Having a baby is hard. Breastfeeding is hard. Having a fussy breastfed baby is really hard.
What’s challenging is figuring out if your baby’s fussiness is normal or the cause of something else.
With my first baby, I didn’t realize that her fussiness actually was a problem, until there were other signs. I wrongly assumed that it was simply normal newborn fussiness while she was adjusting to life outside of the womb.
There are many things that might be causing your baby’s fussiness that are beyond what is considered normal.
- Fussy evening cluster feeding
- A growth spurt
- Missed hunger cue
- Bad latch
- “Bad latch while teething”
- Lip or tongue tie
- Cow’s Milk Allergy or other food intolerance
- Overactive letdown
- Slow flow/Bottle preference
- Nursing strike
- The Wonder Weeks
- Acid Reflux (GERD) or Silent Reflux
- Developmental milestones
- Stuffy nose
- Baby needs to burp
- Low milk supply
- Nursing on a schedule
- Introducing solids
Let’s talk about each of these scenarios. Then it’s up to you to decide. Is your baby’s fussiness normal or something else
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Fussy evening cluster feeding
Problem: Your baby is fussy at night
If your lovely little baby turns into a whiny, crying mess in the evening hours, you’re probably dealing with cluster feeding.
There are various reasons that a baby might cluster feed during the evening.
- Our milk supply is at the lowest at this time of the day
- Baby might be “tanking up” for a long stretch of sleep
Because of these reasons (especially the second!), cluster feeding is a good thing, albeit annoying.
If your breastfed baby is fussy only during the evening hours, make sure that you’re offering the breast more than usual during that time.
My first baby was not happy between the hours of 5:30-9:30 unless she was latched. The entire time. During this time, she nursed, she drowsed off, but any slight movement of my nipple and she was wailing. Seriously.
The good thing is that I didn’t stress about it, I just let it happen. I used that 4 hour period to read or watch TV. My second baby didn’t demand to cluster feed in the evening like her sister did, but I encouraged her to nurse as much as possible before bed. I believe this is why they were both sleeping 10+ hours straight by 8 weeks old. Who says breastfed babies don’t sleep?
Now that my kids are a little older I would do just about anything for 4 straight hours to binge watch Netflix (I would also do anything for some serious snuggle time with my increasingly independent kids).
Solution: Nurse, nurse and nurse some more.
Ah, the growth spurt. Another reason for your baby to constantly breastfeed. If your baby’s fussiness is sudden, he might be growing.
Why might a growth spurt cause your baby to be fussy? Well think about it! On average, babies triple their birth weight in the first year. And most of that growing occurs during, you guessed it, growth spurts.
Signs of a growth spurt
- Baby is 10 days old, 3 weeks old, 6 weeks old, 3 months old, 6 months old or 9 months old (these ages are typical for many babies, but not all).
- Strange sleep patterns- A day or two before a big growth spurt, your baby might sleep a lot more than usual. During a growth spurt, your baby might sleep a lot less.
- Your baby is visibly growing- Babies can grow visibly in height and weight in 24 hours during a growth spurt!
Solution: Nurse your baby as much as necessary (this will help your milk supply adjust to your baby’s new demands) and carry and cuddle your baby as much as possible.
Going through a growth spurt is a difficult time for babies. My baby’s growth spurts seemed to last forever. The Moby Wrap saved me from going insane sitting on the couch during growth spurts, and it helped my babies feel safe and secure too.
Missed hunger cue
It’s possible that your breastfed baby is cranky because you’re not realizing he’s hungry. And a hungry baby can go from sorta hungry to ravenously starving in .2 seconds.
Signs of hunger:
- Sucking on his fist
- Smacking his lips
- Opening and closing mouth
- A short, low-pitched cry (although crying is a later stage of hunger)
Solution: Baby’s crying? Offer the boob.
If your baby does not have a good latch, it will be difficult for him to remove milk, and while that can cause a whole bunch of different problems, the first sign might be a fussy baby.
Your baby’s latch should close around the areola, not just the nipple.
Other signs of a poor latch:
- Intense nipple pain
- Clicking noises while baby is nursing
Even if you are beyond the first few days and weeks and your baby has a beautiful latch, that doesn’t mean that latch issues can’t pop up. For some babies, nursing is comforting during teething, while for others it’s painful. This pain could cause your baby to have difficulties getting a good breastfeeding latch.
