It's Never Easy To Cope With A Fussy Baby, But These Strategies May Help

It's never easy to cope with a fussy baby, but these strategies may help you to hold on to what's left of your sanity until your baby outgrows this frustrating stage.
Ann Douglas

Humbling experience
Courtney Taylor Hausman may be only four months of age, but she's already managed to stump two adults with graduate degrees in human development: her parents!

"Caring for Courtney has been a humbling experience, to say the least," said Courtney's father, Charles Hausman, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Maine.

Like many babies her age, Courtney is prone to fits of inconsolable crying, with some episodes lasting for as long as three hours at a time. Her parents have tried every trick in the book to try to console her, but the only thing that seems to soothe her is the tape of "white noise" that her parents made by recording blow dryer and vacuum cleaner sounds.

Crying is a survival skill
It's not surprising that Charles and his wife Christine find Courtney's crying episodes so disturbing, says Claire Lerner Littman, a licensed clinical social worker with Zero to Three, the National Centre for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, in Washington, D.C. Babies are programmed to elicit a strong response from their parents when they cry.

"Crying is a baby's most powerful mode of communication during the first weeks of life," explained Littman. "Parents find a baby's cry distressing - and for good reason. It encourages them to respond to their baby's needs."

Dr. Alan Greene - a pediatrician in San Mateo, California - agrees. Difficult as these crying episodes may be, he believes that they actually help to cement the bonds between babies and their parents.

"I believe that colic exists in order to change deeply ingrained relationship habits," he explained. "Even after the miracle of a new birth, many parents and families would revert back to their previous schedules and activities within a few weeks if the new baby would only remain quiet and peaceful. Instead, the baby's exasperating fussy period forces families to leave their previous ruts and develop new dynamics which include this new individual. Colic demands attention. As parents grope for solutions to their child's crying, they notice a new individual with new needs. They instinctively pay more attention, talk more to the child, and hold the child more - all because of the colic. Colic is a powerful rite of passage, a postnatal labor pain where new patterns of family life are born."

What works for you?
That's not to say that this rite of passage is easy. While it's been six years since she became a mother, Lisa Trapani of Westminster, Maryland, still remembers how stressful it was to try to cope with her firstborn's crying spells. "I was miserable when Katie was a newborn. I felt very trapped and helpless, almost chained to her. I cried a lot. It's very frustrating when all your efforts to calm a baby fail. Time was the only healer: the older she got, the more adjusted she became to life outside the womb. It's all a very natural process, and all babies adjust differently, but I just didn't know that at the time."

For many parents, learning how to soothe their babies is largely a matter of trial and error. Michele Parisi of Los Gatos, California, copes with her four month old son Dylan's crying episodes by attempting to figure out by process of elimination what's at the root of his distress. "To cope with his fussy periods, my husband and I have learned to run down a mental checklist. Is he hungry? Is he cold or hot? Does his diaper need to be changed? Is he likely to be overtired? Does he need his pacifier? Does he need a change of scenery? Is he bored?"

Most parents run through a battery of different techniques before they stumble upon the ones that work best for their babies. Some parents rely on tried and true methods like singing lullabyes or rocking their babies to sleep. Others rely on modern conveniences like baby swings, crib vibrators, and simethicone drops (a defoaming agent which reduces intestinal gas).

For Erika Mattingly of Dayton, Ohio, what soothes eight month old Emma best is motion. "A stroller ride, rocking, or cradling her back and forth usually does the trick, but a car ride is usually the surest bet."

White noise works like magic for two month old Sam Clayton of Chevy Chase, Maryland. "We set Sam up in his bouncy seat and place him next to the exhaust fan in the kitchen," said Sam's father, Joe. "On a good night, that gives us about a half hour of peace."

Diet sensitivities
Some parents find that their babies' crying episodes decrease if they eliminate cow's milk products from their babies' diets, says Dr. Carlos Lifschitz - a pediatrician at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. For formula-fed babies, a switch to a soy-based formula will often do the trick. For breastfed babies, relief may come if the breastfeeding mother eliminates all cow's milk products from her diet for at least two weeks.

Sometimes it's simply a matter of accepting the fact that your baby's crying spells are inevitable - and planning accordingly. "Like most babies, mine cried in the late afternoon and into the dinner hour," recalls Kathy Fitzgerald, a West Sand Lake, New York, mother of three. "I found that I really just had to readjust my day to reflect their schedule. I had a small snack right before their fussy time to keep my energy up and then treated myself to a quiet meal later in the evening."

While the first few weeks can be challenging, it doesn't take most babies very long to "train" their parents. By the end of the first month of life, most parents have learned how to decipher the meanings of their baby's various types of cries. As a result, the amount of crying tends to decrease gradually after the first few weeks.

That message is clearly music to Charles and Christine Hausman's ears. "At this point, we're just treading water, waiting for Courtney to pass through this stage."

Tags: fussy

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