Fussy Newborns and the Crying Curve

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If your baby is fussy and is less than 3 months old, I have some very good news for you: Chances are good that there is nothing wrong with your baby, and that he will outgrow his fussiness soon. Research shows that there is a predictable crying curve among newborns, and crying and fussiness is greatly diminished by around 3 months of age.

The Crying Curve

Research from the past 40+ years has shown that there is a predictable pattern of crying in newborns, regardless of culture. This lends credence to the idea that colic and fussiness is usually not the result of a physical ailment such as gas or other tummy troubles.

It’s extremely important for parents to be aware of this crying curve, as it releases parents from the guilt and frustration of continually trying to figure out the cause of their baby’s crying or fussiness. Research shows us that crying:

  • Begins at approximately 2 weeks of age (adjusted age for preemies)
  • Peaks at around 6 weeks of age
  • And is substantially reduced by 3-4 months of age.

Research also shows, and this is no surprise to parents, that the intensity, frequency and length of crying spells varies greatly from baby to baby. Nevertheless, the crying curve applies to all babies. Whereas a baby who is typically thought of as being ‘easy’ may not cry or fuss as much as a baby thought of as ‘high need’ or ‘colicky’, both of these babies will follow this predictable pattern of crying.

How Can I Soothe My Newborn’s Crying?

Every baby is a unique being, and what works with one baby may not work with another. A good rule of thumb, however, is to treat your baby, as much as is possible, as if she is still in the womb. While mothers and grandmothers across time and cultures have known this, new moms in our culture often feel pressure to get on with their life, simply incorporating baby into their daily routine.

While this may work for so-called easy babies, this strategy can fall flat on it’s face with a particularly fussy or high need baby. Slowing down and coddling your baby for these first months can do wonders both for your fussy newborn and for yourself.

How Do I Replicate the Womb?

While this idea may sound slightly silly, many, many parents have reported the benefits of replicating the experience of the womb.

A baby who rarely fusses or cries will often do just fine without these techniques, or with only one or two of them. More intense or sensitive babies may need more, both in intensity and in number.

  • Swaddling – This will give your baby the feeling of being snug and secure, and will ensure that his arms don’t unintentionally flail
  • Side or stomach position – Inside the womb, your baby was not laying flat on her back. Placing your baby on her back while falling asleep may give her the feeling of falling and may prevent her from falling asleep. While it is recommended that babies do not sleep on their tummies, when you are holding your little one, be sure to hold her so she’s lying on her side or on her stomach.
  • Shushing – The sound of your blood rushing past the uterus was, to your baby’s ears, even louder than a vacuum cleaner. Shushing loudly in his ear, or using other forms of white noise are highly recommended for babies up to the age of one year. Not only can white noise help your baby fall asleep, it can actually increase the length of sleep quite significantly.
  • Swinging – Your baby was in constant motion while in utero. To be placed in a quiet, stationary crib or bed may seem very appealing to you or I, but some babies will not adapt well to it. If your baby resists sleep, you may try putting them to sleep in an electric swing, bouncy seat, or while carrying them in a sling.
  • Sucking – Babies have an innate need to suck in order to soothe themselves. Don’t feel guilty about giving a pacifier or even your finger to help calm them. As they grow, their need for sucking will decrease and you can begin weaning them off the soother or bottle.