WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR NEWBORN IS CRYING
Updated: Jul 16
How to Calm a Crying Newborn
If you are a parent, you’ve been there. Pacing back and forth holding a screaming newborn. You don’t dare look at the clock because it might reveal that it’s 3:00 am and it’s actually been three hours of this crying.
And if this is where you are right now, let me just say that I UNDERSTAND, and THIS IS HARD. When you hear a newborn crying you can feel the shrill throughout your whole body.
Studies have shown that when an adult human hears a baby cry their brain goes into survival mode. (5) Our brains say, “DANGER! MUST RESPOND!” This innate response may have been useful in the Paleolithic Era, when modern tools to keep an infant safe were not around, but in modern society it is less helpful to stay in this fight-or-flight mode because you are not able to access the executive function of your brain, where your brilliance is.
It is actually normal for a newborn to cry up to two hours a day (2).
Generally this crying peaks at 6 weeks (1) then decreases, but getting through those weeks of seemingly constant crying can be exhausting.
What is the Purpose of Crying?
When we hear a baby cry we immediately want to DO something. We wonder if we should feed the baby yet again, even though we know she couldn’t possibly be hungry. We try changing the diaper or vigorously rocking the baby in hopes that it lulls her to sleep.
And sometimes none of this works.
I am going to tell you something that will release you from the guilt you feel when you’ve done it all and your baby is still crying.
Crying is not always about communication. Babies also cry for other purposes.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, crying helps “shut out sights, sounds, and other sensations that are too intense to suit her. And it helps her release tension.” (4) So when we try to block crying completely, it may be inhibiting your baby’s natural way of bringing her body back into homeostasis.
When your baby starts crying, go through the common checklist: Is my baby fed? Does my baby need a diaper change? Does my baby need gas medicine? Sometimes crying does indicate that something needs to be done. But other times, your baby is crying because she was just overstimulated, or she is tired.
I’m sure all this sounds great on paper, but there is still the fact that in the moment we are a frazzled mess on a mission to nurture and calm our baby. So what could we do to get through the tough minutes, maybe even hours, of newborn crying? Here are some steps to take to calm your nervous system and respond how your newborn needs you to respond.
Identify What’s Going on in Your Body and Validate Yourself
It’s going to feel weird, but there is power in telling your body and your brain, “Hey! False alarm! Everything is okay.”
Say out loud what your body is doing at that moment, “My heart is pounding, my chest is tight, and my fists are clenched.” Next, pick a few phrases to say to yourself. My favorite phrases in this situation are, “My baby is safe. I am safe. I am capable.” Tell your brain the truth: “My baby is not harmed when he cries.”, or, “I’ve met my baby’s known needs.” Validate Your Newborn
This seems like a silly step, but with the calm and strength that you mustered up with the last step, validate your newborn. Speak to what your newborn is going through, “You’re really upset! You’ve been fed, you have a clean diaper, I think you just want to sleep, but you’re struggling.”
Try Some Soothing Techniques
There are many books written about this subject of soothing a fussy or colicky baby. But every baby responds to these soothing techniques differently, so it is helpful to have quite a few in your back pocket for the tough days that may come. If you have gone through the typical checklist of what could be wrong with your newborn with no luck, try some of these soothing techniques: Skin-to-Skin
Take your shirt off and take your newborn’s clothes off. Place your newborn on your chest. Make sure your breathing is even and calm so that you can download your “calm” to your newborn. It can also be helpful to take a warm bath with your newborn with skin-to-skin in the bathtub. (8)
Swaddle your newborn tightly and place her on your forearm, on her left side. This can ease digestion issues that your newborn may be experiencing. (3) (10)
I have had personal experience with this when my middle son was both an infant and a toddler. When he was screaming in pain, if I placed him on his left side he would stop crying! To learn more about “The Hold” check this video out!
Use a Wrap or a Carrier
This is a great way to simulate the womb. Put on your walking shoes and take a walk with your newborn snug on your chest. I personally have also found that taking a newborn outside, even when cold, is magical. In Nordic countries, napping outdoors is actually the norm.
(Learn more about the interesting cultural norm in Nordic countries of napping outdoors here)
Explore my favorite wraps and carriers:
Try a Pacifier
If you follow me at all, you know how I feel about pacifiers: They are sleep props that you’ll want to get rid of at the latest by 12 weeks old. But, during the newborn phase a pacifier can be a game-changer. Sucking is a natural self-soothing mechanism for a newborn or infant. If your newborn can take a pacifier rather than continuous feeding, this can soothe them without wearing you down, or causing gastrointestinal issues from overfeeding. (3)
(Get my favorite brand pacifiers here!)
Use a Soothing Sound
One thing that really stuck out to me when I read “The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems”, by Tracey Hogg, is that babies cannot hold more than two things in their brain. So if they are crying, hearing a shushing noise, and being patted it is likely that the crying will drop off and the shushing and patting will be focused on by your baby’s brain. This is why I like BOTH patting or rubbing a baby's tummy AND shushing at the same time. These ideas should help your newborn, but the truth is, sometimes they won’t. If you have tried all of this and your newborn is still crying, just remember that you are doing a GOOD JOB. You are meeting your newborn’s need for connection. You are trying your best to decipher her cries and crack the code of WHY she is crying.
If you find yourself at your limit with your newborn’s crying, the AAP’s parent website says to, “Place your baby in a safe place, such as crib or playpen without blankets and stuffed animals; leave the room; and let your baby cry alone for about 10 to 15 minutes” (3). Repeat the soothing techniques after this time to see if she is more likely to accept soothing. I know it is hard hearing your newborn cry and even harder to walk away when your newborn is crying. But remind yourself of the truth that you are a good parent, you are doing the best thing for yourself and for your newborn, and this crying will pass.
Always check in with your pediatrician if you are worried about the amount of crying your newborn does. If you need additional support with your newborn or infant, I can help.
Find More Information About My Postpartum Doula Services and Newborn/Infant Sleep Consulting Services