What To Do When Your Baby Won’t Stop Crying

newborn baby

I’ll start by saying that this isn’t a post about potential causes of manic crying episodes in newborn babies – I honestly don’t have a clue what sets them off and, on a more serious note, if you think that there’s actually something wrong with them then always seek medical advice. Better to be safe than sorry, I say – I took Angelica to A&E when she was tiny because she cried for about eight hours, on and off; there was absolutely nothing wrong with her but I was glad I checked. And she slept for about six hours after the car journey, so…silver linings and all that. You get to know your baby’s usual cry, I think, and their little periods when they’re unsettled – anything out of the ordinary tends to be quite noticeable.

So anyway, yes, this post is more about things I do during those niggly hours when the baby cries for ages. Usually in between short periods of frenzied, spluttering feeding, so that you both start to lose your cool with one another. The “fussy” hours. Angelica had them every evening from around 5pm until 11pm when she was a newborn; Ted has actually been much better, and his crazy evening sessions only lasted for a few weeks. Whether that’s because I started following my little routines (see below) or just luck, I have no idea.

Here’s what I do (did) during crazy-frenzy crying sessions – once illness, trapped wind and hunger have been ruled out:

Change Nappy

Sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times this has worked for me, and also surprised at how many times it needed changing but I had totally forgotten to do it. I don’t know whether newborns are really old enough to know when their nappy needs changing, but they must know “discomfort” and so changing a wet nappy can’t ever be a bad thing. Maybe it’s the change in sensation and position, too, but Ted loves having his nappy changed and it usually seems to calm him right down if he’s in a tizz.

Take off a Layer, Skin to Skin

They bang on about this all the time when you’re pregnant, don’t they? “Don’t forget skin to skin in your birth plan!” Nothing complicated here, it’s just letting the baby feel your skin against theirs. Because it doesn’t really happen naturally, that often, during a usual day – normally one or both of you will be dressed, at least partially. So if they won’t stop ranting and raving then try holding them against you wearing just a nappy (them, not you, ha!) and see if they quieten down.

Pass the Baby to Someone Else

Ah, this is the best one in my opinion. When you’ve been shushing and rocking a baby for an hour and you’re ready to poke out your own eardrums with a hot, sharp kebab skewer, passing the baby to Someone Else (someone you know, obviously, not just a random person who’s passing the house) is possibly the definition of Absolute Bliss. And, as well as being sanity-saving, it is often quite effective, for some reason, at suddenly making the baby fall asleep. Maybe it’s because they sense how fraught we are with nerves and frustration, or maybe it’s the change of rhythm. Who knows. Who cares. Pass that baby over. And if you can’t pass the baby to someone else then..

Take a Few Minutes Out

Place the baby in the crib, safely, and then walk away. Shut the door, have a tea or a glass of water, or – as I have been known to do on occasion – a Magnum ice cream. Stretch your legs and arms. Remind yourself that the crying won’t last forever. I think that it is so important to step away from the baby when you’re starting to lose your cool. I think that a crying baby could make you lose your sanity if you sat there for too long, so if there’s nobody to help out then you have to help yourself and that means giving yourself a break. I felt so guilty with Angelica if I ever needed to just get away for a few minutes, but better to do that than sit there shaking with frustration and (can I say this?) anger. Just a brief period of near-silence is very rejuvenating and gives you the will to go on. I often find, too, that the baby is asleep on my return!

Nil By Mouth

I made the mistake with Angelica of thinking that she was desperately hungry, during those long and irritable hours. I’d try and make her feed when she was red-faced and screaming, and she’d claw at my chest with her sharp nails and my nipples would get sore and we’d both just be ridiculously cross. What I didn’t realise was that she wouldn’t feed when she was crying like that, but also, she wasn’t actually that hungry. I’d be trying to get her to eat, but she was overtired and wanted to sleep – as soon as my husband rocked her then she’d be out like a light within minutes and wouldn’t wake for a feed for ages! So if feeding isn’t working, then forget it and switch to “helping them to sleep” mode. Rocking, bouncing and any of the below…

Change of Scenery

If you’re stuck in the dimly-lit bedroom like some sort of horror movie Grandma then get out of the bed, stand up and move to a different room. Hard when you’re knackered, but it’s actually quite re-invigorating! If you’ve been trying to watch Netflix on the sofa and the baby is getting crosser and crosser, then try climbing into bed. A new room, a new position, a new movement – all of these things seemed to work wonders on both Ted and Angelica. I can be trying for ages to calm Ted down, but as soon as he’s flat in the pram – hey presto. I think there’s only one rule here, and that’s to keep trying something new. It also stops you from dying of boredom. And if you’re pushing a pram about in the kitchen rather than stuck in the bedroom, you can make yourself a cup of tea, eat a slice of cake and chat to the dog/cat/fish/hamster.

