How to soothe a fussy newborn

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Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 5 mins read

When you first hear your baby cry – it is a truly special and moving experience which tugs on the heartstrings. But as the days and (sleepless) nights go by, the novelty definitely wears off a little as you quickly become acquainted with the big set of lungs your little one is putting to good use.

Starting around 2-3 weeks, having a fussy period each day is pretty par for the course for newborns. And there is some truth in saying that sometimes, you just need to ride the wave and be there with your unsettled baby. However, there are things you can do to try to soothe and calm a fussy newborn.

Why is your newborn being fussy?

Ah – the age-old question… We know that often when our babies are crying or are unsettled, they are trying to communicate a need to us. So, as parents, it is our role to decode their (rather loud) messages and try to meet their needs. Simple, right? When your newborn is being fussy, it is a good idea to have a mental checklist to run through to see if you can pinpoint what they are trying to tell you.

  • Have you fed them?
  • Have you burped them?
  • Have you changed their nappy?
  • Are they due for sleep?
  • Are they unwell?

They are hungry

Every baby is different, but as a rule of thumb – newborns need to feed 8-12 times in a 24-hour period. So that works out to be a feed around every 2-3 hours. If you are hitting around that 2-3 hour mark and they are starting to get a bit fussy, chances are that they are a bit hungry.

Other signs that they are hungry can include:

  • Their head is turning toward the breast
  • They are more alert or active
  • Their lips are making sucking or smacking motions

They are gassy

After a feed, it is pretty common for newborns to be a bit gassy. While drinking breastmilk or formula, air can become trapped within their little bellies, which can be quite uncomfortable resulting in fussiness. To relieve gas, burp your baby after every feed with gentle pats on their back.

They need to be changed

Your newborn’s nappy will need changing up to 10-12 a day and while a wet nappy won’t always cause discomfort for your baby if your baby is being fussy, it is a good idea to check if they need changing. The bacteria within a wet nappy can also cause nappy rash so it is a good idea to change their nappy roughly every 2-3 hours and apply a barrier cream.

They are tired or overwhelmed

Newborns sleep anywhere from between 14-17 hours a day in a shorter bursts. When you first bring the baby home and family will want lots of cuddles, if they are being fussy and you have checked that they are fed and changed, they could be tired or overwhelmed – so don’t be afraid to say it’s nap time!

They could be unwell

If your newborn suddenly seems fussier than usual, it can be a possible sign that they are unwell. You know your baby best, so if it seems out of the ordinary check their temperature and get in contact with your doctor or paediatrician if you are unsure.

Can newborns be fussy for no reason?

While often our baby’s cry is trying to communicate something to us, sometimes you can go through the full list of things to try and nothing does the trick. All babies have different temperaments, and some will cry more than others. Try to find comfort that if your baby tends to be fussy, you are not alone. Excessive crying occurs in up to 30% of newborns in the first 3 months of their lives.

What about colic?

Colic is understood as frequent, excessive and unexplainable crying in newborns who are healthy and well-fed. Colic occurs every 1 in 5 Australian babies each year, and the cause is not fully understood. It typically presents within the first few weeks of life, peaks around 6-8 weeks and then often stops when they reach 4 months old.

For parents, dealing with colic can be very stressful and distressing as it makes soothing your baby very difficult. However, there is no evidence suggesting that colic has any long term negative effects on the health or development of the baby.

Tips for calming and soothing a fussy newborn

If you have gone through the list of possible causes of fussiness, there are also some extra things you can do to soothe your baby.

  • Swaddle your baby
  • Gently rock or swing your baby
  • Get moving – some parents find walking around with their baby in a pram or carrier, or taking them for a drive can help settle them
  • Speak softly to your baby, most babies find the sound of their parent’s voices calming and soothing
  • Give your baby a warm bath followed up with a nice massage
  • Hold your baby close and comfort them during a crying episode
  • Offer them a dummy to help soothe them
  • Darken the room and create a quiet calm environment
  • Take a break and a moment to calm yourself if you find yourself getting stressed or overwhelmed

Remember – you can’t spoil your baby. There can never be too much cuddling, attention or care.

Learning how to soothe and calm a fussy newborn is all part of the learning curve that is parenthood. Every baby is different and it is normal for it to take time to learn what works for them – not to mention, that what works one day, may not work the next. Remember, periods of fussiness is a normal newborn behaviour that typically settles as they get older, so take it one day at a time and don’t be afraid to reach out to your network for support.

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