‘Fussy Baby’

9:15 am |

I get defensive when it comes to my experience with my newborns.

My daughter Abigail had colic, and my son, Zachary, we called Abby-lite in the early days. He was as fussy as a baby can be without being colicky.

So I’ve done my time.

That doesn’t mean I have the market cornered on difficult babies. Heck, one woman I know of had to take shifts standing under the kitchen light with her colicky newborn, 24 hours a day. It could always be worse.

You can’t possibly know if you haven’t been there. You can’t know the feeling of helplessness, the feeling of unworthiness, the feeling of failure, the feeling of frustration, the feeling of isolation, the feeling that it will never end, and that there is nothing you can do to change it.

You can’t know the true meaning of the insufficient word ‘fussy‘ until you’ve been given a Fussy Baby to care for and love. You just can’t possibly know.

There are levels of everything; levels of colic, levels of fuss, levels of high need. Everything falls within a spectrum. But to have a baby who falls somewhere on this spectrum, who is truly colicky, fussy or high needs, is to know a reality unlike that of your friends with children who are what anyone else would usually consider ‘normal.’

I felt alienanted from my friends with newborns when I first had my daughter. They were wonderful and helpful and kind and understanding. They held my daughter and let me lean on their shoulders. They were incredibly supportive. But they didn’t know. They could sympathize but they couldn’t empathize. I didn’t wish it on them. But I wish one of them could know. Any of them.

Being around their happy babies made me feel even worse about my miserable one. Are they judging me? Do they pity me? Are they glad they’re not me?

I wouldn’t wish colic on my worst enemy. And I really hate my worst enemy.

A Fussy Baby isn’t a baby who fusses. All babies fuss. All babies have off times, off days, off hours. They can’t talk. They can barely cognate. Lots have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. But, Fussy Babies are a particular breed. They take much more effort to soothe and to handle. They are unhappy more often than not, even if they’re not constantly crying.

I get defensive about my experience because of how markedly different it was from the people I was surrounded by in those days. I wished, during every second of visits with friends and their babies, that my baby could be more like theirs.

Why can’t she just sit on my lap and look around?

Why can’t she be awake and happy?

Why does she hate life so much?!?

There is something life changing about parenting a high needs baby. It changes your tolerance. It changes your perspective. It effects how you respond to other parents and their own experience. It can’t not. I was definitely quicker to freak out when my second child was fussy, because I felt I had already paid my dues with my first.

I now go out of my way to reach out to people who are going through what I did, because I know how alone they can feel. I get that there is a difference between someone who says they understand, and someone who actually does.

To have a resource of people who understand is invaluable. I wish there was such a resourse for me during those days.

I am grateful to have a voice, and to have a perspective and a medium through which I am able to offer the ear, the shoulder, and the understanding that I so needed.


Leslie lives in Toronto with her husband, her 2 and a half year old daughter and 5 month old son. She is presently on maternity leave and enjoying the hectic and harried life with two young children.

Category: Colic

Comments (27)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Stacey says:

    Yes, yes, YES! I never thought I would be one to approach and reach out to mama’s struggling with colicky/high needs babies, but experience changes you and makes you want to help. Great post!

  2. admin says:

    Stacey, sometimes I’ve wondered if we go through this to become more empathic and sensitive to others going through the same thing. Looking at it that way certainly helps ease the burden a bit anyway.

  3. Karen says:

    I had family that claimed they understood…my husband was colic, my mil said she had to lay him on a pillow in her lap n rock him side to side, aall night ….but thing is when my daughter,2nd child…came n was colic…my mil was so quick to judge…y i didnt keep up with the house, y i was constantly irritated at my hubby mostly…i felt no support..n like this says..helpless, unworthy, never ending….i just dont understand, if she went through it…y she acted that way…she claims she still kept her house spotless…..???

