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Fussy baby: Causes and How to Soothe

what is fussy baby

As a new parent, you hope that meeting your baby's needs will be simple - they cry, you feed them or change them, and they calm back down again. Unfortunately, that isn't always the reality, particularly for parents of fussy babies who never seem to stop crying!

It can be demoralizing to have a baby who refuses to give you (or themselves) a moment of peace, but don't worry - we're here to help you identify the cause, and learn how to calm even the fussiest baby:

  • Causes: why is my baby so fussy?

  • Normal fussiness or colic?

  • Comfort measures: how to soothe a fussy baby

  • Take a break

  • Fussy baby: key takeaways

  • Commonly asked questions about soothing a fussy baby

Causes: Why is my baby all of a sudden so fussy?

If your baby has suddenly become fussier without any other symptoms of illness such as lethargy or losing weight, it's likely nothing to be concerned about - however, that doesn't make it much easier to deal with in the moment!

From having a nightmare to reaching developmental milestones, there are many reasons why babies cry, and lots are difficult to spot. Aside from things like hunger and needing a change that can be easily fixed, these are the most common reasons for many babies to become fussy:

Developmental changes

Though it's exciting when your baby reaches new developmental milestones, it can also be a confusing time for your little one that can lead to some stress and fussiness at first. For instance, your baby's sleep cycles will start to change at around 3 months, shifting to a more adult pattern with some lighter phases of sleep. This can lead to some nighttime wakeups and upsets, as well as some daytime fussing if your baby is feeling sleep-deprived.

Overtired or overstimulation

None of us remember what it was like to leave the womb and enter the world around us, but it's a huge transition that isn't always easy - especially when you're surrounded by lights and noise. Overstimulation is a common problem that causes crying and fussiness, and if it's happening at night when your baby should be snoozing it can lead to overtiredness too!

Overtiredness happens when fatigue causes a stress response that releases chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, keeping your baby alert and upset rather than relaxed and sleepy.

Digestive changes

When your baby is born, their digestive system isn't very developed, to the point where they won't be able to consume any solid food safely until at least 6 months. This means that problems like vomiting, diarrhea, and reflux are all common and likely nothing to worry about. However, tummy pains can cause discomfort that can result in some ongoing fussiness until their digestive system settles down again.

Growth spurts

Growth spurts are a period of rapid physical development for your baby that might cause a few different symptoms, from more hunger and less energy to a more fussy, cranky attitude overall that isn't helped by disrupted sleep patterns. Luckily, this fussiness tends to only last for a few days at most - just try to be patient with your expanding little one in the meantime!

Loneliness

Sometimes it's a little simpler than developmental changes or digestive problems, and your baby might just be craving a little more attention than they've been getting. This can happen if their primary caregiver hasn't been able to spend as much time with them lately - usually, this is sorted by some quality bonding time and a few good cuddles.

Normal fussiness or Colic?

When it comes to normal fussiness, you'll usually find that it's a short phase over in a few days that doesn't have too much of an impact on your lives - colic, on the other hand, is a different story. Colic is characterized by intense and prolonged crying from a baby with no other health problems.

To figure out if your baby is suffering from colic, you can use the rule of 3: if your baby is 3 weeks or older, crying intensely for over 3 hours a day for at least 3 days a week, and is doing this for 3 weeks or more, colic is likely to blame.

Babies get tired of sitting and looking at the same old scene. To quash the boredom, pop her into a front carrier, sway in a glider or rocking chair, stand by the window, go out for a walk or just stroll from room to room.   - What to expect

If you're struggling with a fussy and colicky baby, you can check out our blog on colic for information on normal crying vs colic crying, potential causes of colic, and tips on how to handle this tricky time.

Comfort measures: How to soothe a fussy baby

comforting fussy baby

Though they can be tough to deal with at times, crying is your newborn's way of communicating with you before they have the right words, and knowing the nuances of your baby's cries is the best way to learn what they need from you. If you want to learn more about the sounds of different baby cries, you can check out our blog on the subject here!

In the meantime, here are a few calming techniques that can help you and your fussy baby get the sleep that you both need.

Rhythmic motion

Babies are soothed by a gentle rhythmic motion, and there are a few different ways that you can achieve this effect. A baby swing can keep your little one calm and occupied if you don't have your hands free, and holding your baby in your arms as you sit together in a rocking chair is a great bonding experience, as well as a way to keep fussiness at bay.

Soothing touch

For most babies, the most soothing thing in the world is the touch of their caregiver, but you can't always be there to gently rub them until they fall asleep. That's where the Zen Sack classic can come in handy; featuring a lightly weighted pad that mimics your soothing touch, this sleepwear can help your little one feel snug and safe as they go to sleep. Not only that, but it can be put on backward for independently rolling tummy sleepers so they still get the benefit of the comforting pressure.

