4 Soothing Techniques for Fussy Sleepers: From Swaddling to White Noise
- Soothing techniques, like white noise and swaddling, help a fussy baby sleep better and stay asleep longer.
- Parents can try soothing techniques during the witching hour at night when crying is more prominent.
- Common causes of a fussy sleeper include teething, sleep regressions, and growth spurts.
Calming a fussy baby is easier said than done. When my babies were crying, I often felt hopeless and didn’t know what to do. I especially felt distressed during the witching hour, when it seems like nothing can get your baby to calm down.
Most babies have moments where they won’t stop crying and all efforts seem fruitless. Young babies can’t tell us what they want, so it’s on us to make sure they receive the care they need.
If you have a newborn that’s fussy at night, you’re probably desperate to find a way to soothe them. A crying baby is difficult to interpret because they can’t talk to us—it makes sense you want to help your baby, but where do you begin?
Thankfully, there are some tried-and-true methods for soothing fussy newborns that can help everyone get a little more sleep.
Technique 1: Master the Art of Swaddling
Admittedly, it took until my third child to master the art of swaddling. For some reason, my babies would always wiggle their way out, and I’d see their sweet little hands pop through.
Swaddling provides a great sense of security and potentially prevents your baby from being disturbed by their startle reflex. However, it’s essential the swaddle is snug but not too tight.
Some parents opt for a baby sleepsuit or wearable blanket when their newborn outgrows the swaddle. I loved using a baby sleepsuit because it kept my baby warm without needing a loose blanket.
Step-by-Step Guide to Swaddling
Swaddling is one of the best ways to help a fussy baby, regardless of the time of day. If your baby is crying, swaddling will be more difficult, so it’s best to wait until they’re calm before you begin.
Step-by-step guide to swaddling:
- Gather your supplies.
- Lay out the swaddle.
- Place your baby in the middle.
- Straighten your baby’s arms along their body.
- Wrap the left side of the swaddle.
- Secure the wrap.
- Secure the other arm.
- Check your baby’s hip position, allowing movement.
- Ensure your baby is comfortable and not wrapped too tightly.
- Place your baby in the crib.
Remember that you should stop swaddling once your baby can roll over, which usually occurs by the time they are 4 months old. However, all babies are different, and yours may roll at a different time.
Choosing the Right Materials
You’ll want to consider the temperature when choosing the suitable materials for your swaddle. For example, you may opt for a fleece swaddle in the winter or a lightweight one in the summer. It’s essential to consider the temperature because you don’t want your baby to get overheated.
I preferred the aden + anais Cotton Knit Baby Wrap because they were lightweight and provided a snug but not tight fit.
- ADJUSTABLE FIT – Secure adjustable fit that grows with baby. Our Infant wrap is designed to create a cozy, womb-like feeling for baby and prevents startle reflex that can wake your infant. Baby gets a safer, sounder sleep.
- EASY DIAPERING – Zips open for easy diaper changes.
- SIZING AND EASY CARE – Available in two sizes: s/m – 7-14lbs / 3- 6.3kg (0-3 months); large – 14-18lbs / 6.3 – 8kg (4-6 months). Machine washable stays softer with every wash.
- PERFECT BABY GIFT – Our cute swaddles are ideal gifts for baby showers, birthdays and holidays
Remember, every situation is different. For example, my middle son wore a helmet as an infant, and we lived in California without air conditioning, so he only wore a diaper under his swaddle to prevent overheating.
Technique 2: Implement a Sound Sleep Environment
White noise is the peanut butter to my jelly, and is why my kids slept those first years. I still use white noise to sleep and struggle without it. (Thank goodness for smartphones!)
White Noise Magic
White noise helps mimic the sounds of the womb, providing a soothing and familiar environment. While white noise can be beneficial, it’s important not to have the volume up too high.
You can buy a white noise machine or download an app for easy access. There are several free apps, while others require a subscription. Here are a few of my favorites:
The Calm app has an annual fee, but in addition to white noise, they have many sleep stories that my kids love.
Sometimes, the lighting is the difference between a good night’s sleep and not. You can create a calming environment by dimming your baby’s lights before bedtime to help them fall asleep. It’s also a signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down.
