Caring for a fussy baby is stressful!
That’s the way nature intended it. We are motivated by the stress to find out what is causing baby’s discomfort and to try to correct it. Most babies have a fussy time, especially in the evening, but what should you try first to help comfort your fussy baby?
1. OFFER THE BREAST
This is always the strategy to try first if your little one is fussy or upset. Most of the time, a little top up of milk (or even another full feeding!) is all that is needed. Sometimes they simply need the comfort of being close to your breast
Frequent feeding is normal, especially in the first few weeks. It is not uncommon for babies to want to breastfeed 10, 12, 14 times or more in a 24 hour period. Watch your baby rather than the clock to determine when to feed. Although it can be exhausting, feeding frequently, whenever baby shows signs of hunger, is the best way to build a great milk supply.
Your body determines how much milk to make by how frequently milk is removed from the breast. Think of it like an automatic ice maker in a freezer. When the ice container is full, the sensor says to stop ice production. If the ice container is emptied frequently, the sensor says to make more ice. Your body does the same, responding to frequent emptying by making more milk.
If you are wondering how your baby could possibly feed so often, do this quick calculation. Think back over the last 24 hours and count of how many times you have had something to eat or drink. Be sure to include every meal, snack, sip of water or even a piece of gum or a mint. Your baby cannot get up and get a snack from the fridge or a glass of water from the tap. The breast is your baby’s only source food and drink.
2. HELP RELIEVE GAS
The symptoms of a gassy baby and a hungry baby are similar! It is easy to confuse the two. A fussy baby sucking or chewing on their hands could have gas or could instead be hungry. It is therefore a good idea to offer the breast first to rule out hunger. If your baby drinks contentedly, problem solved! Your baby was hungry. If however you offer the breast and your baby is squirmy, pulling back seeming to not want the flow of milk, your baby may have gas.
We used to think that foods eaten by the breastfeeding mother could cause gas in her baby but research does not support this notion. There is no list of foods all breastfeeding mothers should avoid. Don’t let others ‘blame’ you for baby’s gas!
If your milk flows quite quickly during a feed and your baby has a hard time keeping up, this can lead to extra gas. Try repositioning your baby in a more upright posture while feeding or a try different position such as the laid back reclined position or side lying. (For photos and descriptions of breastfeeding positions see this post.) If you don’t find a difference with these simple suggestions, make an appointment with a Lactation Consultant for more help.
When babies are gassy, they often want to be held. Try burping, walking or bouncing baby gently. Many parents have found it helpful to hold their baby tummy down across their forearm with their hand supporting the chest.
3. CHANGE THE DIAPER
Sometimes a diaper change calms a fussy baby. Every baby is different. Some cry as soon as they soil their diaper and want to be changed, others don’t seem to mind to wait.
As you change the diaper, check for a diaper rash. If you see reddened areas, try exposing your baby’s bum to the air for a few minutes several times a day. Apply a zinc oxide cream before replacing the diaper. Some babies are sensitive to diaper wipes and will have a reddened bottom when they are used. Try using water and washcloths for a few days and watch for improvement. If the rash does not clear with these simple steps take your baby for a check up with your healthcare provider.
Blood or mucus in your baby’s poop is not typical. If you should see it, check with your healthcare provider as it could be a clue as to why your baby is fussy.
Avoid tears and frustration. Watch our FREE 3-video series: Top 6 Pregnancy Mistakes Shared with Us in Secret: What Families Wished They Had Done Differently.
4. CHANGE THE TEMPERATURE
Sometimes a fussy baby is simply too hot or too cold. Newborns’ circulation is still developing so their hands and feet are often cool. As a general rule of thumb, dress your baby in one more light layer than you yourself would need to be comfortable. For example, if you are comfortable lounging in leggings and a t-shirt, your baby would be comfortable in a sleeper and a light blanket.
Check the back of your baby’s neck to see if he is too hot. If the back of the neck is sweaty, try removing a layer to see if your baby is more comfortable.
If in doubt, you could take your baby’s temperature. For a young baby, this should be done under the arm. Normal body temperature is 36.5 to 37.5 Celsius (97.7 to 99.5 Fahrenheit). If your baby’s temperature is too high or too low, add or subtract layers as needed, then recheck the temperature. If your baby’s temperature remains outside of the normal range take baby to your healthcare provider to rule out illness.
5. HOLD YOUR BABY
Life in the womb is cozy and secure. Your baby was enclosed tightly, soothed by muffled noises and rocked with gentle motions. It’s no wonder newborns want to be held close after birth. Try holding your fussy baby in close skin to skin contact. Your baby will be reassured by your touch, feel the warmth of your body and hear your heartbeat, a sound they no doubt remember from the womb.
Try to think of your baby’s first months as the fourth trimester. Your baby is unable to care for himself. Meeting every need, no matter how small, will not spoil your baby, but will build trust. You cannot spoil a newborn!
Your baby is not the only mammal wanting to be held. The offspring of kangaroos and koalas crawl into their mother’s pouch after birth, attach to a nipple and remains there for as long as it takes to grow and develop!
6. CHECK FOR IRRITANTS
If none of the above ideas calm your fussy baby, completely undress your little one and scan from head to toe.
Sometimes the outfit they are wearing has a scratchy or uncomfortable tag or there may be something poking them. One baby had a strand of mom’s hair wound tightly around his toe cutting off his circulation!
Inconsolable crying can be a sign your baby is ill. If you are unable to calm your baby with the above tips, have your baby seen by your healthcare provider to rule out illness.
Sometimes even healthy babies are fussy. Perhaps they are going through a stage referred to as PURPLE Crying, a phase of crying in a child’s development that passes with time.
Dealing with a fussy baby can be tiring and frustrating! Ask for help from your support people! Suggest they make a meal, help you with cleaning or simply hold your fussy baby so you can have a break. Try to destress in other areas as well. Limit appointments and errands. Give yourself permission to do less housework.
The support of other moms can be invaluable, whether in person or online. We have a wonderful group of moms in our New Mom Collective Facebook group. Why don’t you join? Guaranteed there will be someone to chat with at 2am!
What’s your favorite soothing technique?