I Like to Move It, Move It

OK, so lunges are the last thing you want to think about when you’re trying to comfort a shrill-screaming red-faced bundle of joy, but if you’ve got to shush and rock and bounce the baby anyway, why not fit in a bit of exercise? Tell me to fcuk off, but I did a few lunges last week whilst getting Ted to sleep (whilst also watching Broadchurch on the big telly) and they were quite satisfying. It gave me a focus to my baby-bouncing and the movement seemed to send him off. I only did twenty before my left knee gave out (have I ever told you about my crap joints? It’s like I’m held together with pipe-cleaners) but it was twenty more than I’ve done for about two years, and I did feel proud of myself for getting a bit of fitness in.. Take it or leave it, this one – I’ll forgive you for rolling your eyes!

I Drove All Night

I’ve written about the miracle of car journeys before (here), but if you can manage it and you’re not so tired that it’s dangerous then a quick trip in the motor can soothe the most fractious of babies. Obviously if someone else can do it then LET THEM DO IT! I tried to do so much myself with Angelica, I had it in my head that she would somehow self-combust if I wasn’t with her 24/7, but if they’re in the car seat then you can’t feed them anyway, so delegate, let them go off on a drive and get some sleep.

Right, I must be off – the baby is crying. Oh, the irony! At least I have a Dominos pizza en route… As always, please do add your own hints and tips in the comments section below.

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35 Comments

  1. Julia
    May 9, 2017 / 8:00 pm

    Hi Ruth, no tips from me but boy am I glad you wrote this post! Sometimes it feels like I am the only one with a baby that cries (I know, I know, I realise how stupid that sounds now I’ve written it) anyway it’s good to know that even your gorgeous babes kicked off! Not good for you obviously, but you know what I mean. I hope! I love your blog, both of them, they should just replace NCT with you, or make you available on the NHS for sanity purposes… career change?! Lots of love and congratulations on the birth of gorgeous Ted x x x x x

    • May 9, 2017 / 8:09 pm

      Haha, thank you! Yeah it’s hard to write about these things, sometimes, because I’d hate to be seen as a moaner, but on the other hand we need to be realistic! xx

      • Sk
        May 10, 2017 / 3:13 pm

        This article is a life saver, I’ve been so on the edge with her crying that I just couldn’t cope any more. In those moments you feel like you’re the only one but you’re not.
        Ruth you never fail to be utterly brilliant

  2. Linda
    May 9, 2017 / 8:22 pm

    Great advices. What helped me was going for a walk with a mei tai carrier, bouncing an a gymnastic ball, sometimes a bath helped or facetiming with grandma. Occasionally I could distract him from crying with light, we have a stuffed toy that projects moving waves on the ceiling. But Passing the baby to another person is the best thing you can do, it worked every single time.

  3. Kristina
    May 9, 2017 / 8:36 pm

    Thanks for this great post! Just managed to calm down 2 month old Nicolas after crazy crying session. My last resort is always the “hairdryer”, combination of warm air and sound seem to work wonders every time. Also worked with my daughter who had colic. Just be careful it is not to close/ hot

  4. Lindsey
    May 9, 2017 / 9:05 pm

    Fresh air has been a winner every time for both of my kids; literally, as soon as I got either of them outside, they would stop crying!
    Also, a mei tai wrap has been great for when holding my little girl close is the only thing that will settle her.

    • May 9, 2017 / 9:34 pm

      Right, I need to look into this Mei Tei wrap! x

      • Lindsey
        May 10, 2017 / 11:30 am

        It’s proven to be great for going out to places designed for the older kids, like crazy golf, forest school or gymnastics, as I can still have my hands free for my 3-year old.

  5. Agnes
    May 9, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    I have another advice that seems contradictory to your “keep trying something new” but really isn’t. I just wanted to add that my midwife told me that whatever method you are trying at the moment, do it for at least 10 minutes to even give the baby the opportunity to fall asleep … The midwife said that in the frenzy of trying to soothe the baby parents tend to think they are trying this or that forever and switch too soon, when ist has only been a few minutes, so she advised actually timing these 10 minutes with a clock.
    Apart from that: bouncing on a ball, waltzing energetically through the living room with the baby in the arms (try doing that for ten minutes! of course it was the only thing that worked wonders for our daughter), going through cobblestone streets with the pram or taking the baby for a walk in the baby carrier or wrap.
    And Ruth, you are the best!