    • admin says:

      Karen, I don’t think she really remembers what it was like. I was talking with one of my mom’s friends when my son was colicky and she had the BEST response I’ve heard. She was mid/late 60’s, and when she heard Sammy was colicky, she was immediately compassionate and talked about how hard it was when he now-40 year old son was colicky. She said she remembered it like yesterday, and said it just turned her world upside down. It was so nice to hear from someone 40 years later who realized it’s actually a BIG deal. It’s short-lived, but can really make a huge impact in so many ways. P.S. My house was a total disaster when Sammy was a baby 🙂

  4. Lisa says:

    I look around and think why me! What have I done to deserve this. My little guy is unhappy more than he is happy. Somedays I love him but I don’t like him. Having a high needs baby is exhausting – I have got to the stage where I hate to meet up with friends as he just moans and screams – He is nearly 10 months old and each day I get through is a day I don’t have to travel again. This is sad however I also feel so alone and have no idea what I can do except just accept him for who he is and say to myself – this is just a phase.

    • admin says:

      I think you’re right Lisa…once you can accept who he is and know this will pass, it does makes things easier. But it still doesn’t make things EASY. It’s hard to accept that life and motherhood may not be like you hoped and imagined. It’s really a grieving process. Personally I find it helps to focus (really focus) on all the wonderful things that make my ‘spirited’ child special…and it gives me a new appreciation for him!

  5. amy says:

    I smiled as I read this. Because it so perfectly describes what life with a fussy infant was like. And it feels so good to read someone else’s words describe my own experience. There will always be in comfort in those that understand.

    • admin says:

      So agree! It’s like a breath of fresh air to hear from someone who knows exactly what you’re going/have gone through.

  6. shea says:

    Reading this actually brought tears to my eyes because it echoed my thoughts exactly and let me know I’m not alone. You are exactly right; if they haven’t experienced it, they just don’t know. My husband and I were blessed with this baby (one month ago) after 11 years of trying, and I hate to admit that my thoughts and feelings aren’t always positive ones. I’ll just try to keep my eyes trained on that light at the end of the tunnel…

    • admin says:

      Shea, You don’t know how many parents I’ve talked to who feel SO SO guilty….they tried so long and so hard to have kids, and now are really struggling with feelings of ‘maybe we shouldn’t have tried so hard’. I think we mostly know deep down it will be worth it, it’s just so incredibly hard at the beginning. Hang in there!

  7. Maya says:

    Great articles! I read the colic primer and fussy baby! What a relief to see what I am going through is EXACTLY what other mothers go through. My son had a hard start to life and spent his first four weeks in hospital having his heart repaired ( he had a valve that did not fully form). It’s so hard not to blame myself for not just his heart but now his colicky behaviour…and hard not to keep dissecting every aspect of my pregnancy…

    I know I just have to move on and allow myself to accept all of this was no fault of mine( as the doctors keep telling me) and just continue to do everything I can do for him.

    I am tired of other moms telling me “he’s hungry”…as if I don’t know when my baby is hungry…or did you burp him? really as if I don’t know to burp my son!…I have tried everything friends and doctors have recommended, oval, gripe water, pumping and then bottle feeding, skin to skin, different sleep positions, cutting out foods from my diet…now i think it’s just accepting it and taking it one day at a time. Mornings and evenings are by far the WORST for him!

    One day at a time…Thanks for a really great read. I will likely come back and read this many times over the next little while!

  8. Harley says:

    This is so well said!! 🙂 I am so happy to have come across this article! I have a good number of friends that have babies very close to my sons age and they just don’t seem to understand! My family either! Everyone says things like just put him down hell quit fussing or fall asleep but he doesn’t! He’s not like their babies or how their children were! He’s different he’s unique. His fussing turns to screams till he’s blue in the face. And I didn’t have a baby to leave cry or neglect. I just wish there were someone here that understood!

  9. Jenny says:

    There are good days and bad but sometimes think the good ones are far between. I love my little girl Kaia but sometimes I cry with her. It can make me feel as a mother that I’m not doing a goog job. All though my husband says that I am super mom and he couldn’t do what I do. It’s a releaf to hear others go through the same thing as me and some even worse. But in my heart I do know that all this hard work it is worth it in the end.

  10. Nicole says:

    Thank you for sharing this… I googled “dealing with a fussy baby” and was so grateful to come across something like this! My daughter is only 4 months old and she has been fussy/ colicky since BIRTH. No joke, at the hospital I was asking people why my baby seemed so much more unhappy than the other babies and no one could give me a good answer. I feel alienated from my friends (ESPECIALLY the childless ones!) and I definitely take out my frustrations on my husband on a daily basis. We tried so hard to have her, and it took many years… so I feel so guilty when I think, why can’t you just be a “normal” and “happy” baby!? There is no medical explanation that we are aware of, we just got a “fussy one.” I try to tell myself on a daily basis that this will get better, they are only little once… so I try so hard to treasure the time, but how can you treasure time with a screaming newborn? She even cries when she smiles… Yes, she smiles through her protests and tears! Anyway, thank you, it’s nice to know that WE ARE NOT ALONE!

