Five Things I Learned As the Mom of a Fussy Baby


How to Deal with a Fussy BabyRose was a week old when the screaming started. At first, we thought it was something I ate. I had just annihilated one of those delicious, cheese-stuffed postpartum casseroles that little wingless angels leave on your doorstep after you have a baby. She’s not colicky, I told myself, knee-deep in denial. She must just be dairy-sensitive – it was just the ricotta.

It wasn’t the ricotta. It was Rose.

The Mayo Clinic defines colic as “predictable periods of significant distress in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby.” Rose’s outbursts certainly were predictable: if she wasn’t sleeping or eating, chances are she was crying. The constant distress began to clear up at around five months, although she remains to this day an extremely strong-willed child who will not hesitate to let you know if she’s unhappy with just about anything.

It was a challenging experience, but also enormously educational for both my husband and I about who we are and what kind of parents we want to be. Here are the five most significant lessons we took away from that first year with the fussiest of babies.

Don’t compare your baby to other babies.

Your baby will not sleep like your friend’s baby. She will not be quiet in church. She won’t sleep peacefully in her carseat in a restaurant. She will not let your friends hold her. Just take a breath and try not to resent other families and their experiences. Their reality is just different than yours. When you’re exhausted and confused and feeling insecure, it’s tempting to go through the world identifying every other infant and his habits as “normal” and your child’s differences as “total weirdness that is my fault because I’m a terrible mother.” This is the crazy talking. Do not listen to it. It’s more important now than ever to remember that infants’ temperaments come in every color of the rainbow.

Remember that it’s not your baby’s fault.

Life outside of the womb is a real shocker and your little former fetus has been through a lot. The world is a big, bright, cold place and he is a little, weak, dependent creature who is not sure of anything — except your touch. His whole universe literally just collapsed on him and he doesn’t have any way to communicate his needs except through screaming.

But remember that it’s also not your fault.

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that you created this challenging creature. “It was those four Diet Cokes I had when I was pregnant, wasn’t it? Or it must be because I’m not ready to sleep train her, or that I’m not creating the perfectly chill Land of Nod-catalog-ready environment she needs to act like a human being and not a scream machine. It must be that she’s psycho, right? I gave birth to a psycho baby, and this is just my life now.” Settle down and remember that it takes all kinds of kinds, and some babies are just like this. Love her for for who she is, screams and all, and you’re doing your job. Be kind to yourself. 


Find that silver lining and cling to it like a freaking lifeboat.

I devoured Dr. Sears’ writing during this period (and still do) because he is unfailingly optimistic regarding exactly what fussiness tells us about our children. These “high needs” infants, he says, often grow up to be incredibly creative, intelligent, dynamic individuals. So far, I’ve definitely found this to be the case with Rose. As intense as she is to this day, she is also whip-smart, challenging, engaging and highly entertaining. I am never bored with this baby.

Know that you are the expert on your baby.

People will be very anxious to give you advice. When someone sees an unhappy baby, their reaction, understandably, is to think that something isn’t right in the baby’s life or routine. Random passersby will be full of helpful tips. Force her to sleep more. Don’t let her sleep so much. Put her on a schedule. Cut out dairy. Administer gripe water. It must be gas. You hold her too much. Have you tried baby-wearing?

Some of this advice will be awesome, and take whatever of it makes sense to you. But it can really kill your confidence. If you’re a first-time mother, you’re definitely not feeling like an expert on anything, but repeat after me: you are the expert on your baby. No one knows your child’s needs and desires like his mother. You conceived this baby and grew him from a poppyseed-sized cell to this adorable little bundle of sweet-smelling skin and kissable eyelashes and bunched-up fists. The well-meaning lady at church and the random woman at the mall are not the authorities on motherhood, even if they have five kids each and seem to have it all together.

Trust yourself. You’re Mama. Mama knows.


  1. I really needed this. Thank you for writing it. I’m also tired of… “day care will help that,” and “let me hold her while she screams.” She’s not a stallion to be broken. She just has very clear preferences and is unapologetic about showing them. I used to make excuses (i.e. she’s tired, this is not her best time of day), but I’ve learned that this is her and how she’s gonna be until she decides otherwise.

    There’s a plus side… I get to step out during the chaos of holidays or other in-your-face, over -stimulating events. I get to take her in a quiet room to nurse or feed her and be her total savior to give her a break. I love those times we have together.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  2. Heidi, it makes my day that my piece resonated with you! I have also received those comments MANY time sand know how disheartening they are. And I also used to make excuses for her (still find myself doing that sometimes, but I need to remember that what you said is true – this is just her personality).

    I love what you point out about being her “total savior.” Those truly are special moments for which we can really be grateful. I feel like her fussiness has made me much closer with my baby.

  3. This is just beautifully refreshing! Each and every child is such a gift and my heart is warmed whenever I read of a Mother who recognizes this and so willingly gives of herself for her little one! I also loved reading Heidi’s comment and admire her for standing up to all who believe that her sweet little one needs to “learn” to not be fussy, to “learn” not depend so totally on her Mommy. Thank you for publishing this and giving support to Mothers who feel the way that the author does about their precious little ones but who find so very little support for their parenting decisions… the words in this blog provide a needed hug for those Mamas who often feel so alone!


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