Several of my friends – ironically, the ones with the most experience with children prior to becoming parents themselves – had the fussiest babies. It was definitive proof to me that your abilities as a parent are not accurately reflected in the temperament of your baby.
Some babies sleep easily, eat easily, and smile easily. And some babies just don’t. Sometimes it feels like getting your baby to sleep through the night without crying is more of an art than a science.
Babies can often cry for long periods of time and for no obvious reason. It could be colic, which can start when the baby is just two or three weeks old and last until they are three months old. Unfortunately, colic is an overused diagnosis that has become a catch-all term for a fussy baby.
That’s why it’s very important that you have a pediatrician who listens and it’s very helpful for you to keep a journal or use an app like BabyConnect for a few days before you see your pediatrician. Keep a record of what you eat (if you’re breastfeeding) and what times your baby eats, sleeps, goes to the bathroom, and fusses.
There are a lot of correctable issues that cause babies to be fussy. For your sanity and your baby’s comfort, you’ll want to rule them out before accepting that you "just have a colicky baby".
Here are six important questions to answer when your baby won't stop crying.
1. Is your baby getting enough to eat?
If your baby is gaining weight, your doctor may assume that your baby is getting enough to eat. To be sure that’s true, see a lactation specialist (who should be covered by your insurance) if you are breastfeeding. She measures the baby precisely before a feeding, after a feeding, and after a spit up. She can tell you exactly how much milk the baby is getting.
I know a lot of moms who needed to supplement with formula to keep up with their baby’s feeding demands. That’s a great solution.
If you’re bottle feeding, remember that suggested ounces per baby’s age or weight are just suggestions. Some babies will need more.
2. Does your baby have acid reflux?
GERD (Gastroesphageal Reflux Disease) is severe acid reflux, but even less severe acid reflux, like my own son had, can wreak havoc on your baby’s mood and your clothes.
If your baby spits up large amounts or is especially fussy during and after eating or when lying flat on her back, acid may be to blame. I talk more about my son’s experience with acid reflux and what to do about it here.
It’s important to note that acid reflux affects sleep, so it can become hard to tell the source of the fussiness. You may mistake lack of sleep for the problem when it’s actually the symptom.
3. Does your baby have food sensitivities?
A doctor can diagnose milk allergies in-office by a stool sample. It takes about two minutes to get an answer. Obviously, if your baby shows an allergy to dairy, you’ll know to stop consuming dairy if you are breastfeeding or switch to a non-dairy formula if you’re formula feeding.
My son never tested positive for a milk allergy, but I noticed by observation that his reflux and spit up were significantly more severe when I had any kind of dairy. I assumed he had a sensitivity and I cut milk, butter, and cheese from my diet. Oh, and I cut out ice cream – he owes me big time for that.
Again, this is where keeping a journal for a few days can be helpful.
Remember that it often takes a couple of weeks for a particular food to be out of your system completely, so you wouldn’t necessarily see immediate results after eliminating it from your diet.
4. Is your baby getting enough sleep?
Here’s the crazy thing about babies and sleep: the less they sleep, the harder it is for them to go to sleep. If my two year old skips a nap, you’d think that would mean that he’d go to bed earlier, but often it means that he’s too tired to sleep at night.
Just because your baby is awake, doesn’t mean he’s not tired. If he’s awake and happy that’s one thing. If he’s awake and cranky, that’s something else.
Babies are no different than adults when it comes to sleep preferences. Everybody likes something different. My daughter slept better in her own room. My son slept better in our room. My son rarely made the transfer from car to crib without waking up. My daughter made the transfer all the time with no problem.
We learned by trial and error, but several of my friends had life-changing sleep help from night nurses or baby sleep experts who stayed overnight for a night or two and then developed a long-term feeding and sleeping plan to get baby and parents sleeping great.
5. Are you stressed?
What came first, your high stress level or your baby’s cries? This is such a sensitive topic. I know what it feels like to be told by a doctor that my baby was probably crying for an hour because I was anxious and the baby sensed that. We changed pediatricians shortly after that.
So I am not telling you that your stress level is the reason your baby cries. We have enough parenting judgement and self inflicted guilt as it is.
But I am reminding you that we have a symbiotic connection to our babies. We work as a team. Our bodies help regulate their temperature. Their cries regulate our milk supply.
Even if you’re not breastfeeding, you have a primal response when your baby cries. My husband felt it, too.
When my babies cried, it elicited a physical response inside me – not just because I was breastfeeding but because something in my core would tense. The only analogy I can think of is the fight-or-flight feeling where something primal wakes up and tells you that you have to respond.
If that’s how our bodies react to stress in our babies, it’s not hard to imagine that their little bodies react to stress in us.
And whether we are anxious first or the tears of our children make us anxious, it is good to remember that we have that effect on each other.
Take a breath. Take a break. Even if you’re alone, you can put the baby in a safe place like a crib and step into a quieter space until you can calm yourself.
6. Is the baby constipated?
I apologize that there’s not a more sophisticated way to end this list, but here we go. Obviously, if your baby isn’t pooping at all, you know there’s a problem. But it’s also possible that your baby isn’t eliminating everything.
One of my children (I won’t say which one so that he/she won’t be embarrassed that his/her mom discussed publicly his/her bathroom habits) suffered terribly at times with constipation.
It wasn’t until this child was one year old that my husband and I made the connection between cranky days and constipation.
In retrospect, I think it was the cause of some distress as a baby.
Actually, several of my friends believe they now know the cause of fussiness in their babies. At the time, though, they just accepted that they had more difficult babies.
I recommend that you get help from your pediatrician, lactation consultant, and/or night nurse to rule out all of the above possibilities. And accept that, until you find a solution or your baby outgrows the crying, you’re going to need extra support and you’re going to need a break.
Make it a priority. No one is equipped to be alone with a crying baby twenty-four hours a day. No one.