Soothing a Fussy Baby

June 28, 2016
What do you do when your sweet newborn turns into a tiny tyrant? First of all, understand that you are not alone. It's normal for babies to go through a fussy period between two and six weeks, explains Ruth Comfort, a practicing midwife at the South Community Birth Program and Assistant Head of the Department of Midwifery at BC Women's Hospital.

Although the first few months can be stressful for new parents, Comfort counsels her clients that this stage is a "blip on the radar", one that parents and baby won't remember in the long term. It's a time to respond to what your baby needs and enjoy their presence in your life. "The gauge of success for (raising) a baby under three months is that the baby is growing and the parents are feeling joy around their child."
While feeling some stress at times is normal for first-time parents, understanding the principles of soothing a fussy baby can make life easier.

Taking care of the basics

If your baby is crying and unable to settle, the first priority is taking care of their basic needs, Comfort says. The fussiness may be due to hunger, a dirty diaper, or the baby feeling too hot or cold. Discomfort from gas is also common in babies under three months. Helping your little one to expel the gas by burping, massaging the tummy or bicycling the legs can make them feel much better.

Helping your baby settle down to sleep

Comfort explains that over stimulation is a common cause of fussiness. Parents often find that baby's distress peaks between 5 pm and midnight. "Everything is stimulation to a newborn baby - sometimes they get to the end of the day and they cannot cope." She reassures parents that this is normal, and it's a good sign that the baby's brain and nervous system are developing.

Once the basic needs are addressed, the best strategy is to soothe your baby and get them off to sleep. Experienced parents and health care professionals can give advice, but ultimately you will find what works best. Providing a calm environment is a good start.

To settle a fussy baby, take your cue from the warm, confined space that they were used to in the womb, where the baby could feel and hear the sounds of mom's body and sense her movements. For example, some babies are soothed by breastfeeding or  skin-to-skin contact. (See below for more details.)

When the baby won't settle in the crib, it's fine to pick them up. Comfort notes that holding your baby when it is distressed will not impact the baby's sleep habits in the long term. "You cannot spoil a baby under six months by holding it too much or cuddling it too much."

When Comfort's own son wouldn't settle, she found that it helped to walk around the house with him, particularly up and down stairs. Some parents like to sit on an exercise ball to give the baby a gentle bouncing motion, or use one of the commercially available baby swings or chairs.

No matter what you try, if it's not working and your own frustration level begins to rise, give yourself a break! Putting the baby in a safe place, such as the crib, or handing them over to your partner or another adult, can provide you with much-needed breathing space and the chance to regroup.

Soothing strategies to try

Skin-to-skin contact - if you gave birth at BC Women's, skin-to-skin contact will be familiar to you. It's encouraged for many reasons, including establishing breastfeeding and bonding with your baby. For skin-to-skin, the baby is positioned on mom's chest with the head close to her heart. Baby can feel the warmth of mom's body and heard her heart beat. Both have the opportunity to relax, and it's easy to breastfeed if needed. Read more about skin-to-skin here.

• White noise - contrary to what you may think, the womb is not a quiet environment, and complete silence may not settle your baby. You can purchase a white noise machine or install a white noise Smartphone app to help your baby settle and sleep longer.  A simple radio playing static in the background can also work.

• Swings or vibrating chairs - these help some babies who may feel more comfortable in an propped up position.

• A warm bath - taking a soothing bath together helps babies as well as adults relax.

• A car ride - strapping the baby in a car seat and taking to the road can often turn a fussy baby into a sleeping baby.

• Changing baby's position - helping the baby lie on their tummy with the knees raised up underneath can be soothing.

When to seek advice from your health care provider

• If your baby suddenly has an unusually high-pitched cry or the fussiness is accompanied by a raised temperature, seek advice from your health care provider.

• Should your baby suddenly scream continuously for no apparent reason, be sure to examine them from head to toe to look for any physical changes. If you find anything of concern, see your health care provider.

• When your baby cries regularly after feeding, it's a good idea to have this checked out, as it can be a sign of persistent gas or reflux (food coming back up from the baby's stomach).

• If a baby cries for hours on end without a break, even though you have taken care of their basic needs and provided comfort, they may be said to be "colicky". Acccording to the Canadian Pediatric Society, new information indicates that what used to be called colic is part of a normal baby's development, and some babies do cry more than others. However, it's a good idea to check in with your health care provider.


Although there is much information on the internet, Comfort also recommends following the advice in a reputable baby book to help you understand and anticipate the normal aspects of your baby's development, including fussiness.

Your Baby and Child (From Birth to Age Five) (book by Penelope Leach)

The Mother of All Baby Books (book by Ann Douglas)

The Happiest Baby on the Block (website with links to books and multi-media resources by Harvey Karp)

Colic and Crying (information from Caring for Kids, a website of the Canadian Pediatric Society)

This article was written by Anne McLaughlin with information provided by BC Women's midwife, Ruth Comfort


You're gonna love this!  Inspiring stories, right to your inbox.
Join up here.

Patient Story: The 2 1/2 lb "Mini Cooper"

Thanks to you, moms and babies far from home receive the care they need at BC Women's Newborn ICU

Four hours south of Hyder, Alaska, in a quiet Kitimat neighbourhood, Cooper Sutherland is busy playing like any other active three-year-old. At 35 pounds, he outweighs his best friend by eight pounds and he can already count to 20.

Nobody would guess that in 2011, Cooper arrived 12 weeks early. His mom, Leanne, had been transported to BC Women’s Hospital three weeks prior to his birth after a routine exam revealed her cervix had started to dilate.

Cooper arrived weighing in at just two pounds, 11 ounces, earning him the nickname “Mini Cooper.”  As his tiny lungs struggled for breath Cooper was quickly intubated and brought to BC Women’s Newborn ICU. It would be four days before Leanne would be able to hold Cooper, and when she did it took a team of people to place him in her arms – so much equipment was connected to his tiny body: life-saving technology made possible by your donations.

Leanne spent the next three months in the NICU at Cooper’s side, while the NICU team monitored and supported his growth and development.

Far from home, and away from family and friends, Leanne says she drew strength from the bond she formed with three other NICU moms, the doctors, respiratory therapists and her three amazing nurses – Heather, Laura and Kylie.
“It was the best of the worst experience of my life,” says Leanne. “I’m so grateful for their friendship and support. You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

At home in Kitimat, Leanne may be an18-hour drive from Vancouver, but BC Women’s is never far from her thoughts: “I know that if it wasn’t for the exceptional care we received there, Cooper wouldn’t be here today.”

Written by by Helena Bryan for Women's Magazine Spring 2015
Photographed by Ashley Campbell Photography


Thank you to our Donors

Our donors make possible every program, every equipment purchase and every act of care at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre. 

Ministry of Justice
Coast Capital Savings
Tzu Chi Foundation
Dak Molnar
Paula Gordon
Nancy Kent
Ken and Michelle Lim
Denise Pugash
UPS Foundation

BC Women's Hospital thanks Odlum Brown for 18 years of continuous support.


The content provided in Women’s Health eNews is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition

Posted In:Family Health
Post Comment