The Fussy Baby

Every infant will have strengths and weaknesses but each one is perfect. Some infants easily self soothe while other so called “difficult infants” are slow to settle. In addition, some infants experience colic. You know your infant better than anyone, and you are in the best position to understand and respond to your child. Infants who have difficulty settling require more time and attention. If you invest the extra time and attention and limit the sensory distractions that bombard new infants and lead to unsettled behavior, you will reap major benefits.

Colic is the name given when an infant has fussy or extreme cranky periods usually in the evening. During these periods all attempts to soothe and settle the infant fail. These episodes can occur anytime during the day and for some infants they occur throughout the day. Most often the peak period is between 6pm and midnight. These fussy periods begin at two to four weeks of age and peak at about six weeks of age. They can last for up to 3 hours and gradually taper to one to two hours by three to four months. About 20% of all infants develop colic. It is normal and does not mean there is anything wrong with your infant. During these prolonged crying episodes infants may cry or scream inconsolably, bicycle their legs and pass gas. They often swallow air and their stomach becomes painfully distended.

Although there is no known cause of colic recent findings support colic being an indicator of a child being at risk for the future development of migraine headaches. Colic is felt to be due to a delay in the ability of the nervous system to self-regulate. Infants with colic appear to be oversensitive to environmental stimuli and have difficulty being consoled. The inability to self-soothe leads to constant crying and associated behaviors.

If you feel your child has colic talk to your doctor. There are several medical reasons for behavior that appears to be colic. These include food sensitivities and gastro-esophageal reflux.  These problems are treatable.

After delivery babies need to learn how to live in a new environment. Sounds, smells and visual sensations abound. Your infant is no longer living in the tight, warm and quiet environment of the womb. Your heart rate is no longer the primary sound your infant hears. This change in environment disrupts many babies. Allow your infant time to deal with the frustrations associated with this change. By providing ongoing unconditional love and support your infant will adjust to the new surroundings.

If you have a fussy baby it is important you remain calm and relaxed. Your infants can sense your emotions and negative emotions can heighten and exacerbate your infant’s behaviors. If you are tense or anxious consider asking someone to give you a break. A brief break allows you to find a positive balance.

Make sure a fussy infant is not cold, wet or hungry. Checking on all “comfort needs” is always the first step in the response to a crying baby. Some infants cry when they need to be burped. If you have concerns that your infant is sick check for a temperature and call the doctor.

If all comfort needs have been met and there is no sign of illness it is time to pursue common interventions for so called high needs babies. Walking with your infant provides a calming swaying movement. Make sure you do not over-feed your infant and consider skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding is always best. Stomach distension can make your infant uncomfortable so make sure to burp your infant. The use of a pacifier can also be very helpful. Sucking lowers your infant’s heart rate, evens out breathing patterns, encourages relaxation, decreases stress and promotes the onset of sleep. Sucking also decreases the risk of SIDS. Distractions such as making shushing sounds, playing soft music or softly stroking your infant’s head from the forehead to the back of the head are other ways to settle your baby. Always try to limit distractions and make sure the room is not too warm or too cold. Infants should always sleep on their backs. It is alright to try some tummy time if this position helps soothe your infant but you must remain in the room and watch your infant. Never leave a sleeping infant on his or her tummy to sleep. This increases the risk for SIDS.

Cry it out (CIO) approaches are not appropriate for infants. It is always best to respond right away to a crying infant and if you notice pre-crying behaviors such as anxious facial expressions, breathing pattern changes or jerky arm and leg movements it is best to pick up and try to soothe your infant.

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