Caring for Your Newborn: Crying & Sleeping

"Give yourself grace and hold everything with open hands, because you never know what's coming once that baby is born." - Veteran Mom

Caring for Your Newborn: Crying & Sleeping

"Give yourself grace and hold everything with open hands, because you never know what's coming once that baby is born." - Veteran Mom

Crying

During the first few weeks, a baby tends to sleep…well, like a baby! But once she’s awake more, crying will take center stage as her main form of communication. As she gets older, you’ll get better at deciphering her signals: hungry, tired, just plain bored? Over time, you’ll know.

In the meantime, it’s frustrating and exhausting when you’ve tried everything under the sun and she’s still wailing her head off—and it’s bound to happen. When it does, remember it’s okay to put her down safely in the crib and give yourself a few minutes to regroup or ask Dad to tag team with you. If you and Dad have talked about tackling crying (as in: “We’ll both get frustrated at times and it’s okay to ask for help.”), it’ll be easier to take the break you need, even five minutes gives you a chance to compose yourself, and the same goes for Dad.

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There are also a number of things that help soothe your baby. New moms and dads swear by the five S’s found in The Happiest Baby on The Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. This step-by-step method teaches parents how to calm your baby by recreating sounds and motions in the womb, including swaddling, swinging, sucking and more. Dr. Karp suggests watching the DVD, rather than reading the book, and even grandparents can watch and pick up tools for soothing the baby when Mom and Dad are out. And white noise gadgets and apps are lifesavers for calming a crying baby, drowning out unwanted noise, and helping your baby sleep. (One dad in Boot Camp for New Dads found luck after duct taping a Roto tool underneath his baby’s crib for noise and vibration. Certainly not for everyone, but he definitely gets an A+ for creativity!) 

WATCH! Dirty laundry does the trick?

"You think, okay, that's how they communicate. I'll rock them, soothe them, do all the stuff. But it can get to the point, especially if they're colicky, where ti's the worst part of the day. You can get so overwhelmed when you can't stop your baby from crying." - Veteran Mom

Crying Checklist

Keep a crying checklist handy, because you’ll be in a fog those first few weeks and the list helps you remember things that seem obvious now. Just go top to bottom trying each one, then back to the top again. Start with the checklist below and add to it as you go (and be prepared for something to work one day and not the next: babies like to make sure we’re paying attention.).

Possible causes of crying:

  • Hungry
  • Clothes rubbing
  • Tired
  • Diaper pinching skin
  • Needs Burping
  • Frustrated
  • Gas/constipated
  • Needs to be held
  • Dirty or wet diaper
  • Too much noise
  • Diaper Rash
  • Room too quiet
  • Too hot/too cold

WATCH: "What's the Fuss? A Guide to Newborn Crying"

why is baby crying

Colic

Colic in babies generally starts around two weeks old and can last three to four months: often, it stops as mysteriously as it started. Colicky babies go through prolonged bouts of crying (usually, in the early evening: the “witching hour”), or they’ll make grunting sounds when sleeping. There’s no consensus on why babies become colicky, but an underdeveloped nervous system, being overly sensitive to stimulation are potential causes. Whatever the cause, it can be majorly exhausting and test your patience and confidence. The good news is colic appears to have no long-term adverse effects, and many pediatricians find probiotics reduce discomfort and crying (check with your doctor for recommended dosage and type).

colic symptoms

When to Call the Doctor

Colic in babies generally starts around two weeks old and can last three to four months: often, it stops as mysteriously as it started. Colicky babies go through prolonged bouts of crying (usually, in the early evening: the “witching hour”), or they’ll make grunting sounds when sleeping. There’s no consensus on why babies become colicky, but an underdeveloped nervous system, being overly sensitive to stimulation are potential causes. Whatever the cause, it can be majorly exhausting and test your patience and confidence. The good news is colic appears to have no long-term adverse effects, and many pediatricians find probiotics reduce discomfort and crying (check with your doctor for recommended dosage and type).

"I had those moments where I just broke down, and you're sleep deprived, baby's crying, inconsolable, and you can't get her to stop. And I just had to stop what I was doing and hand her to my husband and say, 'You've got to take her.' I just needed to clear my thoughts, take a breather, and that little breather made all the difference." - Veteran Mom

Soothing Baby

Some handy hacks for soothing your crying baby: Just go down the list one by one until you find what works.

