Fussy Baby Fun (and a few tips)

I get tired of the sound of baby cries. I find myself staring at Honor in joy and adoration – I really do love babies. But when she's crying for what feels to me like no reason, I find myself getting tired of it! I would officially label her as a fussy baby.

Sometimes I wonder if it's my fault she's fussy – I did struggle a lot with depression during my pregnancy with her. Maybe that caused her to be fussy now. I really don't know, but I hold a little guilt about it.

I know that in reality, though, there's nothing I can do to change that now, and I did what I could during pregnancy. I know that now, despite Honor being very fussy, I am NOT struggling with depression and I am totally head-over-heels in love with her! I know I can be a great mama to her now, and leave the past challenges behind.

Helping Fussy Babies

So what are some practical things that can help a fussy baby outside of nursing? I think it's important to list some, because many fussy babies (Honor included), aren't as soothed by nursing as we'd like them be.

Do a Cry & Carry

Of course, this generally seems to stop the crying 😉 Babies like to walk. They also like to dance. So taking your baby on a walk around the block or for a dance around the living room may help. A baby carrier is very helpful for this – I'll elaborate more on babywearing next.

Honor likes taking walks, and she especially likes being held in a “football” position, where her head is by my elbow and she's draped down over my arm. Some dads can pull this position off the opposite way, with baby's head cupped in dad's hand. Quite a few of you mentioned that this tip helped your babies, so I'm guessing it's a fussy baby favorite!

Babywearing

Babywearing can be a huge boon with a fussy baby. Honor is almost always content in the Sleepy Wrap carrier when we're out moving (she's not so happy when standing in line at the bank!) Reader Jennifer shared that her fussy baby spent the first 18 months of her life literally almost always attached to mom! Her little one is now an independent five year old 😉 I carried Galen on my back almost constantly once he was big enough to go in the Ergo carrier, so I can see myself wearing Honor that way too – I'm looking forward to her getting big enough to go on my back, though!

Getting Outside

A lot of babies prefer being outside to inside. Honor has a definite preference for being outside. Scott says she hears the door start squeaking open and she calms right down!

Outside is a perfect place for walking and babywearing so it's a winner all around.

Swaddling

Some babies like being swaddled, some hate it. But those who like it are generally great fans of it. My babies have, in general, liked being swaddled. Asher, Galen, and Honor have all responded well to being swaddled.

If you're new to swaddling and baby soothing, The Happiest Baby on the Block is a great resource. Get the DVD; it's really very helpful and I recommend it over the book. A full review of this resource is forthcoming.

Bathtime

Many babies like a soothing bath. This helps Honor, and I have been giving her a quick bath in the sink every evening. It's just warm water and letting her kick around some, then I wipe out her creases and take her out. No need for soap and the whole works if you're just doing it for soothing.

On Honor's hardest nights filling up the bathtub and getting in with her helps. This is where she nurses the longest and most peacefully. After a long bath with me she generally falls right to sleep.

Food

Jennifer also recommends cutting out caffeine if you're getting any – removing it from her diet completely removed the fussies she had with one of her babies!

Many mothers do notice correlations between food and fussing with their babies. Honor seems to fuss more when I eat wheat. Scott is very sensitive to the gluten in wheat, so that makes sense to me. If you suspect something in your diet is causing your baby's fussiness you can try and cut things out. Caffeine, dairy, soy, wheat, and “gassy” foods like broccoli and onions are some to try removing for a week or two.

Sometimes this helps, and sometimes it doesn't. My other very fussy baby, Asher, did not respond to any diet changes.

Elimination Communication

Reader Toni shared that her little one hated being wet – and elimination communication helped greatly. There are definitely babies who fuss when they need to go and when they go to the bathroom.

Galen was this way, and Honor is too. She does not like wetting her diaper and will begin to fuss if I miss a cue. It's actually one of the things I should be focusing on – I rarely miss a cue for a poop but catching more of her pee cues would probably help her to be more comfortable and less fussy.

Pacifiers & Other Remedies

Lana shared that a pacifier was a great tool for her fussy baby. It was able to calm him while fussy and she was able to get a break! I think most of us want to avoid pacifiers, but at times they can be useful. Asher would take one in the car for his first six months or so (much better than screaming!)

