Why is my baby fussing?

All babies will have periods where they are unsettled, cry and ‘fuss.’ This is normal behaviour. Babies don’t have the power of language so they ‘fuss’ to let us know something isn’t right or they need something.

Common reasons are overtiredness, too much stimulation, and wanting to be held to feel safe and connected to their parents.

Fussing can be a sign of discomfort – maybe baby is too hot or too cold? Maybe their clothing is uncomfortable? Maybe they have a wet or dirty nappy? Maybe they have tummy ache due to wind or overfeeding? Maybe they are teething?

Fussing during feeds is often flow related. A baby who is struggling to stimulate the letdown reflex at the breast due to a sub optimal latch or sucking difficulty or cannot transfer milk easily from a bottle will fuss. This can present as them coming on and off the breast or bottle, reattaching to the breast or teat repeatedly, crying in between attempts to feed and sometimes then pushing or turning away from the breast or bottle and refusing to continue the feed. They will also display similar behavior as the breast gets empty and they want to swap to the second breast. In this situation where flow is becoming slower, pulling, and tugging at the breast is quite common.

In situations where the ‘let down’ is very fast or there is oversupply creating a fast ‘let down’ babies may pull off and fuss because they are being overwhelmed by the flow. A similar thing happens if the flow of a bottle teat is too fast. In these situations, they will often cough, splutter, and sometimes spit up milk too.

Some babies cry and fuss continuously and this is a concern as it could indicate they are unwell and need to be seen by a doctor. It could be they have an allergy which is causing tummy ache and/or skin irritation. Or it could be they are not getting enough milk and are not satisfied by the feeds they are having.

Short periods of fussing are to be expected and are not a cause for concern. Parents can usually work out what is wrong, even if it is by trial and error, and provide comfort quickly. Holding, carrying, and keeping baby close to you is often all that is required to calm the fussing.

But if you are concerned about your baby’s unsettledness and think they could be unwell, seek medical advice. If you are struggling to cope with your baby’s fussiness talk to your Health Visitor or GP. If you have a partner talk to them about how you are feeling and if you can ask family and friends for some help and support. The charity Cry-sis offers a helpline for families with crying babies 0800 448 0737.

If you are concerned it may be related to the way they are latching to the breast or bottle or may be related to an allergy to something in the milk, then seeking the advice of a feeding specialist can be helpful.

International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) like myself provide the gold standard in breastfeeding support so if you are paying privately for support look for this qualification and ask the NHS staff supporting you about their qualifications and experience. Don’t assume that because someone says they are a ‘feeding expert’ that they actually are. Anyone can call themselves a ‘lactation consultant’, ‘breastfeeding coach’, ‘feeding expert’ and so on as these titles are not legally protected.

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