  11. Brittany says:

    Wow don’t think I could of said it better myself. I also googled “extremely fussy baby” for the 50th time just to see if there was something I missed or maybe a little miracle to make him quit crying so much. Unfortunately I haven’t found it lol. I love my now 6 month old son to death but I swear he cries and fussys so much. I have tried everything I know to do, Im about to start him on formula and I just pray that maybe then hel sleep a little more or grow out of this stage. I just don’t understand what an infant has to be so pissed off about when he has everything. I also have a 2 year old and sometimes I just set and cry because I feel like I have no time for him anymore and I know I’m short tempered now because my youngest is always crying. I dnt wana go anywhere or even see family because I feel like they dont want to hear him cry. I dont want to leave him because I don’t want anyone else to have to deal with him because I know how extremely frustrating it can be. I’m so happy to have come across this and know that I’m not the only one and know that it’s not just my son, and that I’m not a horrible mother for feeling the way I do sometimes. Thank you for writing this!

  12. Elissa says:

    Leslie – you are a better person than me. I HAVE wished colicky babies on others. Especially those moms with “easy” babies who seem to think they have all the answers and I’m just being dense/a wimp/must not love my child.

    Having a fussy baby has utterly changed my perspective. Granted, he’s on the “lighter” end of the fuss-spectrum, but it has been the single most hardest thing I have ever done. I am so glad that I found this site because I know that I am NOT alone, I’m NOT a failure as a mother, it IS ok to “wish away my child’s infancy”, I DON’T have to savor every moment, and crying in the shower is no way a reflection of how much I love my baby or how strong of a mama I am!

  13. Keri says:

    Thanks Leslie!

    I too am a Toronto mother of a very fussy baby (now almost a fussy toddler). I can definitely empathize with EVERYTHING you said, especially the part about wishing my baby was like other mothers’ (and then feeling guilty about it). I thought alot of the time that it was my fault (and still do). Good luck with the next one. I am still debating having another after my first fussy experience.

  14. Jessica Cooke says:

    wow!! to read the words that express what i have been/am going through was so……comforting. to know that there are others who have been & are going through similar things really does lift the burden of feeling ‘alone’, especially when i don’t know a single one of my friends who has a ‘spirited’ baby like mine. it’s true, friends & loved ones can sympathize, but NONE of them can really empathize because none of them have a ‘spirited’ child like mine…i love reading that “it does pass” from mothers who have been there because they’re proof that there’s light at the end of the tunnel LoL!!

  15. Nikki says:

    Im glad I’m not the only one out there after reading this. My son is 8 wks old and he showed signs of fussiness 12 hours after birth. He has been one fussy,colicky, high need baby and this being my first experience with all of this. I have 2 daughters that are older and never went thru this with them and at times wonder if there is something physically wrong with him. We have been to the Peditrician countless times and have changed his formula at least 5 times and so far the tummy troubles are getting fewer. He still is so fussy and it’s so hard to make him happy and everyone is afraid to hold him for fear that he will start being fussy. So other words I have been a prisoner to my own home. I start back to work in a week and pray he does ok for the sitter, I just hope things will get better and he can be a happy baby instead of fussy. Wish they had support groups in my area, that would be so helpful.

    • Liz says:

      What a brilliant idea! There are other mothers out there who are alone in their suffering, fears, feelings of guilt and inadequacy, who desperately need understanding. What if YOU started a support group? Just imagine how many moms would be comforted by meeting with others who are suffering and struggling the very same way? With you having 3 children it may seem impossible to start a group, but if there’s any way, the benefits would be life-changing, even life-saving.