Galen also took one sporadically in his first few months – it was most useful when Scott and I took a five-month-old Galen to a symphony performance. He contentedly sucked the paci for the first half and nursed through the second half. Not a peep from him 🙂

So I have used a paci here and there – and I know there are happy breastfed babies who use them into toddlerhood. I think if a pacifier can work for you, go ahead. The only real concern I have with pacifier use is an earlier return of menstrual cycles than a mom was hoping for – but sometimes sanity is worth more than later cycles 😉

Abrha shared that she's found Mommy's Bliss Gripe Water to help her little one if a good nursing and walk in the baby carrier didn't work. I know many mothers swear by Gripe Water and it's safe for babies. Sometimes very weak teas such as chamomile can be helpful, too.

Get Support

Talking to other parents helps – especially the ones with fussy babies! Toni points out that talking to people who have not had a fussy baby can make you feel like something is wrong with your baby – and that's not the case. Some babies are just fussier than others.

La Leche League meetings can be a great place to get support from other moms who have been there. Leaders are generally supportive even if they have not personally had a fussy baby.

If you can't get support in person finding a forum with moms who are dealing with fussy babies can be a great help. Another option is reading supportive books. Dr. Sears has an encouraging book on fussy babies.

It's OK to Walk Away

Several readers strongly recommended giving yourself permission to be away from your baby for a fussy time – either putting your baby in a safe place and taking a few minutes away, or asking somebody else to help. Scott usually walks with Honor for a little in the evenings while I read to the other children, and that really helps.

A couple of weeks ago I felt at the end of my rope with Honor's crying. We were visiting with family and my mother-in-law took her. Honor was still crying, and I could hear her. But my mother-in-law was happy to cuddle her even if she was screaming – and it's amazing how much better I felt just letting somebody else hold her while I took a break.

When Cassidy was a young baby and I was a very lonely new mom I would occasionally put her down, close the door, and walk away from her cries for 5 minutes or so. Thankfully she quickly went from a fussy baby to a bubbly, sociable sweetheart :p But give yourself permission to walk away from your baby for a few minutes if you need to calm down yourself. You'll come back much better able to help your little one.

I'll cover some other strategies, such as developing an evening routine, that I've found helpful in upcoming articles – for now hopefully some of these ideas help you. I know it helped me to write it!

About the author 

Kristen

Kristen is childbirth educator, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! She has spent years helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Find her on her website NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com and helping families through her online childbirth class MamaBabyBirthing.com

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  1. I’ve had two fussy babies (and praying the one due this fall will be very mellow!) and there are two things I have found to be most important. (I prefer to get to the root of the fussiness if at all possible– otherwise, it’s all just damage control!) The first thing is learning to nurse in such a way as to make sure the baby is getting plenty of creamy hindmilk. The second (and most difficult, but effective) is SLEEP. I’ve always heard that newborns just sleep a lot, and when they need to, but I did not find that to be true with mine. I had to actively work at getting them into good sleep routines from the beginning. The biggest part of that is not letting them get overtired. I learned to pay careful attention to tired cues and act quickly to start moving that baby in the direction of a nap. (I actually learned a lot of about this from reading /The Baby Whisperer/. There’s a lot in that book that I don’t care for, but the sleep info is invaluable!) I was amazed to see that my newborn could be overtired and even not getting enough sleep and when we worked on that, the fussiness improved a lot. My firstborn got over the fussiness during babyhood, but I’m still dealing with a lot of fussing in my almost-toddler second born. My firstborn ended up being an excellent sleeper, while the second just has a lot of trouble with sleep, and it takes a lot of attention on my part to keep on top of it.

  2. I haven’t dealt with colic as of yet, but one of my friends at work told me what she did for her babies when they had colic; her grandmother had recommended this, said she used this treatment as well: a drop or two of peppermint essential oil in a little warm water, can add a sprinkle of sugar if you want, then give to baby in a bottle. The grandmother believed it was the warmth plus the peppermint that would soothe babys tummy…

  3. For colicky babies, one may want to try an alternative therapy called craniosacral therapy (CST). It’s has amazing success with colic, especially if it’s a physical cause. CST is a VERY gentle, hands-on modality that can be done by a variety of health practitioners such as massage therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, etc. When researching for one in your area, make sure they have pediatric experience. I am a mother of an almost 2 year old girl and I get regular CST work on myself and her. In fact, I received it during my entire pregnancy, which was great for any low back pain and sciatica.

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