  6. Helen
    May 9, 2017 / 9:36 pm

    Great post! I did many of these especially change of scenery! The other things that kept me sane were :
    – mini speaker with a micro sd card loaded with white noise (hours of it) – did the job of the sleep sheep etc. but didn’t switch off after 20 mins !
    -to keep myself sane I got bluetooth headphones and listened to endless audiobook/podcasts whilst walking/bouncing etc- takes the edge off the crying and gives you something else to think about!

    • May 9, 2017 / 10:09 pm

      The headphones! YES! I forgot to add that. Though I still haven’t tried it, mainly because husband uses the wireless headphones and they are never in the bedroom!

  7. Sarah
    May 9, 2017 / 10:39 pm

    You absolutely need to read (or watch video on YouTube or DVD from Netflix) The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp. This book was life changing. My baby is 6 weeks old and we are hitting the height of fussiness. I had a couple days of HOURS of crazy crying, but since using the “5S’s” I can calm the screaming in under five minutes. She’s still fussy all day, but that’s a big difference from the shreaking. I’m swaddle, use the Avent pacifier for newborns, bounce in a bouncy ball, and use a white noice app through my nose speaker while running every appliance in the house.

    • Lucy
      May 10, 2017 / 10:44 am

      Yes the 5S’s DVD is brilliant!!

  8. Kate Lee
    May 10, 2017 / 11:13 am

    I think I must be living a mirror image of your life right now with a new baby. I have 4 year old twins and an almost 3 month old. Your posts make me feel so sane and like I’m not the only one going through the EXACT SAME THING. No new tips from the ones you mentioned, but I just wanted to write my thanks for being candid and honest.

  9. Kate B
    May 10, 2017 / 2:51 pm

    A friend once told me that passing the baby to someone else is very effective as if the baby can smell milk it confuses their senses and by passing them to another person e.g. their dad, it takes them away from the smell of something they know they like but may not want right that moment! Anyhow, seems to work!
    Love your posts! X

  10. Jo.C
    May 10, 2017 / 6:15 pm

    I used to lay my daughter on my chest and ‘Ommm’. The vibration of the Om used to calm her down. Crazy I know, but it worked. Calmed me down too. X

    • Sarah
      May 11, 2017 / 8:40 am

      This got me through my first three weeks! Deep breathing, too! It helped with my stress level and encouraged her to take slower breaths, thereby ending screaming.

  11. Patsy
    May 10, 2017 / 7:59 pm

    I’ve been following your blogs for a while now but have never commented on a post until now. Ruth, your writing is simply a pleasure to read! Thank you!

  12. Marie
    May 10, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    This is another great post, so truthful and real. Do you know those big gym balls that are useful when pregnant? bounce on one whilst holding the baby. As you have to focus on keeping your balance, it takes your mind off the baby screaming! Also, remember it is just a phase and before you know it they will be crawling and trying to stick their fingers into plug sockets.

  13. Ann
    May 10, 2017 / 9:11 pm

    If only I’ve read this months ago. I love the fact that you’re not so uptight (like I am with my baby). And I would love to read something about the differences between having first baby and what changes with another one 🙂

  14. Ewa
    May 10, 2017 / 10:32 pm

    Hairdryer and fast, i meat very fast walking helped me a lot with my baby girl. I will definetly read your post and all comments again In September when baby nr 2 appears. Ruth what is your opinion about sooters (dummy) because I have never read or hear anything form you about that?

    • May 11, 2017 / 7:14 am

      Well… there was quite a snobbery about them when I was younger, for some reason.They were called “dummies” which I suppose doesn’t help. I don’t know why, I’ve never really asked my Mum. Maybe I should! I never had one, nor my siblings. So it has never once occurred to me to use one! I suppose they’re just not on my radar as an option.

    • Sarah
      May 11, 2017 / 8:44 am

      I never used one as a baby and was dead set against them… until I had a baby that is a sucker like WHOA.My pediatrician recommended the Avent one for newborns when he saw she was using me as a human pacifier. I only use them during times she struggles to self soothe (coming down from screaming meltdown, overtired/fussy before falling asleep, stressed out).