A baby’s nervous system is still underdeveloped and more sensitive to sounds, bright lights, and environmental changes.
A dark room provides less stimulation and can help calm a fussy baby. I used blackout curtains in my kids’ rooms to help reduce the amount of light that was let in. As your baby gets older, you may allow some light so they don’t get used to sleeping in only dark rooms.
The Perfect Temperature
It’s important to have the appropriate temperature in your child’s nursery to ensure they’re comfortable and don’t get overheated. A baby’s room should be between 65 and 70 degrees11. Cleveland Clinic. What’s the Best Temperature for Sleep?. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CTypically%20it%20is%20suggested%20that,the%20stability%20of%20REM%20sleep., and it’s best to adjust their clothing depending on the temperature.
Babies lose heat rapidly, so if the room is too cold, they likely will feel colder and require an extra layer.
Technique 3: Perfect the Pre-Sleep Routine
A bedtime routine is a great way to deal with nighttime fussiness. While your baby may fight you some nights, consistency goes a long way, especially during the witching hour.
You don’t have to be a trained masseuse to help your baby’s fussiness with a massage. A massage is a great way to help your baby relax in the early evening and prepare for bed. Your baby may be reluctant at first, but they likely will quickly experience the benefits of your massage.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond22. . The many benefits of infant massage. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. 2017. https://www.chrichmond.org/blog/the-many-benefits-of-infant-massage#:~:text=Helping%20a%20baby%20relax%20and,behavioral%20states%20and%20promoting%20sleep, massages help fussy babies by:
- Decreasing irritability and excessive crying.
- Regulating behavioral states and promoting sleep.
- Reducing gas, colic, and intestinal difficulties.
- Helping a baby relax and release tensions of daily stimuli.
- Strengthening and handling primary systems.
If you want to use lotions or oils, finding natural, unscented products without unnecessary ingredients is best. Remember, newborns have sensitive skin, and it’s best to be careful when putting anything on them.
A Warm Bath
A warm bath before bed can be very relaxing for newborns. Various baby baths are on the market, but I’ve always preferred The First Years Newborn to Toddler Baby Bath Tub because I could adjust it as they grew.
- BABY BATH TUB: Three stages of transition from newborn to toddler, comes with a comfortable sling
- ERGONOMIC DESIGN: This bath tub for baby features an Infant hammock like sling inside the tub and holds a growing baby better during bath time
- COMFORTABLE NEWBORN BATH: Mesh sling provides extra support and comfort during first bath times
- TODDLER BATH: Toddlers are supported on the upright side of the baby tub with plenty of room to play
I also learned to fill the water until it reached their belly button; otherwise, they would be cold. Remember to stay close to your newborn throughout the bath to ensure your little one’s safety.
Reading books is one of the best things you can do with your baby, even as a newborn. According to the Cleveland Clinic33. Cleveland Clinic. The Benefits of Reading to Babies. Cleveland Clinic. 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-benefits-of-reading-to-babies, it’s never too early or late to start reading to your baby.
Benefits of reading to newborns include:
- Language skills
- Emotional learning
- Establishing routines
- School success
Technique 4: Offer Comfort Through Motion
When we were pregnant, our babies got used to bouncing around most of the day, so it was a comforting motion for them. While it’s not always possible to recreate the environment of the womb, this is one of the best calming methods for fussy babies.
Rocking and Swinging
Every mom I know has the mom rocking and bouncing down to a science. I’m guilty of pushing an empty shopping cart back and forth because it’s in my nature.
You can also take your baby on car rides if they’re feeling fussy, crying, and nothing seems to work.
Many parents turn to baby gear to help with rocking and swinging. While you should always monitor your baby, rockers are great in the late afternoon when preparing dinner.
The 4moms MamaRoo Multi-Motion Baby Swing was my favorite rocker to help my crying babies. It’s not easy on the wallet, so I recommend looking for a previously owned one.
