What To Do With a Sleepless Baby

What To Do With a Sleepless Baby

No how loving the parents, a sleepless baby who cries for hours may reduce them to a puddle of tears and frustration.

Tortured by lack of sleep and screams that seem to go on forever, some exhausted parents snap. Research shows infants who cry inconsolably are at a greater risk for “shaken baby syndrome,” which can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

Parents who themselves grew up in an unstable home or have suffered abuse, neglect or other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are at greater risk of losing control when a baby cries inconsolably. With this in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has this advice for getting everyone safely to sleep:

–Crying is one way that babies communicate.

–Be aware that it’s normal for babies to cry excessively and that this usually slows at five months of age.

–You are not a bad parent if your baby continues to cry after you have done all you can to calm him or her.

–No one should ever shake or hurt a baby.

–Remember, this will get better.

–When a baby cries, check for signs of illness or discomfort like a fever, a dirty diaper, diaper rash, or tight clothing.

–See whether the baby is hungry or needs to be burped.

–Rock or bounce the baby while walking or put the baby in a car seat and take her for a ride.

–Call the doctor if you think the baby is ill.

–If you feel angry, frustrated or stressed while caring for your baby, take a break. Call a friend, relative, neighbor or parent’s hotline. Put your baby in a crib on his back, make sure he’s safe, then walk to another room for a  bit. Check back in every five to 10 minutes.

–Be aware of signs that you are getting angry and frustrated while caring for the baby. Consider anger-management classes if necessary.

Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block series, has some other advice for parents. To mimic the sounds the baby hears in the womb, he recommends using a white noise machine or softly repeating “shush” over and over.

In addition, he recommends rocking the baby in your arms with a tight swinging motion – replicating the time spent floating around in the womb and making it easier for some babies to fall asleep. Other things that may comfort a wailing baby, he says, include nursing, skin-to-skin contact, and gentle massage.


Karp, H. (2012). The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years. New York City, New York: Harper Collins.

Purple Crying. National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Retrieved from https://dontshake.org/

Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Guide for Health Departments and Community-Based Organizations. (n.d.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.