Newborn babies have just been through the ordeal of birth and are now in the bright, loud world. They need to sleep a lot after the shock to their systems that comes with birth and they will continue to sleep plenty throughout the first few years of life to grow and develop appropriately. New infants barely open their eyes and spend most of their time drinking milk and sleeping in their preferred sleeping place, which for most of them is on their mom or dad’s nice, warm chest. But after a few weeks or months, babies seem to wake up to the world around them and they can get much fussier and quite resistant to settling down. If this is something you’re experiencing with your baby, read on to understand what might be happening to make your baby so much fussier than they were at first.
Your baby might be fussier because of how her sleep patterns are changing. Newborns can sleep anywhere and through just about anything and they sleep a lot—upwards of about 16 hours per day. They also might have their days and nights reversed, meaning they sleep longer and more solid stretches during the day and want to party all night. By about one month though, their sleep needs might decrease a bit and they notice more things around them. They often stop reversing their days and nights and might do longer stretches of sleep at night. By three and four months, they might start to have trouble sleeping on the go because they are so much more aware of the world around them and much more distractible. By five or six months when many babies start to develop gross motor skills like rolling, which is often followed by sitting up and crawling, they might fuss at bed time because they want to practice their new skills.
Or perhaps your baby is fussing because she is overwhelmed or overtired. Maybe your baby seems to be really awake during the day and engaged in what’s happening around her. Especially if your household is busy with older siblings or lots of family and friends coming in and out, your baby might get to a point in the day that’s often called the witching hour. Happening anywhere from late afternoon until about midnight, is the time when some babies have been known to cry inconsolably or just keep up a constant stream of low grade fussing.
A baby who, for the first two weeks of life, easily drifted off during a feeding or with a bit of gentle rocking might suddenly be resistant to any and all soothing. Often these babies are overtired and overstimulated from starting to notice all the activity around them. Maybe they wanted to stay up and be social all day so they didn’t get the naps they needed, or perhaps they are fussy despite napping well. If this description fits your baby, try boring them to sleep. Take them into a darkened room, perhaps with some white noise on, and lay them in a safe place, like a bassinet, near you. Put your hand on their belly and speak in a low, soothing voice or just lay quietly near them.
Another potential cause of increased fussiness is a change in their needs. Maybe you’ve been soothing your baby with bouncing or rocking, but now baby might like to try to self soothe. Or if baby is having a growth spurt, they could be in need of more milk and might want to breastfeed more often. Another possibility if you’ve been swaddling your baby is that baby would prefer to be unswaddled so that they can find their thumb for sucking or be able to wriggle freely in their safe sleep place. Babies change so much as they grow that sometimes it can be hard to keep up, so if your baby is particularly fussy, try to tune in and observe them to notice whether they’re ready for some type of change in their life.
Finally, your baby could also be fussing because they are in pain. Perhaps they have bad gas, an ear infection, reflux, or teeth coming in. If you notice what seems like an unusual amount of fussing and it lasts all day rather than happening specifically around times when baby is hungry, tired, or overstimulated, you might want to consult your pediatrician to rule out a medical cause. And it’s always okay to check in with your pediatrician, even if you think everything is probably fine. Pediatricians and family physicians are used to reassuring new parents, which can be great for your peace of mind.