By Michelle Place, CRNP-P
Your fussy baby
In the first 3 months of life, crying is a baby’s primary form of communication. Babies do cry when something is wrong or when they are wet or hungry or tired. Most of the time, however, nothing is actually wrong, crying is just a means of identifying a need. As adults, when our nose itches, we scratch it but when a baby’s nose itches, he or she cries. When our clothes are too tight, we loosen them but when a baby’s clothes are too tight, he or she cries. It is important to view crying as a baby’s most primary means of communication, rather than always signifying a problem.
Babies have a lot of stamina!
Everyone knows that new babies cry. The secret that no one tells you is that the average infant cries for over 2–4 hours every day during the first two months. During this time babies sleep an average of 16-17 hours/day. Let’s do the math: they are awake for 7-8 hrs/day and 2-4 of those hours are spent crying. This is normal! First-born children tend to cry more than others because we, as parents, are not as proficient in interpreting the reason for crying and often respond in ways that are out of sync with the baby’s needs.
At what age do fussy periods begin?
As early as 2 to 3 weeks of age, you may notice your infant has a “fussy period,” which is typically in the late afternoon and evening. During these times, your baby may not be as consolable as other times. The period of most intense crying tends to peak by 6 weeks of age at which time most babies experience a neurological jump-they start to smile, their sleep becomes a little bit better organized and the period of fussiness stabilizes until about 8 weeks and finally disappears between 10–12 weeks of age. The bad news is that this seems to occur in almost all infants, the good news is that it also disappears by 3 months in almost all children.
Why do they cry?
No one really knows for sure. Most experts believe that it is because babies have an immature nervous system which easily becomes over stimulated. You know, as adults, there are many times that we feel overly stressed and no matter what we do our nerves feel on edge. Imagine how you would react if while you were feeling this way someone started jiggling you around, slapping you on the back and force feeding you. This is how babies feel during the first few months.
Stop Feeding First
When babies are crying everyone’s knee jerk reaction is to assume that they are hungry. It does not seem to matter how recent the last meal was or how much they ate, the first thing everyone wants to try is to feed them even more. If someone placed a garden hose in your mouth and left the faucet on for six weeks, imagine how bloated, gassy and fussy you would feel. This occurs quite often in infants because we misinterpret their cries as hunger and end up overfeeding. As a result, the gut is over stimulated so it moves more rapidly causing more spitting and more expulsion of gas.
What about colic?
The term ‘colic’ is not helpful because it turns what is really a normal condition into a disease. Then, rather than confronting the issue and problem solving, parents want a ‘medicine’ to deal with the problem.
Problem solving the fussy baby
Every child is different so different techniques may work better at different times. Look through the following suggestions and try various combinations (i.e. changing position, adding motion and increasing non-nutritive sucking) to help your new baby. Stick with a selected pattern for 15 minutes before trying another. Rapid switching can over stimulate baby and lead to more crying.
- Lay your baby face down over your forearm or seat your baby on your hand or arm, with the back to your chest, and lean forward on the other forearm.
- Try to place your baby high on your shoulder.
- Cradle your baby in your arms, across your stomach.
- Keep motion gentle and rhythmic. DO NOT shake your baby.
- Walk slowly, with or without deep knee bends.
- Sway back and forth.
- Sit in a rocking chair or glider.
- Use an infant swing with a battery or crank- swings do not cause Shaken Baby Syndrome.
- Use a vibrating infant seat.
- Promote pacifier use in first 2 months. Try introducing the pacifier after a feeding; your child is more likely to accept it when quiet than when wailing.
- Some children will not take a pacifier. Try swaddling tightly and putting the fleshy part of your finger on the roof of the palate to stimulate a sucking reflex.
- Try rhythmic patting of the back and bottom (“butt pats”).
- Always check that items are not too hot — your child should be comfortably warm. Swaddle him in a blanket.
- Cuddle against your body. If you find yourself tensing because of the crying, this approach often makes it worse.
- Skin to skin
- Speak in a low gentle voice, hum or sing.
- Provide gentle, rhythmic clicking or whispering sounds.
- Try the dishwasher, vacuum, fan, clothes washer or dryer.
- Try music — classical, soft jazz, new age.
- There are a number of devices available that play natural sounds such as rain, oceans, birds, and heartbeats. These mimic the sounds of the uterine artery in utero and have been shown to be very effective in preventing and treating fussiness in the newborn period.
- It combines motion and gentle sounds as well as the secure feeling of the car seat!
Do Things for Yourself
- Most importantly, parents must take care of themselves first! If a mother is not relaxed, well hydrated, well rested, and well nourished, she’s not well equipped to care for baby! Remember, when the plane is going down you must put your oxygen mask on first before you can assist others.
- Try to nap when your child is napping; turn off the phone and make sure that you get some sleep.
- If the crying becomes overwhelming, get help! Babies know when you are upset. Leave your baby with someone you trust and take a break. Not all crying can be easily fixed, and it is not a reflection of your parenting ability!
- Remember, this is not about you but rather about a particular stage in your child’s life. At about 6 weeks, your child will begin to smile and often, that first smile will really help to lift the cloud.