Your new baby has arrived, and you’re looking forward to all those days of cuddles and smiles. What you might not be quite so prepared for is coping with a baby who is fussy or irritable – those days of crying when you find yourself struggling to understand why they’re upset and what you can do about it. Luckily, there are a few strategies that can help not just your baby, but you as well.
It may seem obvious when you’re not in the thick of it, but when you’re tired, stressed out, and not quite thinking clearly, it can be helpful to have a little checklist of the basics to try and help get bubs settled. Even if you’ve just changed their nappy, quickly recheck it – it’s not uncommon for some babies (especially the brand new ones!) to wet or soil their nappies almost as soon as a new one has been put on. Frustrating, yes, but certainly something that happens.
You can try offering them another feed, especially if your little one is a cluster feeder. Cluster feeding is when your baby wants frequent but short feeds over a few hours. This can be incredibly tiring for mums, and it can sometimes knock their confidence. But cluster feeding is common, and it’s important to remember that you’re still doing a great job! Don’t forget to burp them after these feeds as well. If they have a lot of air in their stomachs (which can also happen if they’ve been crying a lot), they can end up very uncomfortable, making them even more irritable.
Another basic need is sleep – the more tired a baby gets, the fussier they become. They can often end up overtired, which makes it harder for them to fall asleep, as counterintuitive as that may sound. There are a number of ways you can help an overtired baby get to sleep. If they aren’t yet showing signs of rolling over, you can swaddle them. A pacifier may be a fantastic help if your little one likes them, helping them to self-sooth. Keeping their sleeping room dark can help flick their brain into sleep mode as it becomes part of their routine.
Finally, check their clothes. They may grow upset if they’re too warm or cold. Sometimes, the loose threads on socks can become caught on their toes, or a hat might be too tight. A baby has no way to communicate discomfort other than crying, so checking all these things can be a good starting point.
By this, we’re talking about light and noise levels. Everything your baby experiences is brand new to them – they haven’t yet built up the filters we have to be able to ignore all those external stimuli that fill up a day. For this reason, they can become overstimulated, leading to fussiness. Try dimming the lights or removing flashing ones – including the TV. Reducing distractions and, therefore, stimulation can help bubs calm themselves. White noise is something many parents find helpful. You can get this from things like the sound from a room fan or a dedicated white noise machine. This creates a constant gentle sound that lulls many babies, drowning out other noises that can startle or distract them. This is particularly useful at bedtime.
Speaking of bedtime, creating routines is an excellent way of teaching our tiny ones when it’s time to sleep. Part of this can be having a bath, then afterwards drying baby off and giving them a massage. Use gentle strokes on their back, arms and legs. Plunket have some guidelines(https://www.plunket.org.nz/caring-for-your-child/hygiene-and-daily-care/handling-your-baby/massage/) on how to give your baby a massage, and many areas have special baby groups that have people who can teach you in person. The main thing to remember is to be gentle – a baby massage is to help them relax. A great little item that can assist with a pre-bed massage is Haakaa’s Sweet Dreams Lotion Balm. The coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax base moisturises their skin, while essential oils of lavender and chamomile calm, encourage sleep, and help ease the symptoms of colic – something that can be common in fussy babies.
Try different combinations
There are many ways to try and help your baby settle, and it can be worth trying them all. Sometimes, something that worked yesterday won’t work today, so having a toolkit of techniques is handy. Swaddling, cuddling, rocking, checking all their needs, trying white noise or soft music – they can all have a role to play, often in combination with each other.
Check with your healthcare professional
Sometimes, fussiness isn’t just “one of those things”; it can instead be caused by a medical issue. If you ever have any doubts, go and have a chat with your family doctor. Even if nothing else is happening, having your baby checked anyway can give you peace of mind. And if something is causing the irritability, they can advise you on how to deal with it.
Look after yourself
A fussy baby also affects you, and it’s essential to make sure you’re both physically and mentally able to cope. Getting enough rest is easier said than done with a new baby, but if you can get someone to watch baby so you can get some sleep, do so. Eat well, and get all the support you can from those around you. Don’t forget – the best way to care for your newborn is to care for yourself.
Fussy babies can be a sizeable challenge, but by utilising the support structures around you and having a good toolkit full of strategies, you can get through it. Try asking friends and family what worked for them. Some of their tips may work, and some may not, but having different options gives you more ways to settle bubs. And if you aren’t coping, make sure you ask for help.