Babies get hungry, tired, uncomfortable, and sick just like the rest of us but they have very few tools to let us know. We've teamed up with Mommy's Bliss because they are all too familiar with decoding baby woes, to give you a breakdown of some of the most common causes for a grumpy baby and what you can do to help.
1. Could it be hunger?
I know this sounds like an obvious one but I remember after I had my older son saying, "he can't be hungry I just fed him!". It's hard to say if it was the eating or the soothing that comes from eating (I'm the same) but it often worked like a charm. Keep an eye out for lip smacking, hands in their mouth, and rooting to give you a clue that hunger is the issue.
💡Solution: toss that kid a boob or a bottle and see if it does the trick.
2. How’s the diaper situation?
Some babies are really picky about the state of their bums. For the record, I believe they are easier to potty train down the road but that is totally anecdotal. (You can let me know if it rings true.)
💡Solution: Try a fresh diaper. Sometimes just the change alone is enough of a switch up to calm them. Once I didn't realize my son's run-of-the-mill diaper rash was a yeast rash and that couldn't have been comfortable. Also, check in on their diaper fit – if they are waking themselves up because they are wet, it might be time to go up a size.
3. Is your baby tired?
Newborns are notorious for going from a perfectly delightful wake window to an unraveled mess in the blink of an eye. If your baby is rubbing their face or ears and/or is especially clingy and yawning, it might be time for a snooze.
💡Solution: If they are overtired, you might have to do some serious rocking, a walk in the stroller, or a drive around the block to get them over that fussy hump. While you're out there, salute all the other parents doing the same thing because babies just don't understand how awesome sleep is. Be sure to keep any sleep solutions safe, though.
4. Is your baby overstimulated?
I remember taking my newborn to a family event and being surprised by how fussy he got. It didn't even occur to me that dozens of people fawning over him might be a little overwhelming.
💡Solution: Try to get that kid somewhere quiet and/or dark so they can decompress. (For the record, this applies to me as well.)
5. Could your baby be too hot or cold?
The idea of being too hot or too cold and not being able to do anything about it is the stuff of nightmares for me. Babies are terrible body temperature regulators so it's worth checking out if you can't seem to nail down what the issue is.
💡Solution: The general rule of thumb is to only add one more layer than you would be comfortable in. Air them out a bit – especially if they have been in a full hot meltdown mode – they might just need a body breather.
6. Could it be gas?
Not being able to crank out a burp or fart must be brutal. If you notice your baby is pulling their legs up a lot or gets extra squirmy, gas might be the problem.
💡Solution: Gently bicycle your baby's legs toward their tummy, try different burping angles, give the Windi a whirl, or try simethicone-based Gas Relief Drops to break up gas bubbles – look for ones that don't contain artificial colors or parabens. If gas is an ongoing issue, be sure to bring it up with a medical provider.
7. Could it be colic?
Few words strike fear into my heart like "colic". As Dr. Smita Malhotra describes it, "Colic is defined as frequent crying in a baby that is otherwise healthy. Babies with colic cry for three hours a day, for more than three days a week, and this can last three weeks or more." It tends to peak at 6 weeks so if your baby is around this age it might be the culprit.
💡Solution: Similar to gas, try things that relieve tummy troubles. Strapping them to your chest and bouncing on an exercise ball or going for a walk might be the upright motion they crave. Read up on Purple Crying and other stories from parents so you don't feel so alone, and talk to your medical provider to rule out anything more serious. If I meet you in real life and you lived through a colicky baby I'll buy you a beer – you've earned it.
8. Could it be constipation?
When was the last time that kid pooped? Newborns can poop up to 12 times a day, and babies over 6 weeks track around 1-2 times a day. Constipation is kinda rare in newborns but you see it in kids who have started eating solids.
💡Solution: If your baby is over 6 months and started on solids, try water, fruit juice or Baby Constipation Ease to get the pipes working. Don't use mineral oil, stimulant laxatives or enemas and chat with your doctor if it's persistent. As a parent, I would also suggest wearing white or putting them in a pristine bath – few babies can resist a good bathtub dump.
9. Any sign of teething?
Teething usually rears its head around 6 months but can start as early as 2 months. To make matters worse, they can have teething discomfort long before a tooth arrives. If your baby is pulling at their ears, drooling a lot, chewing on things, and is generally grouchy a tooth might be brewing.
💡Solution: Let your baby chew on a cold washcloth or teether to help ease the pain. Talk to your medical provider about acetaminophen and/or a good gum massage gel but be sure to skip products that contain benzocaine as it can have some really scary side effects. Many people will suggest teething necklaces but there is little evidence to support their efficacy.
10. How are their feet and fingers?
This might sound crazy but hair often gets wrapped around newborn toes and cuts off the circulation. It's called Hair Tourniquet Syndrome (don't google pictures) and I have no doubt that it is painful.
💡Solution: Do an appendage check to make sure none of that postpartum hair loss is wreaking havoc on a little piggy.
11. Could your baby be sick?
I cannot tell you how many times I've been asleep at the wheel before it finally dawned on me that my kid was sick. Between the day-to-day chaos paired with an illness that slowly creeps in, it's easy to see how something can fly under the radar. Is your baby congested? Are they tugging at their ears or waking up more than usual because they have an ear infection and lying flat hurts? Maybe they have terrible reflux and it's painful after they eat? Are they running a low-grade fever?
💡Solution: While these things are common, they aren't okay, so unless it's something you're sure about, give your medical provider a call. The younger the baby, the sooner you should get on the horn too.
12. Just plain ole pissy?
Being a baby is hard. You have a giant head that is hard to lift, an underdeveloped digestive system, and people at the grocery store who want to touch you with dirty fingers. Sometimes it's just a bad day and the only way you can show it is coming unhinged like a middle-aged white woman at Costco's customer service counter.
💡Solution: Go for a walk. Add water - bath, shower, pool, puddle. Hand them over to someone new (my grandmother always said, "Babies love cold arms".) Drive around the block or grab a coffee. Strap them to your chest and go someplace where there is a ton of action - mall, playground, dog park, etc. Pop them in a safe place and let them have a good cry. I don't say that in a mean way but in a cathartic damn-I-feel-better-after-that-good-boo-hoo way.
It's Okay. All Babies Get Fussy.
I'm not sure if it was movies, social constructs, or articles about babies in Africa not crying but it always made me feel like a fussy baby meant I wasn't doing it right.
Try not to take it too personally. Babies cry. A lot.
Sometimes it's something and sometimes it's not but it's always good to take stock of each episode separately so you catch more than you miss. If all else fails, get dressed in white and take them for a walk – that usually fixes everything.
Founded by a mom and pediatric nurse, midwife, and doula, Mommy's Bliss crafts a variety of safe and gentle mom, baby, and children's supplements, including a cough relief line, products for digestive support such as Gripe Water and gas relief drops, and probiotics, immunity support, and vitamins. Learn more at mommysbliss.com
Our next reco: How Can I Help My Baby With a Cold?