Have you heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure”?
Well, when it comes to a fussy baby, there isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent the fussiness (they are human after all), but there are ways to prevent some causes of fussiness and ways to overcome the fussiness when it inevitably happens.
I have three ways to prevent fussiness and five ways to cure it. So it is like an ounce and a pound. Look at that.
Ways to Prevent Fussiness
1. Stick to the newborn wake windows
Newborns grow so quickly and very rapidly need less sleep during the day and more awake time.
The wake windows for a newborn start from the time their eyes open until you are putting them down for sleep. Newborns need a lot to help with sleep, so the end of the wake window is a bit of a blurry line. But as long as you're trying to get them down within the appropriate wake window, that’s ok!
The first wake window of the day is the shortest and they gradually a little longer throughout the day, but never exceeding that max amount. So for zero to six-week-olds, the first wake window of the day is about 30 minutes, their next wake window will likely be around 30 minutes, and then the rest of the wake windows for the day are around 45 minutes.
During these wake windows, you’ll feed them, change them, and then put them back down to sleep. I know it feels like a lot to fit into a short amount of time, so it’s ok if you're missing the wake window because you're still figuring out feedings. Feedings are more important right now. That needs to be established and sometimes it takes a little while to get it sorted out. It’s ok! Don't (try not to) stress yourself out.
Also, keep in mind that not every sleep has to be in the crib or the bassinet. First of all, it can be near impossible to keep a newborn awake while nursing/feeding, especially in those super early days, and that is okay. Even if you're just practicing a crib-nap once a day and that crib-nap is 10 minutes long - Congratulations, you did it! But, if it's just too much, that's okay too! Your mental health is important, too!!
2. Let them be free to wiggle and squirm.
It seems we are so conditioned to always have our baby in some sort of container. Whether it be a swing, boppy pillow, or a bumbo seat, something where they're more confined, instead of being able to wiggle and squirm.
The floor is perfectly fine.
If you have an older child or a dog that you're concerned is not going to pay any consideration to the newborn, then definitely put them in a pack and play or in a gated-off space. Any safe place where they are able to move all of their limbs and their head freely.
This is not only going to help their muscles grow and develop properly, but it can also work out that gas that can often be the culprit of fussiness.
They don't need to be on their tummies the whole time, though! Tummy time is very helpful, for sure. It, too, will help relieve any gas and also builds their strength, and prevents plagiocephaly (flat head). (Check out @babybegin on Instagram for more about preventing and correcting plagiocephaly!)
Tummy time should be done before the feeding and it doesn't have to be very long. If tummy time is recommended to happen 15 minutes a day, those 15 minutes don’t have to be done consecutively. I recommend doing tummy time every time you get your baby up from their nap after you change their diaper. Put them on their belly on the floor, wherever they’re safe for even 30 seconds to a minute. Gradually they’re going to build up their endurance and will be able to handle longer stretches. Having interesting things for them to look at can be helpful, too.
3. Get fresh air.
Getting outside has so many benefits - the fresh air, the sunshine, and the sensory stimulation are great for Baby and parents alike! Even just a few minutes is beneficial. If your weather is a bit extreme at this time, you’ll likely only want just a few seconds!
How to “Cure” Fussiness
What do we do when the fussing happens?
First, check that they don't need anything.
Is their diaper clean?
Are they hungry?
Are they tired?
Are they gassy?
Are they too hot or too cold?
Check all of their fingers and toes and any appendages for anything (like Mom’s hair) stuck around them.
If all that checks out - you’ve changed their diaper, they're not eating, maybe they’re tired, but they’re not falling asleep, possibly overtiredness, this “cure” can help.
If you suspect gas, try to help them work it out by lying them on their back and pumping their legs towards their belly slowly like they’re riding a bicycle is very helpful. A belly massage, rubbing in a clockwise motion around their belly button will also help release some of that gas.
The cure is the 5 S's by Dr. Harvey Karp.
Shhh sound (a sound machine or you shushing)
Stomach or Side-lying position (in your arms only)
Suck (on a pacifier or your finger)
Go to a low stimulation area like their bedroom, put them in a tight swaddle, turn on their white noise sound machine or shush near their ear, hold them in a side-lying position either facing towards you or away from you (if you suspect gassiness, face them outward, with their head at your elbow, your forearm across their chest, and the palm of your hand is tucked near their belly button. That little bit of pressure can help relieve that gas.) Then give them something to suck on, a pacifier or your finger, and then sway them with a gentle motion. Once they’re positioned comfortably, turn off the lights.
These 5 S's are meant to simulate the womb, your baby’s most comforting place. The womb was very tight, very loud, and very dark. Your baby was often on their side, sucking in amniotic fluid or their fingers, and there was a lot of motion.
Recreating a womb-like experience will help them calm and settle.
Then do your best to stay calm. Take deep breaths.
The low stimulation will not only help your baby but hopefully help you too. Let your mind unwind, take some deep breaths, and know that you have done all that you can do. The fussing is not a reflection on you. If the fussing is overwhelming, which is very understandable, ask for help if you can! It’s totally ok and healthy for you to “tap out” for a little bit!
Your baby may fall asleep while you are doing these 5 S’s and that’s ok! You don't need to lay them down if you don’t want to. You can hold on to them, snuggle them, rock them, and sway them and that's totally alright!
Even with the best preventative measures, fussiness is going to happen at least on occasion. Some babies are naturally more prone to fussiness than others, no matter what you do. But, no matter what, those preventative measures and the 5 S’s are beneficial!
For more help with the newborn day, I have a newborn sleep guide for purchase that not only has this information but has all the information about safe sleep ways to help encourage your little one to sleep independently. We're not going to push that a ton in the newborn days, but they’ll be prepared for it when the time comes! There is no separation-based sleep training in this guide but it gives you the framework for healthy independent sleep when the time comes. There’s also the option to have my support throughout the newborn days in addition to the guide! For all the details you can click here or we can chat about working together by scheduling a free 15-minute call here!