Ask the Lactation Consultant: Why is my baby fussy -- and what can I do?

Most babies have at least one fussy spell per day. Normal newborn fussiness begins at about one to three weeks of age, peaks at about six to eight weeks, and is gone by about three to four months. That daily spell usually lasts around two to four hours. During this time, your baby may want to breastfeed very frequently. We call this a cluster feeding.

Your baby may also want to be held without being put down and may seem generally unhappy no matter what you do. Don't let it bother you. This normal fussiness isn't a sign that anything is wrong with your milk, the baby or the way you are mothering. A lot of research has been done to learn why babies fuss at times, and theories abound. Yet no one seems to have a clear reason why this occurs. We just know that most babies do it and thrive anyway. It's probably just a normal developmental stage of the infant.

Here are some tips to help you get through your baby's fussy spell:

  • Plan to breastfeed frequently (as much as your baby wants).
  • Give your baby extra attention. Most like to have some extra cuddling, movement and holding at this time.
  • Recognize that all of the things that generally calm the fussy baby mimic the conditions in the womb. For example, swaddling mimics the tight conditions and keeps the baby from startling himself as his limbs flail about. Rocking or swaying provides motion similar to the movements experienced in the uterus. Making the "shush-shush" sound replicates the sound of mom's blood flow. Patting the baby's bottom feels like mom's heartbeat.
  • Let dad join in. He can sing or talk to the baby and cuddle her, placing her head under his chin. The light pressure on the baby's head feels like the pressure of being against the cervix in the uterus. The sound of dad's voice muffled through his neck can remind her of how dad's voice sounded before she was born.
  • You can dance with your baby, wear her in a cloth sling, sing or take a walk outdoors. If the fussiness occurs during the night, try using the side-lying position for breastfeeding so you can get some rest without the risk of dropping the baby from your lap if you are very tired. It's also a good idea to anticipate your baby's fussy time of day and get some extra rest before it begins. Try to nap in the late afternoon or early evening if you can.
  • Many fathers feel they need to bottle-feed to bond with their baby. Fussy spells are not an ideal time to offer the bottle, but it's a great time to let dad take charge of with calming techniques. There are many that don't involve feeding. Dad can even let the baby suck on his clean finger.

Be available to your baby during fussy moments, even if the results of your efforts aren't obvious to you. Your baby will learn that you're there for him even when he's distressed and can't express why or tell you he appreciates your effort.

Note: Understandably some moms confuse normal fussiness with low milk supply or other feeding issues. Remember, the best way to judge your milk supply is by your baby's overall weight gain pattern and diaper output '- not her behavior.

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