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Raising a child
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October 18, 2021

Fussy crying newborn baby at night: why it happens and what can you do?

Young babies cry constantly. They cry when they’re hungry, when their nappy is wet, when they’re far from their mum.

However, evening crying from newborn babies is much more intense, and it can be hard to calm them down. A wailing baby can often make us feel helpless, as well as making us fret that something is wrong. However, in 99% of cases, there is nothing to worry about.

What causes newborns to cry inconsolably in the evening before bedtime? We explain below. 

Why do newborns cry? 

Parents, initially, tend to fret when their newborn cries. This is because we, grown-ups, attribute our baby’s cries to our own conception of crying (i.e., a natural response to some form of physical or emotional suffering).

However, this isn’t the case for young babies. Crying is their only way of communication to express their needs and to ask for something.

This means that infants can cry for anything and everything. The most common reasons are:

  • Try latching them on your breast, even if they were fed a short while before.
  • Wet or dirty nappy. Change and wash them.
  • Wanting a cuddle. Pick them up, rock them gently, talk to them. Young babies need a lot of physical contact.
  • Too hot. Check they are not sweating or covered up too much. 
  • Too cold. If they feel cold to the touch, cover them up more. 
  • Reduce any sensory stimulation: lights and noises, to help them fall asleep.
  • Fever or unwell. If they have a high temperature or you are unable to calm them, consult your doctor.

Why are newborns fussier in the evening before bedtime? 

It’s evening, and time for bed, your baby starts crying inconsolably for no apparent reason.

You start stressing as you don’t know what is happening to them or how to soothe them, in fact, the more you fret the worse things become.

Don’t worry, in the majority of cases it’s really nothing serious and evening fussiness usually tails off after the first few weeks.

Here are some reasons why it can happen.

Your newborn is crying because they are tired

In most cases, excessive wailing means your baby is tired and needs to settle a little before they are able to fall asleep.

During the first few weeks of life, babies are overloaded with stimulation, a sensation which they are not used to nor know how to manage. They cry to release tension and because they need to feel calm and comforted before they are able to settle.

Help making their surroundings calmer, by keeping lighting and noise low, and staying close by until they fall asleep. You don’t need to hold them, just comforting or stroking them whilst they are in the crib is enough. 

Colic

Evening fussiness is frequently associated with Colic.

How many times have you been told that, when babies cry in the evening or at night, it must be colic?

However, that’s not always true. As we know, a baby can cry for many different reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have stomach pain.

We also can’t exclude the fact that any stomach pain may also result from these bouts of excessive crying and the physical strain they can cause.

In any case, the Wessel criteria “rule of 3’s” can be used to check for colic: colic should be considered when an otherwise healthy baby has bouts of unexplained crying for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week and for at least 3 consecutive weeks.

Colic usually passes once your baby is 4 months old. 

Your baby can sense your mood 

Parents often find it difficult to cope with evening fussiness from their little ones, as they themselves feel exhausted by the end of the day. 

This is often the reason why the baby struggles to settle: infants need their mum and dad to comfort and reassure them and exhausted and anxious parents can find this hard to convey.

It’s a vicious circle: baby cries, parents become increasingly worried, the baby starts crying even more hysterically and so on it goes...

What to do when your baby is fussy and cries in the evening

Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal solution on how to calm a baby who becomes fussy in the evenings, as each little one is different. It’s up to us parents to discover what works best to soothe our own baby.

Here are a few tips you can try to comfort your baby

Pick them up and rock them gently

One thing is certain: your baby needs you. Pick them up, rock them gently, talk to them softly. Put them in a baby carrier wrap; the closeness to your body will make them feel safe and secure.

Then, when they have calmed down, put them back down to sleep and stay close by until they have fallen asleep. 

We need to forget the idea that it’s best to let them cry it out so as not to “spoil” them too much and that sooner or later they’ll stop crying and learn not to call for attention through crying.

Young babies need our love and attention to grow happy and healthy.

At this early stage, it’s impossible to “spoil” your baby: contact between mother and baby is a basic need as well as a natural instinct.

Don’t expect them to settle straight away, babies often need a good cry to let off steam and tire them out.

Keep calm 

It’s important to remain calm; this will help you to soothe your baby, making them feel safe and secure.

Babies are extremely sensitive to our emotional state: the more stressed we are, the more unsettled they become. 

Patience is key: give them time to sync to a natural day-night rhythm similar to our own. This can sometimes take months!

White noise 

Certain sounds (white noise) can help soothe your baby to sleep.

You can find lots of playlists on Spotify or YouTube which reproduce white noise from nature: gentle rain, flowing streams, light wind. However, you can easily use household appliances to generate white noise sounds: for example, hairdryer, hoover and fan.

Sleep routine 

One of the most effective ways of helping your baby to fall asleep is to establish a good sleep routine. This involves repeatingthe same activities in roughly the same way each night just before bedtime: bath, massage, singing a song.

Little by little, your newborn will recognise their bedtime routine, helping them to settle.

If you think about it, it’s the same for us grown-ups; having a routine, knowing exactly what is coming next, does indeed increase our sense of security and reduce stress.

Hamilton’s Baby-Calming ‘Hold’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1zRBRmNqD8 

An American paediatrician, Robert Hamilton, is well-known for his technique on how to calm a newborn instantly: “Hamilton’s Baby-Calming ‘Hold’.

How does his technique work?

Hamilton folds the baby’s arms across their chest. He then supports the baby from underneath their nappy, securing the baby’s arms gently, so the baby is in a slight reclined position, forming a 45-degree angle.

He gently rocks the baby back and forth, up and down, and left and right. Hamilton claims that, as if by miracle, the baby settles instantly. Give it a try.

What have we learnt about evening fussiness in our newborns?

It completely normal for babies to cry and become fussy in the evening before bedtime. Avoid worrying too much as babies can easily pick up on our negative vibes and become even more unsettled.

The best way to soothe your baby is to comfort them!

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