Last updated on May 26th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Soothing a Fussy Baby: Using Motion and Cues to Calm the Crankiness

Parents dealing with a fussy baby — especially one that has been recently fed, changed and loved — are eager to find ways to calm them. Here are a few tips for soothing a fussy baby:

  • Learn a baby’s sleepy cues
  • Understand sleep patterns
  • Use motion to calm
  • Crankiness, explained

soothing a fussy baby

Learn Baby’s Sleepy Cues

Most babies up to six months old can only be awake for about one to two hours before becoming overtired. Part of the learning curve is being able to recognize a child’s typical sleepy cues, so that you can move them to a safe sleep space as soon as possible.

The signals of sleepiness may include: yawning, staring, fussiness, quieting down, losing interest in playtime, eye rubbing, and hand sucking. An alert or spirited child may move very quickly from happy to tired to overtired, so keeping one eye on the clock is also important. Be prepared to move straight to naptime or bedtime as soon as you see your child’s sleepy cues.

Wondering why your baby wakes up so often?
Read: Why Newborns Wake at Night and 10 Things You Can Do About It

Recognize Baby’s Sleep Patterns

When your baby is about three or four months old, you may start to see a glimmer of a schedule forming where sleeping and waking are concerned. This is because your baby’s internal clock — the circadian rhythm — is starting to develop. Look for this pattern, along with your baby’s sleep cues, and create a soothing naptime and bedtime routine, which can include white noise, feeding and rocking.

Nap timing and length are often the last components of a baby’s schedule to develop, so you might need to use more effort and additional soothing techniques in the afternoon, when getting a little one to sleep can be particularly challenging.

Want to know more about newborn sleep?
Read: Newborn Sleep Schedule: What You Can Do for Some Sleep

soothing a fussy baby

Understand Crankiness

Babies cry when they’re uncomfortable, bored, overstimulated, and sleepy. There are a few things you can do to try and figure out why your baby is crying. Beyond the obvious diaper and mealtime reasons, try a change of scenery. You can also try dimming the lights, turning on white noise, placing your baby in a swing, or offering them a pacifier.

Being prepared to tailor your strategies to your child’s individual needs can make soothing a fussy baby much less stressful for everyone.

Need more naps to ease the crankiness?
Read: Baby And Toddler Naps — Everything You Need To Know

Use Motion for Soothing a Fussy Baby

Motion is a favorite of babies for soothing because it likely reminds them of the sensations and security of their mother’s womb. Movement will often do what no other kind of soothing can do, so it’s a good technique to try. Rock your baby in your arms when you can, but if you need a break to get things done around the house or during times of extended fussiness, consider using a swing.
Since every baby is unique, try a swing that has multiple motion options for speed and music.

Remember, though, a swing is not intended for babies to sleep in for long periods, and should always be used with parental supervision

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Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!