- Try different breastfeeding positions
- Make sure that your baby doesn’t have a tongue or lip tie
- Temporarily use a shield
I used a shield with my second baby, and it helped her correct her latch VERY quickly. Just make sure that your baby doesn’t become dependent on it.
Cow’s Milk Allergy or other food intolerance
MOST of the time, breastfeeding moms are able to eat whatever they want. With both of my babies, this was not the case. In order to continue breastfeeding them, I had to completely cut dairy and soy from my diet.
I believe it’s more common than the most medical professionals think.
Do you know anyone bothered by cow’s milk? I’m betting you do. I’m not talking about lactose intolerance, but simply the people who can’t consume it in large quantities.
Dairy is difficult to digest.
Pair dairy with a baby’s very new, very underdeveloped system and it can cause a lot of problems.
Signs of a milk protein intolerance:
- blood in stool- This is the big one. If your baby has blood in his stool, the cause is almost always a food intolerance (most likely to dairy).
- Excessive gas
- Mucus in stool
- Frequent spitting up
- Lack of weight gain
If you think your baby might have a milk protein intolerance, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Dealing with an MSPI Baby.
If you have a gassy, unhappy baby, I highly recommend Colic Calm. My super gassy babies lived on this stuff, and it works amazingly to break up the gas bubbles.
Has your baby ever unlatched, causing milk to squirt across the room? (Sorry, not a pretty picture!).
Does your baby frequently cough and choke while nursing, specifically during the first letdown at the beginning of a feed?
You could be suffering from overactive letdown. Overactive letdown might be a symptom of oversupply, but not necessarily.
This can cause babies to be fussy both during a feed (due to not being able to keep up with the flow) and after (excessive pulling off and gasping for air can cause gassiness).
Solution: Once your baby has triggered the first letdown, unlatch your baby and release your milk into a Milkie’s Milk Saver or towel.
You can also try nursing in a reclined position to slow the flow.
Bottle preference/Nipple Confusion
If you have introduced a bottle to your baby too soon or have used a nipple with a fast flow, your baby might be preferring the bottle.
Your baby’s not going to want to go back to getting milk slowly in this case.
Also, if you aren’t using a bottle formulated for breastfed babies, it is going to be really easy for your baby to get milk out of the bottle. And in contrast, much harder to extract milk from you.
Bottles meant for breastfed babies are made so that the baby has to “latch” naturally and work to remove the milk. They also come equipped with slow flow nipples.
Solution: Switch over to a bottle meant for breastfeeding right away and be patient, because your baby might not be so happy about this change at first.
If your baby is under the age of one and suddenly refuses to nurse, he might be going through a nursing strike. Possible causes of a nursing strike are:
- The baby is sick or experiencing pain (ear, mouth)
- Your supply as reduced
- There has been a major change in the baby’s routine
- A traumatic event
- A change in your breastmilk taste
During a nursing strike, a baby may seem to want to nurse, but then may resist.
Solution: Do lots of skin to skin contact, try to nurse when your baby is drowsy, and provide lots of physical contact.
Acid Reflux (GERD)
While spitting up is very common in babies, if your baby is spitting up often and the amount is excessive, your child might be dealing with Acid Reflux.
- Slow weight gain
- Arching after a feeding
- Unexplained coughing or wheezing
Solution: See your Pediatrician for a possible GERD diagnosis.
Even more difficult to diagnose is Silent Reflux. When a baby has Silent Reflux, he swallows his spit up, causing it to burn his throat.
Signs of Silent Reflux:
- Crying during or after feedings
- Excessive swallowing
- Frequent hiccups
- Persistent runny nose
- Bad breath
Solution: Again, see your Pediatrician. In the meantime, make sure that you keep your baby in an upright position for 30 minutes after a feeding.
Developmental milestones/The Wonder Weeks
Phew, babies go through A LOT in the first year. Their growth and development is occurring at such a fast pace. We already talked about how your baby might be fussy during a physical growth spurt, but what about during a mental growth spurt?
Makes sense to me!
The Wonder Weeks talks about how babies are predictably fussy at certain ages, due to working on cognitive abilities. There are 10 “mental leaps” that your child will experience.
I can tell you from experience that my babies went through each and every one of these leaps. And my God, were they difficult.
