How to Soothe A Fussy Baby

Little Z's Sleep

The first two weeks with my daughter were heavenly. She ate, she slept, she pooped. On repeat.


And then it was like a switch flipped.


My parents were visiting us (we were overseas at the time) so my husband decided to get out of the house for a bit and go for a walk.


When we came back, she was screaming bloody murder; we had never heard her cry like that!


No, it wasn’t my parents.


It continued daily, around the same time each afternoon and evening, for the next few months.


This time period of afternoon and/or evening fussiness is also known as the “Witching Hour” – I know, not the greatest nickname, but accurate for what you’re feeling in the moment…


Helpless, scared, overstimulated, worried that something is terribly wrong with your baby but you just can’t figure it out.


The Witching Hour and Colic

For many babies, the Witching Hour begins between 2-3 weeks and peaks by six weeks. And, more often than not, you may experience extreme fussiness between the hours of 5:00 and 11:00 p.m., lasting for a few minutes to a few hours. It typically resolves around 3-4 months, so this is key to remember when you’re in the middle of it. IT WILL END.


The Witching Hour is different from colic, which is defined by the rule of threes – crying for three hours per day, at least three days per week, for at least three weeks.


With both the Witching Hour and colic, your baby may seem otherwise fine. You are not able to identify any cause for their crying, and any efforts you make to soothe are not really received. It can feel incredibly stressful and overstimulating; no one likes to hear their baby cry.


Helping to Soothe Your Fussy Baby

Even though it may not work, you should definitely try to soothe your baby. If you can rule out hunger, needing a diaper change, needing to sleep, injury, illness, etc., it’s time to *try* to calm your baby down.

Prevent Overtiredness

A lot of irritable and fussy behavior can be curbed by preventing overtiredness. Make sure to offer naps early and often, especially during the newborn days. Most babies cannot handle much more than 45-60 minutes awake before needing to sleep.


Sleep needs will also change a lot over the first year or so, so make sure you’ve got all the tools you need to help your baby avoid overtiredness – grab my FREE Wake Windows Chart to help you stay on track with how often you should be trying to offer your baby a nap throughout that first year.


If, in the first few months, you see your baby displaying any signs of tiredness, lay them down for a nap. The key is to lay them down calm and content, before they get tired and fussy, or worse, overtired and inconsolable.


Here are early signs of tiredness:

  • Staring off 
  • Not focusing
  • Averting stimulation
  • Reddening eyebrows


Here are signs you should lay your baby down now:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing face
  • Tugging on ears


Here are signs you missed the window and need to calm your baby as soon as possible so they can try to sleep:

  • Fussiness or crying
  • Rigidity
  • Arching back
  • Clenching fists


Decrease Stimulation

This one might seem obvious, but if you’re trying to play with a fussy baby to keep them happy and they aren’t having it, it’s probably contributing to their fussiness by overstimulating them.


My favorite thing to do, if your baby doesn’t quite need a nap, is get outside. Sometimes just changing the scenery and getting some fresh air can help immensely.


Use a Carrier

Your baby was just on the inside for 9 months. It was a cozy little space. You probably find that being on you or against you is their favorite thing.


Use a carrier! This can be a lifesaver, especially if you have other kiddos too. It gives you a hands-free option for carrying your little one and keeping them close while minimizing fussiness.

The 5S’s

Dr. Harvey Karp, world renowned pediatrician, is famously known for the 5S’s for soothing a baby (and the Snoo).


The 5S’s:

  1. Swaddle
  2. Suck
  3. Swing/Sway
  4. Shush
  5. Side/Stomach hold

By trying any of these or a few at a time, you may find a combination that your baby prefers. Trial and error is the name of the game here. Before you know it, you’ll know your baby’s preference and have your go-to moves as needed for the Witching Hour.


For example: Give your baby the pacifier, swaddle them, and hold them stomach to stomach against you while you twist your torso back and forth.


Here’s another: Hold your baby upright with their belly almost parallel to the floor while you simultaneously sway them from side to side while shushing loudly near their ear.


Different babies like different things, so find what your baby likes best and stick to it!

Give Yourself a Break

Sometimes, your soothing efforts won’t work. If you need a break, hand your little one off to your partner, or call a friend to come over.


If no one is available to relieve you, you can always lay your baby in their bassinet or crib for a few minutes while you compose yourself. Taking a 10-15 minute break to do some meditating or breathwork can help you recenter so you can respond to your baby in the best way possible.


DON’T FORGET: This is a stage. It will end. You will get through it.


If you’re looking for newborn sleep strategies and help, I can definitely help you! Click here to learn more about my newborn options.