Basic needs

It's easy to forget the basics sometimes as a new parent, and you might not realize that you've overlooked a simple solution if you've been up all night with a fussy baby. If you haven't already, you might want to double-check for a wet or dirty diaper or to see if your baby needs another feeding - it's surprising what can slip under your radar when you're tired!

Calm environment

By investing some time into transforming your baby's sleep space into a quiet and calming environment, you'll potentially be reducing a lot of your baby's fussiness in the future. When you install blackout curtains to block out light from the room or use a baby-safe white noise machine to drown out loud noises, it lowers the chance of your baby becoming overstimulated, and therefore of them starting to fuss.

Gentle sounds

However, while silence can help some babies calm down, sometimes they need to be comforted a little more actively to chill out. Hearing your voice is the best option here, whether that means singing them a lullaby or reading them a bedtime story, but you can also try a white noise machine with extra sound features that are designed specially to calm down a fussy baby.

Take a break

When you're a new parent, your baby is the most important thing in your life, but that doesn't mean you should neglect your own personal needs. You deserve to experience your child's early months and years in a good mental space and with all your health needs met, and you'll be able to take care of them more effectively when you've taken care of yourself.

If your crying baby has become overwhelming, it's ok to ask for more help from your partner, friends, or family - even if it's just so you can go take a shower or have an afternoon nap. When you get back to looking after them, you're bound to feel better prepared.

Fussy Babies: Key Takeaways

Every parent knows how hard it is to deal with a baby who just won't stop crying, but the good news is that almost every reason for this is temporary, and will resolve itself within a few days or weeks. Before then, there's plenty that you can do to calm your little one in the meantime. Just keep these key points in mind, and your baby will be sleeping soundly again soon:

  • Fussiness is often caused by developmental milestones and growth spurts and will calm down within a matter of days

  • Colic is marked by excessive crying and is different from normal fussiness

  • You can use the rule of 3 to figure out if your baby has colic: if they're over 3 weeks, crying for over 3 hours at least 3 days a week, and have been doing this for 3 weeks or more

  • You can calm a fussy baby with rhythmic motion and calming sounds - cuddling in a rocking chair while singing a lullaby is a classic image for a reason!

  • The Nested Bean Zen Sack classic is great for soothing little ones at night when you aren't there to cuddle them

  • Double-check your baby's basic needs - it's easy to miss a dirty diaper when you're running on a couple hours' sleep

  • Make sure to look after yourself too, and ask for help from friends and family when you need it

Other Fussy Baby Resources

Zerotothree.Org: When Your Baby is Fussy

Healthychildren.Org: How to Calm a Fussy Baby

Mayo Clinic: Toddler Health

American Academy of Pediatrics: Feeding Challenges and the Fussy Baby

Commonly asked questions about crying babies

Why is my baby so fussy?

There are a wide variety of reasons why babies cry, and most of the time it's for a specific reason - after all, crying is your baby's way of communicating before they can talk, which is why they might have different cries for 'I'm hungry', 'I'm tired', and 'I need a diaper change!'

However, if your baby has their basic needs met and is still crying without showing signs of other health problems, the issue might be harder to figure out. Sometimes periods of change like growth spurts or reaching developmental milestones can make your baby fussy, while other times something more intense like colic could be to blame.

If you pay close attention to your baby's cries and general behavior, you should be able to figure this out - and hopefully by the time you do they'll have calmed down again!

How do I help a colicky baby?

Colic is marked by intense, excessive crying that goes on for more than a few hours a day for seemingly no reason. No one is quite sure what causes colic, though some doctors think it may be linked to overstimulation or to non-serious digestive issues.

You can calm a colicky baby with a few different techniques. The airplane hold, where you hold your baby on their front against your forearm, can help ease discomfort in their tummy, and gentle, rhythmic sounds from a white noise machine have also been known to calm a baby with colic.

For babies who haven't started to roll independently yet, swaddling can be a great way to calm your baby - our Zen Neo is a gently weighted swaddle pod that's perfect for giving your baby some of the soothing pressure that's known to help with colic.

How much should my baby cry?

Every baby is unique, so there isn't a single figure you should have in mind when it comes to how much they 'should' be crying. Having said that, most experts say that newborn babies under 3 months old cry for an average of 2 or 3 hours per day (thankfully, this is usually the most they'll cry at any point in childhood!)

When should I be worried about my crying baby?

If your baby is crying significantly more than 3 hours per day, you should check for signs of illness like lethargy, a loss of appetite, a fever, or losing weight. If any illness is ruled out, their crying likely isn't because of anything serious, and will probably die down in a few days or weeks. Many parents find that growth spurts and developmental milestones line up with stretches of fussiness and that the problem solves itself before too long.

Alternatively, if your baby is crying for more than 3 hours per day at least 3 days a week and has been doing this for at least 3 weeks, they may have colic. This can also be established by listening to their cry, which is more intense and prolonged than normal crying - colic isn't dangerous, but can be disruptive for you and your baby until it goes away.

Athena S.

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