Module 1: Promoting Mental Health in Infancy

Infant DistressCrying Baby

Comforting and Consoling Baby

Crying is the infant's normal way of communicating his needs. Different cries have different meanings - "I am hungry."- "I am tired."- "I am uncomfortable."- or "I am lonely." More intense cries indicate infant distress. Responding to a baby in distress is critical to the baby’s sense of well-being, security, and attachment. If babies have been nurtured, they develop an increasing capacity to soothe themselves.

Questions to Ask

  • How much is your baby crying? How often?
  • What is his cry like? Can you tell what his cries mean?
  • Can you tell when he is mildly protesting and when he is in real distress?
  • How does your baby respond when you try to console him?
  • Is he easy or difficult to console?
  • Is your baby able to calm himself? If so, how?

Provider Tips

  • Describe common behavioral cues (looking away, making detached body movements, frowning, pouting) and vocal cues (crying).
  • Explain the difference between mild protest crying and distress crying. Show parents how to respond to their baby's cues so they will know what to do when their baby is in distress.
  • Using the guidance below, help parents learn what they can do to console and comfort him when he is crying.

Guidance for Parents

  • Your baby will learn that you are there to help him and care for him if you always respond promptly to his distress cues. You will not “spoil” your baby by giving him attention and trying to comfort him.
  • All young babies cry and have times when they are “fussy.” During these times, keep close physical contact with him. Your heart rate, respiration, and temperature can help regulate your baby’s rhythms and make him calmer. Using a soft infant carrier is a good, hands-free way to keep your baby close and comfy. Holding him in your arms, walking around with him, or rocking and softly singing to him can also help.
  • In time, your baby can learn to calm himself by sucking his fingers and hands, rocking his body, or holding a comfort object.
  • There will be times when you are not able to console or soothe your baby. He may continue to be upset no matter how hard you try to calm him. It is normal to feel frustrated, angry, or incompetent at these times, but be sure to find ways to manage your feelings:
    • Stop, take a deep breath, and count to 20
    • Put your baby in a safe place (crib, cradle) and leave the room
    • Check on your baby every few minutes to make sure he is okay
    • Call a friend to talk or ask for help
  • No matter how angry or frustrated you are—never shake, hit, or slap your baby. Shaking can lead to blindness and can damage the eyes, brain, or spinal cord. It can even cause seizures or death.
  • If your baby cries about the same time each day and nothing you do seems to comfort him, he may have colic. Colic is temporary—your baby will grow out of it, usually at about 3 months of age. But until it improves, it is distressing for you and your baby. You may find that it helps to:
    • Carry your baby in a front sling or backpack
    • Keep your baby moving by rocking him in a quiet room
    • Take your baby for a car ride or a walk outside
    • Bathe your baby in warm water
  • Trying to console a colicky baby can leave you feeling stressed, worn out, frustrated, or irritated. Ask a friend or family member to give you a break. Take care of yourself and remember that your baby’s colic will improve soon.
Family Resources

Crying and Colic

How to Soothe a Crying Baby PDF

Copyright Georgetown University Georgtown University Infancy