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  • Writer's pictureChardá Bell, IBCLC, CBE, CD

Why is my baby fussy?

While there is no sure way to know exactly what is wrong with baby, we can gather some general clues and body language to get to the root of the problem. Fussy babies can make parents feel overwhelmed, fatigued, exhausted or stressed.

Babies “fuss” because it’s their first form of communication is crying. It is how they get our attention and alerts us of their needs. Most of the time there is no cause for concern if you have an otherwise well baby who pees, poops and sleeps within the realm of normal. Regular pediatrician visits will help you determine if your baby is on the right track. The first 3 months are usually the worst of it.

In the breastfeeding world, common causes 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 but not limited to:

  • Diaper rash

  • thrush

  • food sensitivities

  • nipple/flow preference

  • low milk supply, etc.

  • New routine/daycare

  • Growth spurts

Here are 5 ways to soothe a baby:

Adapted from the book; pediatrician Harvey Karp, author or “The Happiest Baby of the Block”

1. Swaddle

Swaddling recreates the snug packaging inside the womb and is the cornerstone of calming. It decreases startling and increases sleep. And, wrapped babies respond faster to the other 4 S’s and stay soothed longer because their arms can’t wriggle around. To swaddle correctly, wrap arms snug—straight at the side—but let the hips be loose and flexed. Use a large square blanket, but don’t overheat, cover your baby’s head or allow unraveling. Note: Babies shouldn’t be swaddled all day, just during fussing and sleep. Do not wrap during breastfeeding but babywearing and breastfeeding are ok.

2. Side or Stomach Position

The back is the safest position for sleeping, but it’s the worst position for calming fussiness! This S can be activated by holding a baby on her side, on her stomach or over your shoulder. You’ll see your baby mellow in no time. I do this trick often when I first meet a new baby to establish a relationship with baby & give parents some relief.

3. Shush

Contrary to myth, babies don’t need total silence to sleep. In the womb, the sound of the blood flow is a shush louder than a vacuum cleaner. This is why they love it! Reminds them of being snug in the womb again with the sound of cord blood rushing through the placenta cord. But, not all white noise is created equal. Hissy fans and ocean sounds often fail because they lack the womb’s rumbly quality. The best way to imitate these magic sounds is white noise. I like just finding something on YouTube which is free. The 4K ones are pretty cool to look at too if they have visuals.

4. Swing

Life in the womb is very jiggly. (Imagine your baby bopping around inside your belly when you jaunt down the stairs!) While slow rocking is fine for keeping quiet babies calm, you need to use fast, tiny motions to soothe a crying infant mid-squawk. Dr Karp states “My patients call this movement the Jell-O head jiggle.” To do it, always support the head/neck, keep your motions small; and move no more than 1 inch back and forth. For the safety of your infant, never, ever shake your baby in anger or frustration.

5. Suck

Sucking is “the icing on the cake” of calming. Many fussy babies relax into a deep tranquility when they suck. Many babies calm easier with a pacifier.

And when you feel like you’ve tried it all

  • Accept help. When a friend or family member offers a helping hand, let them run a load of laundry, pick up groceries, or sit with your baby while you take a nap.

  • Change your scenery. Get out of the house and take your fussy baby for a walk or drive. Not only may the motion calm them, but it will also give you a chance to think.

  • Don’t worry about previous priorities. You don’t need to prepare 3-course meals every day or regularly vacuum. Housework is the bottom of the list. You and baby come first.

  • Ask for help. Now is the time to put the pride to the side and get the help you deserve. This is good for you and your baby as to mot further overwhelm yourselves. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed, talk with a trusted mental health professional or ask your doctor or midwife to help you find one.

Short Version Recap:

  • swaddling

  • soothing sounds and calming motions

  • giving your baby something to suck on

Make sure your baby’s needs are met:

  • hunger

  • dirty diaper

  • temperature

  • tiredness and/or overstimulation

  • illness

And while trying to calm a fussy baby, remember to take care of your overall health for your own well-being, so you can care for them.

Enjoy them while they last, they grow up fast!

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