My baby is fussy! Is something wrong?

July 26, 2011. Posted in: Common Newborn Concerns,Parenting FAQ

What is normal baby fussiness?

Whether breastfed or formula fed, during their first few months, many babies have a regular fussy period, which usually occurs in the late afternoon or evening. Some babies’ fussy periods come so regularly that parents can set their clocks by it! The standard infant fussiness usually starts at about 2 to 3 weeks, peaks at 6 weeks and is gone by 3 to 4 months. It lasts on “average” 2 to 4 hours per day. Of course, there is a wide variety of normal.

To distinguish between “normal” and a problem, normal usually occurs around the same time of day, with approximately the same intensity (with some variation); responds to some of the same things each time, such as motion, holding, frequent breastfeeding, etc.; and occurs in a baby who has other times of the day that he is contentedly awake or asleep. Normal fussiness tends to occur during the time of the day that the baby usually stays awake more, the most common time is in the evening right before the time that the baby takes his longest stretch of sleep.

What causes babies to be fussy?

If you feel that your baby’s fussiness is not normal, it’s never a bad idea to get baby checked by the doctor to rule out any illness. A common cause of fussy, colic-like symptoms in babies is foremilk-hindmilk imbalance (also called oversupply syndrome, too much milk, etc.) and/or forceful let-down. Other causes of fussiness in babies include diaper rash, thrush, food sensitivities, nipple confusion, low milk supply, etc.

Babies normally fuss for many reasons: overtiredness, overstimulation, loneliness, discomfort, etc. Babies are often very fussy when they are going through growth spurts. Do know that it is normal for you to be “beside yourself” when your baby cries: you actually have a hormonal response that makes you feel uncomfortable when your baby cries.

Comfort measures for fussy babies (many fit into several different categories)

Basic needs
  • Nurse
  • Burp baby
  • Change his diaper
  • Undress baby completely to make sure no clothing is “sticking” him
Comforting Touch
  • Hold baby
  • Carry baby in a sling
  • Give baby a back rub
  • Carry baby in the “colic hold” (lying across your forearm, tummy down, with your hand supporting his chest)
  • Lay baby across your lap & gently rub his back while slowly lifting & lowering your heels
  • Lay baby tummy-down on the bed or floor and gently pat his back
  • Massage your baby
Reduce stimulation
  • Swaddle baby
  • Dim lights and reduce noise
Comforting Sounds
  • Play some music (try different styles and types of voices to see which baby prefers)
  • Sing to baby
  • Turn on some “white noise” (fan, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher)
Rhythmic motion / change of pace
  • Nurse baby in motion (while walking around or rocking)
  • Give baby a bath
  • Rock baby
  • Hold baby and gently bounce, sway back and forth or dance
  • Put baby in a sling or baby carrier and walk around inside or outside
  • Put baby in a baby swing (if he’s old enough)
  • Take baby outside to look at the trees
  • Take baby for a walk in the stroller
  • Go for a car ride
  • Set baby in a baby carrier (or car seat) on the dryer with the dryer turned on (stand by him, as the vibration can bounce the seat right off the dryer onto the floor)

One of the most interesting things I’ve seen in the research regarding infant fussiness is that almost anything a parent tries to reduce fussiness will work, but only for a short time (a few days), and then other strategies need to be used.

If you nurse and it doesn’t seem to help, then try other comfort measures. If you pick him up or nurse him, and baby is content, then that was what he needed. If it works, use it!

I’m worried about spoiling my baby

Your baby will not be spoiled if you hold him and nurse him often – quite the opposite, in fact. Studies have shown that when babies are held often and responded to quickly, the babies cry less, and the parents learn to read baby’s cues more quickly. A young child’s need for his mother is very intense – as intense as his need for food. Know that your child really needs you. It is not about manipulation or something you can “fix” with the right discipline. Often a baby who is perceived as fussy is simply a baby who needs more contact with mom (and is smart enough to express this need) and is content once his needs are met. See the links below to read more about spoiling.

Conclusion

Caring for a fussy baby can be very stressful! Give both yourself and baby some extra TLC. Surround yourself with supportive people, de-stress in other areas if possible (for example, minimize housework), and tell yourself you are doing a great job. It is very difficult to feel good about yourself as a parent when you have a fussy baby. Don’t be too alarmed if your efforts seem to have no positive effect – they are. When you stay with your baby to try to provide comfort you are beginning to teach your baby that he can count on you and that he is loved.

Additional Resources

@ kellymom.com

@ other websites

Baby Massage