Mother-2-Mother Concerns: Fussiness

March 20, 2012. Posted in: Mother-2-Mother.com,Parenting FAQ

Reprinted from Mother-2-Mother.com (2000-2006), with permission from the author, Paula Y.

Young babies, both breast and formula fed, are often fussy. It is not unusual for this to happen during the late afternoon and evenings, and is usually NOT due to hunger, wet/dirty diaper, or anything that mom or dad can fix. It is usually NOT related to milk supply, although some mothers may worry about this.

One of the best explanations of normal infant fussiness is shared here with permission from Kathy S. Kuhn RN BSN IBCLC and lactation consultant for iVillage.com:

Normal infant fussiness starts at about 1-3 weeks, peaks at about 6-8 weeks and is gone by about 3-4 months. Most babies will “fuss” about 2-4 hours per day, no matter what you do. They want to be “in arms” or at the breast very frequently and fuss even though you attempt to calm them. They often seem “unsatisfied” with their feedings and even seem to reject or cry at the breast.

It most commonly happens in the evening hours, and usually the baby will take their longest stretch of sleep after this fussy time. The best thing to do is offer the breast as much as the baby wants it. If she fusses at the breast try to calm her in other ways such as “dancing” with her, gentle bouncing and rocking, and just giving big doses of TLC. You can tell it is normal fussiness if it occurs about the same time each day, if your baby has other times of the day when feedings are calm and she seems happy, and if she is growing and gaining well per her pediatrician and having plenty of wet and soiled diapers.

Many times during a baby’s fussy time they will refuse the breast. After several frustrating attempts at nursing, the parents may “break down” and offer a bottle of expressed breastmilk or formula thinking that the fussiness is related to low supply or something wrong with mom’s milk. Kathy gives a better understanding of this particular concern here, as well as explaining what happens when baby is offered a bottle and “guzzles” it down:

Parents who don’t know this is “normal” frequently respond as you did by giving a bottle because they think the baby isn’t “happy or satisfied” with the breast. When the bottle goes in the baby’s mouth the mouth fills with milk, the baby is obligated to swallow and the action of swallowing initiates another suck. The suck again fills the mouth and the cycle repeats, giving an appearance of the baby “gulping the bottle down hungrily”.

This of course only contributes to mom and dad’s fear that the baby wasn’t getting enough at the breast and they keep offering more and more bottles (understandably). Which then causes a true low milk supply. Often the baby falls asleep peacefully after this episode which also reinforces to the parents that the bottle was just what the baby needed. What has really happened is the baby has by coincidence come to the natural conclusion of the fussy spell (most parents give the bottle as a last resort which means the fussiness has been going on for awhile) and/or the baby has withdrawn because “gulping” down the bottle was actually stressful and NOT what the baby wanted but she could not stop the flow, so exhausted, she falls asleep. So don’t offer bottles during any fussy time.

Colic and the Breastfed Baby

Colic is usually defined as sudden and unexplained outbursts of inconsolable crying. According to Dr William Sears, in The Baby Book, “if you wonder whether or not you have a colicky baby – you don’t!”

Colic results in at least three hours a day, three days per week, for at least three weeks of inconsolable crying. It usually begins in the first three weeks of life and seldom lasts longer than 3 months. The baby is often healthy and thriving.

You may hear any or all of the following:

“It must be your milk, its….“:

  1. too weak
  2. something you are eating
  3. too strong

or…..

  1. you feed him too much
  2. you’re not feeding him enough
  3. you hold him too much
  4. you don’t hold him enough

… it can be frustrating for mom and dad to try to figure out what is going on.

There are many myths as to what may cause colic, which science has (thankfully) offered some info to either support or dispel, and many folk remedies to treat it (be careful with these!). Too often ALL segments of crying are labeled as colic, and it may take some good detective work to determine if it is “true colic” or a result of something else. Dr Jack Newman’s page on colic is an excellent starting place. Additional information can be found at Dr. Sears website and Dr. Jay Gordon’s website.

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