  • Feed. It may not be her normal feeding time, but she might be hungrier than usual.
  • Swaddle. Newborns are comforted by that snuggled-up feeling they had in the womb. There are lots of “swaddling made easy” wraps out there and you can ask the hospital nurses to give you a tutorial.
  • Diaper Change. Check for a wet or poopy diaper, and if there’s a diaper rash, use a little ointment to soothe the burn. (For severe rashes, or if you’re unsure, call your doctor’s office.)
  • Burp. Babies swallow air when eating or crying and can get a gassy feeling if not burped.
  • Pat-Pat-Pat. Gentle patting is comforting to most babies and they love the feeling of being patted on the butt and/or back.
  • Hold him. Babies love the warmth and security of your body. Try different positions to see what works.
  • Rock out. Try a rocking chair or hold her while swaying side to side.
  • Distract him. Sing to him, show him a new toy, gently blow on his forehead, take him into another room, or step outside for fresh air.
  • Give her something to suck. Babies love sucking! It calms them down and releases oxytocin. Try a pacifier, a clean finger (with the soft side up), or breastfeeding.

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  • Stand, walk, or sway him. Babies really love movement and the combination of moving and getting their back patted often does the trick.
  • Talk or read. Bust out a good book, or tell her what you’re doing, what you see and what’s going on in the world: She’ll be soothed by your familiar voice.
  • Play. It not only distracts him, it assists brain development. Try moving his arms or legs and telling him about his body parts, or move an object back and forth across his field of vision.
  • Show her around. Sometimes all it takes is a walking tour around the yard or house. Tell her about the things you see. 
  • Try the swing. Most babies love an infant swing and it gives moms hands free time to get things done.
  • “Bicycle” his legs. He may have gas or constipation, so lay him face up on your lap and gently move his legs in and out, round and round.
  • Just dance! He’ll like the movement, it distracts you both and it’s a fun way to exercise!
  • Stroll. Babies love movement and getting outside: grab the stroller and go for a walk/jog around the neighborhood, backyard, or even the house!
  • Use a front carrier or sling. Leaves your hands free and the warmth of your body and beat of your heart soothes him.
  • Massage her. Gently stroke her back, legs or head.
  • Strike up the tunes. Play music you like (that he may remember from the womb). If that doesn’t work, mix it up with some jazz or classical to see what works.
  • Try a stimulating environment. After being in the womb where it’s noisy and there’s movement and vibrations, too much quiet can be unsettling, so try some white noise or music with rocking.
  • Try a calm environment. Over-stimulated? Try a quiet room with low lighting and gentle white noise.
  • Hop in the car. Usually the movement and vibration calms babies within the first few miles.

"One thing that worked for us was if he was crying, my husband would try to rock him and shush him back to sleep, and as soon as his patience started to go, I would pick it up because I was calm, and vice-versa: if I had him first, I would pass him to my husband. That's the thing with babies, they pick up on when your patience starts to go." - Veteran Mom

Edel & Ryan: Breathing & Crying (1:59)

New Moms & Dads Share Tips

  • “The motion of the rocking chair really did soothe her. I would get frustrated, but if I rocked her it was almost like I calmed myself as well. Because, at times, you do feel like you reach your limit.”
  • “We’d go outside and go for a walk with her in the stroller. You get fresh air, the baby gets fresh air and everyone gets soothed and calms down.”
  • “White noise. We still use it and it 100% soothes her. It was almost instantaneous. Playing it in the background, she would go from crying to content.”
  • “He likes to be patted on the butt.”
  • “Rocking her back and forth provides the rhythmic movement she really likes.”

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  • “She loves the ocean white noise. Perfect California girl.”
  • “The swing was helpful for sleep. And the pacifier.”
  • “Taking him outside. He loves to look around. A walk always calms him down, and it’s good to get out of the house. We’re at the place now where we go for a walk every day, and he calms down and it calms me down, and we come home happier.”
  • “When it was crazy-time and we were just in survival mode, I would definitely go down the list. #1 diaper change? #2 is she hungry? #3 is it colic? But now she’s hit the three-month mark and it’s so much easier. I go down the list and if it’s not one of those things, changing her scenery or her environment really works. If she’s crying, I bring her to another room.”
  • “Sometimes just lullabies work for us.”
  • “The white noise is great. We used the microwave fan, some people use the hair dryer.”
  • “Swing, swaddle, sucking, being on their side. They tend to work really well, especially in combination.”
sleeping baby

Baby Sleep 101: Some Basic Guidelines

The angelic face of a sleeping baby…it’s a glorious sight, and you’ll put a lot of time into learning how to achieve this. 

