Soothing a crying baby & understand their needs

Hanna Pauser
Written by
Dad laying on the couch holding sleeping baby

Seeing your baby cry and struggle to calm down can be incredibly stressful as a parent. Crying is one of the ways babies communicate their needs to their parents, and our task is not to ensure the baby never cries but to soothe the baby and try to understand if there is a need behind the crying that we need to fulfill.

When the baby feels that something isn't right, they often to signal this to their parent using their voice through moaning or crying. Common reasons for crying include hunger, wanting to nurse (which can be for comfort or feeling of security, not just hunger), feeling tired, needing comfort, or feeling discomfort from things like a wet diaper or temporary pain of some sort.

There are also times when babies cry and are particularly hard to soothe. This may require more specific strategies, especially with newborns crying post-birth, babies who are overstimulated or overtired or suffering from colic or illness¹².

Staying Calm When Your Baby Cries

For new parents, it's easy to feel stressed when your baby cries and try to soothe them crying quickly.

Remember, crying isn't dangerous in it self, and your primary role isn't to stop the crying as fast as possible. Calmly respond to your baby's communication by soothing them and methodically trying to help them with their needs. Trust that you'll find the solution, and remember that it's okay for babies to cry a little bit.

Understanding your baby's needs step by step

As you get to know your baby better, understanding their needs becomes easier. Initially, consider if something is making them uncomfortable, like a dirty diaper or an awkward position.

Soothing with sound and touch

Speaking softly and using touch, like stroking their head or picking them up, can help soothe them. Your voice and touch signal that you're there to help meet their needs which in it self is soothing³. "Shushing" sounds and white noise can also be calming to babies. Making a continuous shushing sound with your voice or playing a prerecorded white noise can help them calm down faster⁴.

Napper offers over 30 different white noise and sleep sounds.

Soothing with Nursing/Bottle-Feeding or a Pacifier

Nursing or bottle-feeding is calming and can satisfy both hunger and the need to suck. If you are breastfeeding, offering the breast can often be a first step. Nursing serves many purposes beyond hunger; it's soothing, pain-relieving, and can help a tired or overstimulated baby wind down. There isn't any wrong reason for a baby to want to nurse⁵.

It's generally positive for breastfeeding to "nurse on demand" - letting the baby nurse as much as they want⁵. If you're experiencing nipple soreness and need a break, sometimes soothing by carrying and rocking or offering a pacifier can be an alternative if the baby has recently fed well. A nursing shield can be a temporary solution if breastfeeding is needed during such times (and needing a break, even without soreness, is equally valid).

If bottle-feeding, try offering a bottle or pacifier depending on your feeding routine.

Soothing with carrying and rocking

Carrying your baby in your arms, a sling, or a carrier while walking around or rocking can have a calming effect on the baby⁶.

The rocking motion is also believed to remind the baby of life in the womb, which can be soothing². If you're unable to walk around, sitting on a large pilates ball and gently rocking (not bouncing) with your baby in your arms, a sling, or a carrier can be a good alternative. Ensure the ball is big enough that your hips are above your knees, with your feet firmly on the ground for stability.

When rocking a baby, remember that movements should be gentle and small - never any vigorous shaking².

Crying after birth

Some babies cry a lot during the first day post-birth. This can be due to discomfort or soreness from delivery, like pressure on the head or a sore spot from monitoring equipment. If you suspect your baby's crying is due to pain, talk to your midwife or pediatrician. It often passes quickly, but being aware can provide peace of mind. Pay attention to any particular sore spots to be extra gentle or avoid touch.


If your baby regularly cries for hours at a time more than three days a week, often around the same time each day, it might be colic. Colic is most common from about 2 weeks to 5 months of age and usually resolves on its own⁷.

The exact cause of colic is unknown, but there are strategies to alleviate the discomfort. Pediatrician Harvey Karp has outlined a method for soothing colicky babies known as the "5 S's," which you can learn about here².

If you suspect colic, talking to your child health nurse for advice and tips on easing your baby's discomfort can be helpful.


Other underlying conditions can also cause babies to cry more than usual, such as allergies, urinary tract infections, or infant reflux. If your baby is crying intensely and inconsolably, especially if they've recently been vaccinated, or if they seem "not themselves" and cry differently than usual, it's important to seek medical advice².

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2. Karp, H. (2002). The Happiest Baby on the Block. Bantam Books.

3. Mrljak R, Arnsteg Danielsson A, Hedov G, Garmy P. Effects of infant massage: A systematic review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 May 24;19(11):6378. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19116378. PMID: 35681968; PMCID: PMC1979989.,

4. J A Spencer, D J Moran, A Lee, and D Talbert. White noise and sleep induction.,,help%20mothers%20settle%20difficult%20babies.

5. World Health Organization. Breastfeeding [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; [cited 2024 Mar 15].,

6. Hunziker UA, Barr RG. Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 1986 May;77(5):641–8.,

7. Leung A, Lemay J. Infantile colic: a review. J R Soc Promot Health. 2004;124(4):162–6.,