How to calm a fussy baby
- It’s normal for babies to be fussy from time to time
- Sometimes fussiness can be easy to fix, sometimes it can indicate an underlying problem
- Make sure you get support for yourself
We all get irritable from time to time – but as adults, for the most part, we’re able to express our feelings, solve the problem or find ways to look after ourselves. For babies, the only way they know how to express irritability is to cry or fuss – and that can be stressful for parents to deal with. Trying to figure out what’s causing them to be fussy, and whether it’s a serious problem or not, can be really tough on mums and dads.
Babies can cry and fuss for almost three hours a day, on average (and it could even be longer) – which can feel like an agonisingly long time when you’re stressed out and exhausted. Typically the irritability happens in the late afternoon and evening. Thankfully, as your baby gets older, the fussiness will reduce – and you’ll be better equipped to figure out what might be upsetting them. So what can you do in the meantime?
We sought the help of Dr Preeya Alexander as a GP and health expert, who told us that a fussy baby doesn’t necessarily mean an unhealthy baby. With that said, there are a few signs that might indicate an underlying problem.
“All infants get irritable at times, particularly when overstimulated or overtired,” explains Dr Preeya. “If a child is unwell, however, with a fever, new rash or the irritability is persistent – and it’s not in keeping with short phases of irritability that all infants tend to have – then it is worth seeking review with a healthcare professional.”
If presented alongside fussiness, other signs that may indicate the need to see a healthcare professional include:
- Reduced appetite
- A swollen belly
- Fast breathing
- A racing heartbeat.
But even if none of those signs are present and you are concerned about your baby’s fussiness, Dr Preeya says it might be a good idea to seek medical support.
“I always tell my patients they should have a low threshold to have children reviewed if they are worried or seeking a second opinion,” she says reassuringly. “It is always far safer to run it by someone like your GP.”
What is causing my baby’s fussiness?
As Dr Preeya mentioned, being overstimulated can cause a baby to be irritable. Other non-medical reasons include lack of sleep, hunger, frustration, being too hot, being too cold or having stress and tension in the house.
Sometimes, she says, irritability can be due to an underlying health issue that warrants a doctor visit.
“If there is a cow’s milk allergy, for instance, that’s underlying the irritability, then diagnosing this and managing it will help with the irritability.”
Cow’s milk allergy is when a child’s immune system reacts to the protein in milk. As well as fussiness, your child might have signs such as skin reactions, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation – you can learn more about the symptoms and how to manage this condition here. It’s very important to see a healthcare professional for diagnosis and support if you think cow’s milk allergy might be an issue for your baby, Dr Preeya says.
Reflux, where a baby brings up the contents of their stomach either into their food pipe or mouth, is another issue that might cause fussiness. While breastfeeding is always best, there are thickeners available for breast milk or, if formula feeding, specialty formulas can be helpful with reflux. Speak to your healthcare professional about your concerns and whether it is suitable to use thickeners for breast milk or a thickened formula, and find out about other signs of reflux and what causes it here.
How do I deal with a fussy baby?
Soothing your baby is a good place to start – think: rocking, cuddling and talking softly to them. Sometimes parents worry that picking up their baby when they’re upset might be a bad idea, but you can’t spoil a newborn (what a relief!). Comforting your baby when they’re upset helps them feel safe and reassured, so it’s a perfectly healthy thing to do.
Of course, you should make sure your fussy bub is not hungry or needing a nappy change.
It’s also wise to try adjusting any environmental issues that might be causing the irritability, such as noise and stress, or routine issues including an irregular schedule or poor sleeping and eating patterns.
And because babies can get fussy when they’re hurting, make sure there aren’t any obvious sources of pain, such as clothes or nappy pins pinching or digging into their skin, or even hair tightly wound around a finger or toe – something that wouldn’t be a big deal to us can be really upsetting to a tiny baby.
Make sure you look after yourself too. The bottom line is, this is a tough situation for any parent to go through, and Dr Preeya has enormous empathy for you.
“Be kind to yourself,” she advises. “Parenthood isn’t easy and irritable kids – which is very normal for any infant – are exhausting.
“My main advice is that you need to find a GP who you feel safe with, who will listen to the six (or six million) questions you have churning in your mind and answer them for you. Sometimes that is all you need to feel a bit more settled and empowered to deal with the irritable patches at home,” she says.
REMEMBER: This article is not to be substituted for medical advice. If you’re concerned about your baby fussing, or have questions about reflux, cow’s milk allergy or any other conditions, please speak to a healthcare professional such as a pharmacist, GP or maternal child health nurse.
Disclaimer: Dr Preeya Alexander is an independent expert who was compensated for her time.
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