Before your baby arrives, you and your partner will want to discuss sleep goals so you’re on the same page. This chapter outlines the basics so you aren’t caught off guard trying to sort it out in the middle of a sleepless night. As always, there are various ways to go about it and each method has plusses and minuses. A proactive approach to sleep in the first four months of your baby’s life will establish successful sleep for the whole family. Your baby is unique, and figuring out what works best may take some trial and error based on the cues he’s giving you. 

  • You’ll see a gradual appearance of sleep cycles with periods of “active” sleep (NREM) followed by periods of deep sleep (REM). It’s natural for babies to startle, grimace, smile, or twitch momentarily during sleep.
  • Your baby’s sleep education will periodically regress into fussy periods when his brain is growing. On the upside, these stages often result in him developing new self-soothing skills.
  • Stay flexible in finding an approach that works best for your baby and once you find it, stay consistent in applying it.
  • Be mindful of your baby’s need for sleep or less stimulation. Drooping eyelids, yawning, or turning their head away from you is baby’s way of saying “I’m tired,” or “I’ve had enough.” 

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Lesson number one: You need to give your baby the opportunity to learn to fall asleep on his own. Babies who are breastfed, cuddled, bounced, walked or rocked to sleep for every nap and at night may struggle to “self-soothe” and will cry out every time they wake up. So if you’re working overtime to put your baby to sleep, chances are you’re looking at sleep issues that will keep you and Dad awake at night much longer than otherwise necessary.

It’s a hard issue. What makes things so confusing is that “putting your baby to sleep” by nursing or rocking works well at first so you’re inclined to keep doing it, but that sets you up for long-term sleep problems. The reality is, most parents are so exhausted they’ll do just about anything to see their baby drift off to sleep. From the start, approach sleep training as parent training for how to avoid poor sleeping habits.

The Sleepy Routine

Creating a nightly routine for putting your baby to sleep is universally recommended because it calms them, sends cues that sleep time is approaching and makes them feel secure.

Here are some bedtime routine ideas that parents found effective:

  • Overtired babies do not sleep longer and harder. In fact, being overtired actually makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep. Start your bedtime routine earlier rather than later and give yourself at least 45 minutes to go through the process.
  • Start your nightly routine focused on giving them a calm, secure feeling. Whatever routine you establish, be sure to stay consistent. Take your baby through the steps in the same space and order each time. Make sure the room isn’t too hot or too cold and it’s dimly lit (this signals it’s bedtime and triggers sleep hormones).
  • Your baby’s pattern may go something like: feeding (ditch the TV), bathing, diapering and pajamas, swaddling, a simple lullaby, turn on white noise, then put Baby to sleep in her designated bed.
  • Warm your baby’s bed with a heating pad on low (be sure to remove it before placing him in bed) and give your baby a little massage.
  • Since they pick up on your vibe, keep yourself relaxed and your breath calm to help soothe your baby.

Sleeping Tips 0 -6 Months

Some suggestions most parents agree are worth trying…

From 0 - 2 Months

In the beginning, newborns are sleeping and eating often. Put them down to sleep with the first signs of drowsiness, like drooping eyelids or some fussiness. Offer more frequent feedings before bedtime.

  • The small, enclosed space of a cradle, bassinet, or co-sleeper gives them a secure feeling.
  • If it’s not a regular feeding time and he starts crying, wait a little to see if he goes back to sleep on his own.
  • White noise is recommended (sound machines, phone apps and CDs). “If you use the same exact sounds for every nap and nighttime it becomes a familiar cue that lets your baby know its sleeping time. If you use the sounds as soon as you notice signs of tiredness it can lull your baby to sleep.” –Elizabeth Pantley, The No-Cry Sleep Solution
  • Swaddling mimics the coziness of the womb and minimizes waking up from jerky arm and leg movements.
  • Infants can’t tell night from day, so lights off at night and on during the day helps them learn the difference. Morning sunlight also helps to set their circadian rhythm (body clock).
  • Attach a dimmer switch to a lamp to turn it on and off slowly for nighttime feedings.
  • Skip one diaper change at night with an absorbable nighttime diaper and plenty of diaper cream.
  • Minimize talking and actively engaging (revving up) baby while getting ready for sleep.
  • If you can’t get a burp after a night feed, don’t sweat it; babies are calmer at night and swallow less air.
  • At about week eight, she may discover her hand and suck on it to soothe fussiness (yea!).
From 3 - 4 Months
From 5 - 6 Months