  15. Claudia
    May 11, 2017 / 5:12 am

    Hello Ruth! Great tips above and I totally agree with all of them. I’m on my second baby and she’s 2.5m and thankfully (touchwood) her crying spells haven’t lasted quite as long and usually she’s overtired and then two hours into trying to get her to sleep she will want another feed. Crying is thirsty work I suppose!
    My husband swears by the squats too but I think I might have to invest in a fit ball if she decides she likes the up and down movement as I don’t think I can do squats for as long.
    Hope you’re out of the woods now with the hours long crying xx

  16. Louise
    May 11, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    I completely agree with all of your tips Ruth. Both my boys (now 6.5 and 2.5) went through the “manic evening crying” phase and with babe number 1 I nearly went demented! I do wish someone (NCT, someone on the street, the postman, you know ANYONE – all the grandparents seemed to have forgotten anything about newborn babies and how much they cry) had told me that it was ok to leave the baby for a few minutes and just take some time for myself. I also was a bit of a control freak with son number 1, thinking that it always had to me me who did everything, otherwise something terrible would happen to our mother-son bond ( I know, I think I was a bit delusional..), so I didn’t do nearly enough handing over to someone else, which is officially a “good thing” to do! Fortunately I wised up (a bit) with number 2 and wasn’t nearly so over protective, and as a result remained fairly sane. Great post, thanks for making us all feel normal!

  17. HC40
    May 11, 2017 / 5:01 pm

    My 70 year old friend, having ruled out hungry/thirsty/dirty/poorly, used to push the pram down the end of the garden where she couldn’t hear him… but that was in 1967.

  18. Andrea
    May 12, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    For me it was a strechy wrap type of baby carrier that worked wonders in those early months’. A slightly different than a Mei Tai but the same purpose. My daughter (1,5 months younger than Angelica) calmed down and fell asleep within 5 minutes tops. Then I vould lie down and watch my favourite shows with her sleeping on my chest or get on with cooking or sit down to read etc. Good times 🙂

  19. Sharon
    May 15, 2017 / 12:16 am

    I absolutely love your blog! It’s so honest, refreshing and downright funny! We have a 2.5 yo and will have number 2 arriving in Sept. it’s funny how much you forget what happened in the newborn stage! Your blog is helping me get geared up and almost like a refresher course for what’s to come! LOL

  20. Julia
    May 18, 2017 / 5:15 am

    Oh my goodness, I’ve just read this post in the early hours of day 4 of being on my own with my 4 week old after my husband went back to work on Monday – thank you so much, i think you may have saved my sanity! On day 1 she was an angel! She napped for 4 hours in the afternoon so I got cocky and made a cheesecake, did some washing and went to the shops with her. Oh how foolish I was to think this would last! Days 2 and 3 were a blurry cycle of cry, feed, rock, cry, feed, rock – with no naps at all! I ended up in tears when hubby got home yesterday out of my mind as I hadn’t been able to get her to stop crying all afternoon. as a first timer, it’s so nice to read that this is all normal! I feel really positive after reading this and I’m definitely going to try these tips out today – thanks! X

  21. Elly
    May 19, 2017 / 9:20 am

    My 3 month old Olivia and Ted are less than a week apart and always going through the same exact things! I look forward to your posts because they always make me feel like I’m not the only one going through this. The one thing that also works for me is brining the baby in the bathroom (strapped in a rocker/bouncer) while I run the fan and take a shower. The sound of the water and the steam seem to calm her down. Good luck to all of us during fussy periods.

  22. Elly
    May 19, 2017 / 9:22 am

    *oops meant “bringing” please don’t brine your babies, hehe
    My 3 month old Olivia and Ted are less than a week apart and always going through the same exact things! I look forward to your posts because they always make me feel like I’m not the only one going through this. The one thing that also works for me is bringing the baby in the bathroom (strapped in a rocker/bouncer) while I run the fan and take a shower. The sound of the water and the steam seem to calm her down. Good luck to all of us during fussy periods.

  23. Katherine
    May 24, 2017 / 9:30 am

    The skin to skin advice is brilliant, I also used to swaddle the baby with a specially shaped swaddle wrap thing you can buy, and use a white noise cd (my ‘baby’ is 8 now so it was cds then! but, as others have said, there are downloads available now). White noise helps decrease over stimulation, and avoiding the baby becoming over stimulated generally helps. I started a little routine of doing these things before the crying hours started (as you said, it’s usually around the same time isn’t it), a kind of ‘wind down’ period, and that helped enormously to soothe the baby and limit the crying jags. Once I’d discovered it can be due to over stimulation and over tiredness (so getting them into routine napping during the day if you can helps) things seemed to improve a lot. Caring for a baby can be so stressful at times, as well as the loveliest, most incandescent thing ever, and honesty about the experience really helps others I think. Your writing captures both aspects of the experience brilliantly. 8 years on I still reflect often on the intense, indelible, time when my daughter was a baby, so I like reading your blog! Thank you Ruth xx

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