By Val Homanics, RN, IBCLC
Infant fussiness can have multiple causes. Of course, you want to check to see if your baby is hungry or has a wet or dirty diaper. Another common cause of fussing is tiredness, especially if the baby is overtired. The crying from fatigue is often louder and longer even than crying from hunger.
During the first few months, some babies have a regular fussy period, usually occurring in the late afternoon or evening. Normal fussiness tends to occur during the time of day that the baby becomes overtired, and the most common time is IN THE EVENING right before the time that the baby takes the longest stretch of sleep.
Infant fussiness usually increases around 2-3 weeks, peaks at 6-8 weeks, and gradually decreases at 3-4 months, when babies are better able to calm themselves. Crying can last up to 2 hours per day and still be considered normal. However, there is a wide range of normal crying. Normal fussiness occurs in a baby who has other times of the day where he is content while awake or asleep.
A baby can become fussy and overtired, because he is not yet neurologically mature enough to be able to calm himself enough to fall asleep. If he remains overtired, this may lead to a less-than-effective feeding, further aggravating the fatigue, as the baby finishes the feeding still slightly hungry. This can become a vicious cycle, alternating between poor feeds and short sleeping cycles.
To interrupt this cycle, try to help your infant to sleep by whatever means you can, whether it’s rocking, swaddling, holding skin to skin, or feeding him. Remember that at this early stage of life, newborns can’t really learn from “crying it out,” so try to help them to soothe in any way you can. Parents can take turns walking and rocking the baby.
Another approach was developed by a pediatrician, Harvey Karp, who wrote a book called The Happiest Baby on the Block. His view is that the first 3 months of life are like a “fourth trimester,” in which the baby is still too immature to be able to calm himself. Dr. Karp presents the “Five Ss”. These are simply an exaggeration of common sense and involve sucking, swaddling, swinging, side lying, and shushing.
This approach can be very helpful in calming your baby. Remember that this is designed to turn a crying baby in your arms into a quiet baby in your arms, not a quiet baby in his crib.
If you feel your baby’s fussiness is not normal, and he frequently cries hard and is unable to soothe, discuss this with your health care provider to rule out any illness such as GERD, feeding issues, or other problems.
Val Homanics is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at the Pleasant Hills office.