"At first, it's like going out on a date with someone...you're just figuring it out and it's hard. Allow the baby to show you who they are and adapt, and have people in your life who are supportive of that." - Veteran Mom

Russell: Sleep Tip (0:47)

The Business of Sleep Training

“Sleep training” has become a contentious, polarizing issue with wildly varying methods like crying it out, no crying, controlled comforting, and interval comforting. It can be an upsetting experience for moms and dads, but sleep deprived, frustrated and desperate parents will try anything. As always, find what works best for your family and circumstances.

One thing all “experts” agree on: sleep training isn’t suggested until a baby is 4 to 6 months old. Check with your pediatrician to confirm sleep recommendations based on your baby’s needs. If you decide to give it a go, bear in mind the debate focuses on the extremes (your baby screaming alone in his crib for hours or sleeping in your bed until he’s four), but few actually go this far: Most parents opt for the middle ground. And there’s tons of solid information online (e.g. BabyCenter.com) to help you find a method that works for you.

Know that moms are innately more susceptible than Dads to anxiety over their baby crying, so work together and remember consistency is key. Some parents are able to sleep train in a few days, while others need a few weeks. Whatever your situation, don’t make comparisons and stay positive. It’s natural that the transition to a separate room may be challenging for your baby: time and patience may be required.

Baby Sleep "Hacks"

Some ideas that may work at any stage of growth…

Pacifiers

Although often discouraged by breastfeeding experts, many parents swear by them (and sucking is a natural reflex). If you’re breastfeeding, introduce it after a couple of weeks or so when feedings are going smoothly. If your baby doesn’t get the hang of it right away, try using one after a feeding (as soon as she starts to suck on it, pull it out a little so she sucks it back in again).

Dream Feeds

A  feeding you offer before you head to sleep. Research indicates it helps babies sleep longer at night by stretching out the time between feedings. Around 10:30 at night, pick-up your sleeping baby, gently rouse him (diaper and swaddle), feed him, then off to sleep you both go.

Swings

These are popular, so if you’re doing everything you can and your baby is still waking up at night, try a swing with a reclined seat, but be sure it’s safety approved for sleeping.

Essential Oils

Lavender has natural relaxing property. Use a small amount of baby-approved scented massage lotion or Mom can apply it to her own neck so Baby picks up the aroma.

Co-Sleeping With Your Baby

This is a hot-button topic for new parents. On the one hand, we have advocates of co-sleeping until the child decides otherwise, and on the other hand, we have advocated for children being nowhere near the parental bed. As always, the vast majority of moms and dads fall somewhere between these extremes, and each family must decide what works best for them.

Supporters of co-sleeping like that it maximizes attachment and makes breastfeeding easier, and fans of this approach generally love being with their baby all night. It’s also common that co-sleeper babies get used to feeding more frequently and may struggle with self-soothing and transitioning to their own bed.

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Based on the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents are strongly advised to “room share,” not bed share, with infants. The risk of SIDS is reduced when the infant sleeps in the same room but is increased when infants share a bed with parents or anyone else.

Most babies start off in their parent’s room because it makes the night feedings easier and the close proximity to mom gives your baby a secure feeling. Consider putting the crib in your room or using a co-sleeper (basically, a bassinet you attach to the bed). Again, choose a routine that best suits your baby and family. You may find that you’ve planned for one type of sleep routine but end up going in a different direction—great! 

Flexibility is essential to finding the right fit and creating harmony for your family.

And, of course, it goes without saying that you should never be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when caring for or sleeping near your baby.

More information can be found here:

What Veteran Parents Say

Everyone has unique circumstances and preferences, so always go in the direction that works best for your family.

“We had a 4-month-old who was keeping us up at night, and it was taking a toll on us and our daughter. Sleep training took 3 nights and she was sleeping through the night.”

“We tried the Ferber method and after about an hour of it, we just stopped. She only got more hysterical when we went into the room and never fell asleep.”

“It initially worked really well...a rough first night, but after a couple days she was putting herself to sleep pretty quickly.”

"Once we got into a routine, it was really helpful. We found out we were keeping him up way past the 'I need sleep' time."