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What is Normal Baby Fussiness?

Baby #fussiness, to some degree, is super common and even normal. Babies have limited ability to communicate, and even regulate, so fussing is part of their attempt to communicate and settle themselves. This often occurs in the evening, or afternoon, and for some, like my fourth son, this comes so regularly that it is very predictable. Of course because my husband worked the evening shift, this also meant I was home alone with our two older children and our little one crying for hours on end, with little relief. For many of you, this fussiness occurs during the time of day your demands are at their greatest - dinner in on the stove, kids are home from school needing help with homework, parents are trying to connect and take a breath from their daily commitments or maybe the entire family is running from event to event, so dealing with a fussing baby in the midst of all this can be exceedingly overwhelming.

Typical baby fussiness often sneaks in at about two-to-three weeks of age and seems to really intensify about six weeks of average, and for most babies, this resolves by about three-to-four months. Only one of my six were fussy like this, and at least in my experience, he was always the more wild in the evening child. Let me know your experiences in the comments, but it isn't really any surprise to me that he is the one diagnosed with ADHD. (There is no known link here so don't fret; just sharing my own momma experience and wondering if anecdotally, any of you have had a similar experience.)

Back to the science though, on average these crying sessions last about two-to-four hours per day, often every day, but there can be a wide range of normal here. I am not the clinician to say, this is typical colic behavior, get through it however you can and it will resolve. I am absolutely the clinician who says that colic behavior is a symptom of an underlying issue maybe yet to be identified. Its the catchall term in my mind, so while there are super ominous and more urgent concerns in the baby period that would cause this behavior, which we will talk about, there are also underlying causes that are maybe less appreciate and without a doubt even more we have yet to even learn. I am all for digging in and trying to discover that cause, because I am the momma who once thought she had met all the needs but my little one was still crying because I hadn't noticed the string tied around their little toe in their cute little slippers. How do we know, though, when this crying is urgent and when it is more a case for our inner private investigator?

Normal, or at least, nonpathologic colic occurs around the same time of day, with about the same intensity. This is typically during their most awake period, often in the afternoon or evening. Your little one will respond the same to each of your interventions, whether you rock, hold, sing, or nurse more. These babies are often quite content the rest of the day as well, and sleep easily.

There are a few pretty common causes for colic-like symptoms, such as oversupply, foremilk-hindmilk imbalance, even a forceful let-down or the opposite issue, low milk supply. Food sensitivities are rare, but certainly can occur, and even simple things like diaper rash maybe to blame. They may be overtired, overstimulated, lonely, or uncomfortable because they are too cold or too hot or the light is too bright. Growth spurts can cause some fussiness or maybe you are fussy so they are responding in kind.

Always try addressing their basic needs first. Are they dry? Are they hungry? Maybe they need burped? Maybe take all their clothes off to be sure there are no tight strings or rough patches, or a bug crawled in their clothes? Maybe they are cold? Holding them often works, so if you haven't mastered wearing them in a sling, this may be your saving grace. Maybe give them a soothing baby massage or a warm bath. I often got in the tub with my babies. We made these bedtime routines no for hygiene reasons per se, but because we wanted to establish a calming ritual.

If you appreciate that often colic relates to an upset belly, you might consider holding them in ways that give them some gentle pressure on their stomach. Maybe lay them across your forearm, tummy down, with your hand supporting their chest or you might lay baby across your lap and gently rub their back while slowly lifting and lowering your heels. You might even lay them tummy down on the bed or a quilt on the floor while gently rubbing their back.

Dim the lights. Calm the noise in the home. Maybe turn on some soothing music and your baby may have a favorite, so explore genres. Sing or even "hush" to your baby. White nose is also great, a fan or dishwasher maybe. I wasn't a fan of swaddling but would either tuck my children into my sling or I'd tuck them tight in my arms and swing them while singing. Walks outside can be calming or a nice car ride. My kids spent many afternoons sleeping in their car seats in the driveway because I wasn't about to wake them too early. That exercise ball can be super helpful too, just hold your baby and bounce.

The truth is though, almost anything will work, at least for a short period, and then you'll want to move onto the next idea. It will work for a bit, and then again, you'll want to move on to the next comforting strategy. My go-to was nursing, as "booby fixed about everything" but when that wasn't working, the rocking, bouncing, cuddling, walking, swaying, and singing would often work.

What if I Spoil My Baby?

It's my hope that none of you actually worry about this and my sharing here about this issue is more a reflection of my age and the great ignorance we had back in the day, but there use to be a pretty trendy belief that if we responded to our little ones after meeting their basic needs, that we would create super unruly children that were incapable of soothing themselves. The advice among many was to let them cry it out and in all seriousness, this isn't just parenting style; the science is overwhelmingly in support of comforting your baby, every time and all the time. Of course, do so as long as you can regulate your own emotions, because crying babies can trigger some significant overwhelm within us and you might need to walk a way a bit to stay grounded. No worries. Don't judge yourself for that, but if you have space in your energy to remain present and comfort your little one, please do without hesitation.

Just today I was talking to a mom who knew all too well that the best thing for her to do was to comfort and soothe her fussy baby, but her worry was that if she does all this, and responds, but he remains fussy, will he still suffer all the consequences related to not having responded, like withdrawing? Babies know when you are close and when they are being responded to, and the lack of response is what causes babies to shut down and withdraw. We can only do the best we can do, but two minds are often better than one so please reach out if you given these tricks a fair try and your little one is still fussy.

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