Why is my baby so fussy?
All babies cry. Babies often cry the most between 2 weeks and 4 months of age.
Some babies cry more than others, even when there is nothing wrong.
Reasons your baby may be crying
Your baby may be:
- Hungry. Watch early signs of hunger, such as lip-smacking or moving fists to his mouth.
- Hot or cold. Dress your baby in about the same layers of clothing that you are wearing.
- Wet or soiled. In the first few months, babies wet and soil their diapers a lot.
- Spitting up or vomiting a lot. Some babies have symptoms from reflux. Contact your child's doctor if your baby is fussy after feeding, arches his/her back, has excessive spitting or vomiting, and is not gaining weight.
- Sick (has a fever or other illness). If your baby is younger than 2 months and has a fever (100.4 F or 38 C), call your child's doctor right away. Rectal temperature is the most accurate temperature in infants.
- Bored. Go for a walk with your baby. Sing songs or read books with your baby.
Does my baby have colic?
Colic is when an otherwise healthy baby cries more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, between ages three weeks and three months. The crying usually starts suddenly at about the same time each day. Some experts have estimated as many as half of all babies have colic. No one is really sure what causes colic, but suspected causes include intestinal gas or an immature nervous system. Colic is perfectly normal, and does not mean there is anything wrong with either the baby or their parents. It does not have any lasting effects on the child in later life. Colic usually starts to improve at about 6 weeks of age, and is generally gone by the time your baby is 12 weeks old.
How can I help calm my baby?
Here are some ways to help soothe your baby.
- Respond consistently to your baby’s cries. Holding babies and picking them up when they cry does not “spoil” them.
- Try a pacifier. Babies under 3 months are not neurologically mature enough to calm themselves. Many babies are calmed by sucking.
- Rock your baby. Baby carriers can make it easier to hold your baby and free your hands. Many parents (and babies!) love slings once they get the hang of them—but sometimes it takes a little experimentation.
- Talk a walk with your baby in the stroller. This can really help with your stress level, in addition to soothing your baby.
- Get support from family, friends, your religious community, neighbors, etc. Let them help in any way possible.
- Take care of yourself and manage your stress. Eating a well-balanced diet, getting sleep and exercise, and talking to others can do wonders. If the stress or blues become too much, it’s good idea to get professional help. Your or your baby’s doctor might be able to help you figure out where to start.
- Nurse your baby every 2-3 hours if you are breastfeeding.
- Don’t smoke, and don’t allow anyone to smoke around your baby. Babies of smokers cry more and get sick more often. Babies of smokers also have an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Provide white noise, such as running the vacuum cleaner, clothes dryer, or hair dryer near your baby while in their car seat. (Do not put your baby on top of the dryer—they could fall off!) White noise machines are also available. White noise simulates the whooshing sound your baby heard constantly while in utero. You can also do your own “whooshing” or “shushing” with your voice as you rock or carry your baby. Vacuum while wearing your baby in a baby carrier.
- Go for a car ride.
- Massage your baby. Massage has many benefits for both the baby and the giver of the massage.
- Hold your baby in your arms and place her body on her left side to help digestion or stomach for support. Gently rub her back. If your baby goes to sleep, remember to always lay her down in her crib on her back.
- Don’t panic and don’t worry. If you are concerned, call your pediatrician.
What doesn’t work for colic
Giving rice cereal does not help solve colic.
Studies have shown that Simethicone (Mylicon) and lactase (the enzyme that helps digest lactose—the sugar in cow’s milk—which is in breast milk if the mother consumes dairy products) do not help colic.
Sedatives, antihistamines, and motion-sickness medications, like dicyclomine (Bentyl) are NOT safe or effective in treating colic in babies.
Please remember that just because something is “natural,” it is not necessarily safe. Remember to check with your baby's doctor before trying any remedies for your baby.
Take a Break! Parents and caregivers need breaks from crying babies.
Crying can be tough to handle, especially if you're physically tired and mentally exhausted. You will be better able to take care of your baby if you are taking care of yourself!
Remember to NEVER shake a baby.
- The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, by Harvey Karp. This book teaches you simple techniques based on other cultures where babies do not get colic, and on the idea a baby’s first three months are like a fourth trimester.
Written/reviewed by Sara Laule, MD
Updated March 2017