The great thing though is the Wonder Weeks app. It tells you when the next leap is coming, why it’s occurring (which is really fascinating) and how to help your baby through it.
A stuffy nose is annoying for anyone, so don’t think for a second that your baby is going to be unfazed.
A stuffy nose for a breastfed baby is even worse, because how in the world is he going to be able to nurse properly?
Solution: The NOSE FRIDA. This odd contraption is the best way to relieve your baby’s stuffy discomfort. I 100% recommend it (and no, I never got baby boogers in my mouth).
Of course teething can cause fussiness in any baby, breastfed or not, but a teething baby might be fussy at the breast also. The act of nursing could be painful for him.
Solution: While I have no idea how they work, I frankly don’t care. My terrible teether slept SO much better when she had her teething necklace around her ankle. There were at least 3 times when I woke up in a fog wondering why my good sleeper was up a zillion times that night, only to realize that I forgot to put her teething necklace on.
Baby needs to burp
Okay so don’t laugh, but at first I didn’t burp my baby. I had heard so much about how breastfed babies don’t need to be burped. The reason is that they aren’t drinking out of a bottle, therefore air can’t get in. Right?
Ha! My breastfed baby was crazy gassy.
I later learned that I had an overactive letdown and she had a cow’s milk allergy (MSPI). Both of these issues meant that I definitely should have been trying to get every possible burp out.
Solution: See if your baby needs to be burped.
Thrush is essentially a yeast infection. It can also be difficult for a mother to recognize.
Symptoms of Thrush:
- Sudden nipple pain
- Itchy or cracked nipples
- Diaper rash
- Small white spots on baby’s tongue or mouth
- Reluctance to nurse
Solution: Get treatment from a doctor.
Low milk supply
Here’s another potential issue that can be difficult to diagnose. Yikes.
I’m sure every breastfeeding mom has questioned her supply at one time or another. You can’t tell if your baby has had enough, and then when your baby is fussy, you probably question everything.
Symptoms of low milk supply:
- Slow weight gain
- Baby does not have enough wet and dirty diapers
These are the only true indicators of low milk supply.
However, there are a lot of things that you might be doing (and that you can easily change) that might be hurting your supply. Things like:
- Poor nutrition
- Lack of sleep
- Eating certain foods
Want to know how to make sure that you maintain a healthy milk supply?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you could be dealing with an Oversupply. While an oversupply of breastmilk might sound like a good think for your freezer stash, it can actually be very problematic. Too much of a good thing!
Symptoms of Oversupply:
- Frequent engorgement
- Baby coughs and chokes while nursing
- Frequent spitting up
- Milk sprays when baby unlatches
When you suffer from Oversupply, a Foremilk/Hindmilk Imbalance likely comes with it.
Foremilk is the milk that your baby gets at the beginning of a feed, while hindmilk is the milk of the end of the feed. The hindmilk has a higher fat content. If your baby is only getting to the watery foremilk, you can expect gassiness, fussiness and green frothy stools.
Solution: Block feeding will help signal your body to produce less milk. Simply feed on one side without switching for 1, 2 or more feedings.
Nursing on a schedule
If you are trying to nurse your baby on a schedule, you might have a very unhappy baby on your hands.
Breastfeeding is so different from bottle feeding. Babies do not simply nurse for nourishment. They nurse for COMFORT.
Allowing your baby to nurse on-demand is so beneficial. It helps you maintain a healthy supply, allows your baby to feel safe, helps your baby to bond with you and helps your baby begin to realize the difference between being hungry and full.
Solution: Give on-demand nursing a try.
Remember, babies digestive systems are immature. If you rush to introduce solids, your baby may have difficulties adjusting. It is recommended by the AAP that you wait until at least 6 months to start solids.
It is also recommended that you start with vegetables and fruits rather that oatmeal or cereal.
I started at 6 months old with my first MSPI baby, and even then, her system was NOT ready.
Solution: Don’t rush solids. There’s a saying: Food before one is just for fun!
Stacy from Milkology has covered so many of these causes of fussiness in her on-demand breastfeeding class. I love her class because it comes in a super helpful video format that you can watch from anywhere! She talks about mastering your milk supply, getting a good latch and other common breastfeeding issues. If you’re constantly questioning your ability to breastfeed, this class will arm you with the knowledge to believe in yourself.
I’d love to hear about your fussy baby in the comments!