- 5 parent-inspired motions, 5 speeds, and 4 built-in sounds
- Find Your Roo, exclusively on the 4moms app, takes the guesswork out of finding the right motion and speed combination for baby
- Bluetooth functionality – stream your favorite music for baby, and easily adjust motion, speed, or sound with the 4moms app
- Wi-Fi smart home integration – voice control with Amazon Alexa and Google Home (currently in Beta phase)
If your baby is fussy in the evening, take them outside for fresh air. Sometimes, a change of scenery is what they need.
When in doubt, I always put my baby in the stroller for a walk. I used my double jogger more than my car once babies two and three came. I especially loved walks in the evening hours when we had extra time between dinner and bed.
Since my babies loved white noise, I would turn it on my phone to help, especially if they were crying. An evening walk during the witching hour is also an excellent opportunity to leave the house.
Recognizing Signs of a Fussy Sleeper
Is your newborn fussy at night, and you aren’t sure of the cause? Looking for some of these signs can help you figure out how to handle the situation.
Identifying Cues of a Fussy Baby
One of the best ways to handle a fussy sleeper is learning their cues so you can help identify them early. While your child may be able to self-soothe at a certain age, they’ll need you to help with hunger and sleepy cues.
For example, if your baby cries after feeding, they may be unhappy with the milk flow. It took time, but I realized my oldest was fussy at night because my milk supply wasn’t up to par.
You will notice your baby can go longer stretches without milk, but it’s important to follow their lead when reducing feedings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)44. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much and How Often to Breastfeed. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/breastfeeding/how-much-and-how-often.html#:~:text=First%20Weeks%20and%20Months&text=On%20average%2C%20most%20exclusively%20breastfed,on%20the%20time%20of%20day., your baby should feed every 2 to 4 hours for the first few months.
Understanding the Causes of a Crying Baby
While babies cry for various reasons, some are more common than others. Understanding why you have a fussy newborn can help alleviate the stress it causes. If your little one is an otherwise content baby, there likely is a reason behind the fussiness.
Common reasons behind fussiness during sleep time:
- Growth spurts
- Sleep regressions
- Developmental milestones
- Dirty or wet diaper
Understanding the typical baby sleep regression ages will help prepare you for what’s to come. For example, the first sleep regression usually occurs when your baby is 6 weeks old.
In addition, it’s not unusual for babies to cluster feed when they are going through a growth spurt. It’s exhausting on you as you aim to keep up your milk volume, but it’s a sign your baby is growing. Cluster feeding is common three to six weeks after birth but can occur again at 3 months.
Finally, teething and sleep training are possible with a bit of patience. We promise!
When to Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, a fussy sleeper is a sign of an underlying condition and warrants a visit to your baby’s doctor. My second son seemed miserable the majority of the time, and it turned out he had acid reflux.
If he had fed and taken in excess air, the situation would have been ten times worse, and his crying probably could have woken the neighborhood.
However, if your baby cries for more than three hours a day for three or more days a week, it’s a good time to call your healthcare provider. An extremely fussy baby can’t tell you what’s wrong, so don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor, especially if your baby starts crying out of nowhere.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2021, November 16). What’s the Best Temperature for Sleep? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CTypically%20it%20is%20suggested%20that,the%20stability%20of%20REM%20sleep.
- The many benefits of infant massage. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. (2017, February 1). https://www.chrichmond.org/blog/the-many-benefits-of-infant-massage#:~:text=Helping%20a%20baby%20relax%20and,behavioral%20states%20and%20promoting%20sleep
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020, October 27). The Benefits of Reading to Babies. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-benefits-of-reading-to-babies
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 11). How Much and How Often to Breastfeed. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/breastfeeding/how-much-and-how-often.html#:~:text=First%20Weeks%20and%20Months&text=On%20average%2C%20most%20exclusively%20breastfed,on%20the%20time%20of%20day.
Sleep, Special Needs
It can take premature babies much longer than their full-term peers to sleep for long stretches. A preemie sleep schedule may encourage better sleep.
From around six weeks, a newborn bedtime routine can help your baby learn the difference between day and night and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.
Many people assume breastfeeding and sleep training don’t go together, but it is possible to help your baby sleep better while continuing your breastfeeding journey.