to Calm a Fussy Baby

Become a baby calming master with these expert tips.

Babies generally come in two modes: Peaceful and fussy. It’s understandable, really. In order to grow and develop they need to, well, sleep like a baby. And when something goes wrong — a little gas, a little hunger — they have no other way to let parents know than to fuss, and cry, and scream. This leads us to the first way to calm a fussy baby: Feed them. If they’re hungry, they’ll fuss. If a bottle doesn’t do the trick, well, then you’re going to have to calm the baby down with some more advanced techniques. 

1. Stand Up

Babies like to stand. Science says so. In studies, infants under six months who were carried immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease due to an inborn calming response that, researchers speculate, probably helped survival in cases of emergency escape where the mother held a quiet child. So if you’re sitting down with a fussy baby, pick them up. It’s that simple.

2. Shush Them

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Babies in the womb experience a constant noise that is near 90 db (think, a motorcycle 25 feet away). It must be jarring then, for them to come into the silence of our lives. If baby gets fussy, get right up to their ear and shush (“shh shh shh”) like a white noise machine. To note: This technique is one of the hallowed 5 S’s that pediatrician Harvey Karp proposes to calm a fussy baby. The other is… 

3. Swaddle Them

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This is as simple as it sounds. Babies have a reflex in which they feel like they’re falling (yes, the moro reflex is as spectacularly weird as it sounds) and so their limbs flail and they can wake themselves. So get your swaddling technique down and you will have a baby that’s all that much calmer.

4. Rock the Baby

This is another essential from Karp (he calls it “swinging”). An effective rock requires you to pay attention to the baby and experiment. Rock back and forth, up and down, fast and slow, in sync or out of rhythm. The point is to find out what calms them and run with it. 

5. The Elevator

One rocking technique that deserves mention — because you might not be brave enough to try it on your own — is what we call the elevator. With your baby well secured (in the crook of your arms is best here), loosen your knees like you’re going into a squat. Drop “one floor” (about 3 inches), bounce back upright, and then drop two floors (8 inches; so your legs are almost a 90 degrees), holding it at that bottom. Repeat as necessary and watch your baby instantly calm down (in some cases, of course).

6. Check the Diaper

A dirty diaper isn’t always recognizable by smell alone, especially with infants. Put them on their belly over your knee and give it a dipstick or pull and look.

7. Burp Them

If they’ve fed recently and are super fussy, it might be gas. Babies swallow air when breastfeeding or sucking from a bottle, and often have trouble getting it back out. So, burp them.

8. Give Them a Bath

If they’re fussy for some time and love to bathe, well, there’s no harm in giving them a bath. 

9. Wait

Issues such as colic that can cause a baby to cry have no certain cause or remedy. Colic doesn’t last forever, and time is the best way to take care of the problem.

10. Put Them to Bed.

This is easier said than done, but being overtired may be the cause of their crying.

11. Teach Them to Self-Soothe

Self-soothing is something that’s taught and sleep training is your curriculum. This, however, isn’t something you can do overnight — or even in a week. Read up on sleep training techniques, pick yours and stick to it.