Whispers and gentle rocking are perfect techniques for lulling calm babies to sleep. But very fussy newborns…well, they need a bit more vigor to help them settle down and fall asleep.
“Vigor” and “calming” doesn’t seem to mix…I know! But I assure you that it’s the best way to calm a very fussy newborn at night! Here’s how to use motion and sound to calm crying babies.
How Motion Calms Fussy Newborns
All babies are born with an innate calming reflex, which is a built-in “off switch” for crying and fussing and an “on switch” for sleep.
To turn on the calming reflex, you need to tap the 5 S’s for soothing babies, which includes Swinging (or rocking or motion…you get the idea!).
When a baby is very upset, it takes more effort to turn on the calming reflex. Think of it like this: If a person is engaged in a heated argument, you may have to tap their shoulder several times—very emphatically—just to get their attention. They simply cannot respond to a light tap. Their mind is elsewhere! The same holds for a very fussy baby.
The solution: vigor! Frantic crying calls for spirited, jitterbug-like bouncing. I know, vigor is the least intuitive, yet one of the most important, elements for successfully calming babies.
After all, babies are so delicate that doing anything vigorously seems wrong! But vigor is exactly why car rides on bumpy roads often work wonders at calming fussy babies.
It’s why in Tanzania, moms soothe intense crying by cuddling their babies while pretending to grind corn—vigorously bending and straightening and humming a rough noise.
It’s also why offering your crying baby some fast—but tiny—jiggles is instrumental to flipping on the calming reflex in an upset and screaming, motion-loving baby. I call this the Jell-O Head Jiggle and here’s how to do it:
Swaddle your baby
- Cradle your little one in the classic breastfeeding hold, with Baby’s head resting on your forearm.
- Rapidly jiggle your baby in your arms with very small motions—no more than 1-inch back-and-forth from your body. The goal is to have your baby’s head quiver, like Jell-O on a plate!
Alternatively, I also love The milkshake jiggle for calming very fussy babies. Here’s how to do this vigorous move:
-Sit with your fussy bub on your lap.
-Place one hand under Baby’s chin, like a helmet strap.
-Slip your other hand under your baby’s bum.
-Lean your baby forward—with their head a few inches in front of their body.
-Then lift Baby a foot or so straight up in the air.
Now, bounce your baby up and down with fast (two to three times a second), tiny (1-inch) movements, like you’re making a milkshake.
Of course, you must never shake your baby! When jiggling your little one, always support their head and neck, and keep your movements to small 1-inch back-and-forth jiggles. (Learn the important difference between the calming head jiggle and shaken baby syndrome.)
As your baby settles, transition to gentle rocking, which should now be enough to keep the calming reflex switched on.
And know that rocking your baby vigorously—even right after a feed—won’t make your baby spit up more.
Reducing crying will help your baby throw up less! Bonus: Bouncing can also loosen a gas bubble and help your baby burp.
What should I do if my baby cries more when I rock them fast?
At times, it can take infants a bit to realize you’re doing something they like! If your baby is still yelling 30 seconds after you begin your vigorous jiggling, check your technique.
Make sure your moves are fast and tiny, you’re supporting your bub’s head and neck, and your hands are open to allow Baby’s head to jiggle…and don’t forget the loud white noise.
How Sound Calms Fussy Newborns
Many parents mistakenly believed that their fussy babies needed soft songs or whispers to help soothe their tears. But that’s not true. These gentle sounds are great for keeping calm babies calm, but soothing a screaming baby requires a strong sound.
The very best sound for calming a very fussy baby is a rough, slightly harsh noise that’s as loud as your little one’s crying. (Remember, a crying baby requires a more vigorous take on the 5 S’s to flip on the calming reflex.)
You can provide this sound by putting your mouth close to your little one’s ear and making a strong “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” sound. Another way to get that sound is by turning the volume up on your white noise machine. The most effective white noise is as womb-like as possible.
It’s continuous, monotonous, and low-pitch. You can find the just-right white noise in SNOO, SNOObear (a white noise lovey), and the SNOO sounds download.
Of course, don’t blast the white noise at full volume all night right next to your baby’s ears! Turn up the volume on tier white noise for several minutes to calm crying and return it to its normal level once your baby settles. (Both SNOO and SNOObear automatically respond to crying with louder white noise!)
How Motion and Sound Work Together to Soothe Upset Babies
Think of calming your very fussy baby as a dance…and your little love is leading. When they’re wailing, do the 5 S’s with more intensity in your shush and jiggle.
Then, as your baby calms, gradually reduce your effort and guide your little one down to a soft landing where they’re swaddled with white noise (as loud as a shower), and perhaps some sucking on a pacifier or gentle rocking.
How SNOO Calms Fussy Newborns
SNOO, my award-winning smart sleeper, is designed to do the baby-calming dance that fussy babies need! SNOO offers a snug swaddle, it safely rocks your baby all night long, and it plays the continuous white noise that babies crave.
(That’s three of the 5 S’s!) But beyond that, SNOO “listens” to your little one and knows when to start up the calming dance.
If your baby starts to fuss, SNOO’s rocking, and the white noise becomes more vigorous. (Don’t worry, the jiggle is simply a 1-inch back-and-forth and the volume is 100% safe!) Once your baby calms, SNOO winds back down to its baseline state…just like you would!
More Tips for Calming Fussy Newborns Who Won’t Sleep
If vigorous rocking and white noise don’t soothe your baby, you can try some of the below tips for calming fussy newborns—and preventing nighttime fussing in the first place:
- Create a (flexible) schedule during the day. This will help prevent your little one from getting overtired…and cranky.
- Design a sleep-friendly environment. Your baby may be hot or cold, or maybe there’s too much light in the room. Be sure to limit light at night and keep your baby at a comfortable temperature.
- Encourage pooping. Some belly massage and knee-to-tummy exercises may help get things moving during the day so nighttime sleep isn’t disturbed.
- Learn your Baby’s wake windows. Learn how long your baby should be awake between sleep so you can put them to bed before they get too tired and sleep eludes you!
- Understand sleep cycles. A baby’s sleep cycles are shorter than an adult’s—and they’re lighter sleepers, too. Understanding your bub’s natural rhythms will help you both sleep better.
Why Newborns Are Fussy at Night and Won’t Sleep
If your newborn is extremely fussy and will not stop crying or sleep, some possible causes include:
- Your baby is still hungry.
- Your newborn may be too hot or cold.
- Your newborn may have a dirty or wet diaper.
- Your baby may be experiencing tummy troubles.
- Your newborn may be overstimulated.
- Your newborn may be overtired.
- Your baby may be sick. Take your baby’s temperature, and if they’re running a fever, call your doctor right away.
For more help calming your baby, check out:
- How White Noise Can Help Your Baby Sleep
- Help Your Baby Take a Pacifier
- Baby Massage How-Tos
- Why Babies Love Sucking