  16. Foxy says:

    What the heck does the word Colic mean anyway? People keep asking me if he “has” colic and I reply – i don’t know what it is, just that he screamed constantly for the first three months and is still extremely particular about everything. We are learning, slowly, how to understand each other. I agree with the other comments- it is especially hard to see how much easier it is for all of our friends with babies of similar age – but it is also reassuring when we spend time with them because I can see the difference and know that our struggle is based in a reality that my baby requires much more active parenting than other babies. I’m exhausted for a very legitimate reason!

    Hang in there mama’s! This too shall pass, right?!?!?

  17. Tanya Jeannet says:

    Someone made a comment to me that maybe me being stressed made my baby get stressed and have colic and be fussy.. do you think this could be true? She said maybe if I was more relaxed things would be different… but how can you be relaxed with a colicky, fussy baby?

    • Carrie says:

      Tanya, my baby started her screaming/crying/fussing hours after birth. The advice in the hospital I received was, “let her cry.” I knew something was wrong with her and it took us a month to figure it out, while doctors were not helpful at all.

      But her crying, and me not being able to help her in any way made me a nervous, anxious mom. Especially when you do have people saying things. I had a great pregnancy with her–wasn’t stressed, and a non-traumatic birth (reasons that I hear other mothers rationalize why their babies are the way they are. I don’t buy it). And only became a stressed mom because the baby cried all the time. While a baby can sense if mom is stressed/upset, etc., I know my daughter wasn’t crying because of me–no matter how many people wanted to tell me it was. If someone hasn’t been there, they don’t know. I had so much anxiety with her. Everyone’s telling me to sleep when she sleeps, etc., but I couldn’t. Anyway, I had to hold her 24/7, and slept every night in a chair with her in my arms.

      Needless to say that at 2 1/2, we’ve come such a long way. She’s still high needs in that she’s clingy to me. But the colicky/fussiness that I had to endure her first year is replaced by normal two year old characteristics.

      I had a son 13 1/2 months after her (what was I thinking, right?), who was fussy at first, but had the same milk protein issue that she had. Once we figured out a formula solution, we had an easy going baby. It made me realize that babies are all different, and the moms who have had easy going babies just need to keep their mouths shut! (BTW, I was stressed my entire pregnancy with him.)

  18. Evan says:

    I just want to echo Carrie’s experience regarding a great pregnancy and non-traumatic birth. My wife had a totally healthy, uneventful pregnancy and we lucked out and had about the most natural (and fast–less than two hours) birth one could possibly have. And our daughter screamed bloody murder from the moment she was born (actually, the very second her head emerged during birth) until she was about 3.5 months old. At which point she very VERY gradually screamed less and less every day.

    Now she’s a 10-month-old and is a total joy to be around during the day (she’s still an awful sleeper, but we’re working on it) and is crawling and babbling and smiling like crazy. She initiated a game of peekaboo the other day and my jaw literally dropped–there was a time I just couldn’t imagine that little screaming creature becoming a person. Now when I see her, my heart swells with so much love I feel like I could vomit–and I definitely didn’t get to that point overnight. During those early days, there were actually times when I thought to myself, “If Hell does exist, this must be it, I am there.” Granted, that was usually at around 3 a.m. and things seemed slightly better during the day.

    I just wanted to post this so that someone in the early months with their extremely colicky/high-needs/fussy baby will have some hope. I predict: things will slowly improve for your baby in a stepwise fashion (small improvement – plateau – small improvement – plateau). Until you’ll find yourself at some point saying, “Wow, things really weren’t THAT bad today–there was hardly any crying at all.” It may take a while, but in the meantime just hang on! And be nice to one another because it’s really hard.

  19. Rachel says:

    Thanks Leslie – although as you say, you don’t wish a colicky baby on anybody, it really is the great beneift of the internet that you can connect with others who have had similar experiences and therefore not feel quite so isolated.

    I had two babies who suffered from extreme colic – it seemed never ending – but now they are 2 and 6 and are lively little things just bursting with character! i won’t change them for the world.

    I still recall the pain of the colic-days and rather than try to forget it I started a FB page and a website http://www.mycrybaby.co.uk to try to connect parents of colicky babies so they know they are not alone and can share their soothing tricks!

    Thanks again Leslie and the other commentators for your openness in sharing your story!

  20. Rachel says:

    By the way, in case anyone wants to join the baby colic facebook page I set up to bring together parents of colicky babies you can find it at http://www.facebook.com/babycolic

    Remember it can take some time but things do get better!