A fussy newborn

Amanda wrote, “My son is 9 weeks old and he cries all the time! He cries throughout the day and night. The Dr. keeps saying that it is colic but I thought that was normally at the same time everyday. This is all day everyday. I have tried gas medicine, Zantac because they said he could have acid reflux and now I have changed his formula that is specifically for colic but there have been no changes. Please help!!! I feel like tests are something should be ran what can you recommend?”

Although some people use the word “colic” to refer to any sort of excessive crying in babies, to most pediatricians colic refers to a very specific pattern of crying. Babies with colic cry at a set interval each day, almost always in the evenings. Many parents will say they can set their clocks by the crying, it’s so regular. The crying peaks at about 4-6 weeks, and goes away by the time the baby is three months old. Although colic can be exhausting, in a way it can be reassuring if your baby only cries excessively during a set time each evening. After all, there is no medical problem that only occurs in the evening. This is sort of crying is not caused by any medical issue, and the main way to treat it is to learn good soothing techniques and provide a way for parents to get some rest and take a break once in a while.

It sounds like your baby, who is fussy all of the time, doesn’t have what I would call “colic.” Excessive fussiness can be caused by many different things, some related to the baby, and some related to the family:

  • Reflux, which you mentioned, can lead to pain and heartburn. There are no simple and easy tests for reflux, but if it seems clear from the history that reflux is occurring many physicians will try to treat it.
  • Food allergy—either formula intolerance or a problem with something in mom’s breast milk—can cause frequent fussiness at all times of day.
  • Temperamental fussiness refers to babies who have a hard time settling down, are anxious, and cry a lot. These babies need extra reassurance, and their parents need extra support.
  • Constipation is not common in little babies, but if your child is having firm and painful stools that needs to be addressed.
  • Maternal health problems, including post-partum depression, can cause or be caused by excessive baby crying.
  • Unusual medical problems in a baby can include urinary tract infections, glaucoma, a broken bone from birth trauma, or really almost anything else. There is no way to “test for everything,” but a careful history and physical exam will reveal almost any sort of problem like these. Rarely, specific directed tests like a urinalysis or an x-ray might be needed.

Your first step is to get yourself some respite care. If you’ve got a very fussy baby, you especially need time to unwind and get some rest. If you don’t have family in town, you may need to rely on a neighbor, close friend, or a hired nursery helper. Do it! No matter what the underlying cause of the fussing, you’ll be able to deal with it better if you have a chance to catch your breath once in a while.

Then, make sure that your pediatrician gets the whole story and a good complete physical exam. Bring notes with a log of the fussiness—when is it? How does it relate to meals and bowel movements? What have you tried that has helped? In my experience the answer to the mystery of a fussy baby is much more likely to be found in clues the parents provide than in any sort of medical tests.

Best of luck, and I hope you get some rest soon!

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9 Comments on “A fussy newborn”

  1. AG Says:

    Thank you for responding regarding my fussy baby.I have another question. I have since changed his formula to Nutramigen and also started giving him something I found called “Gripe Water.” I know this is not FDA approved but supposedly all natural. I know several people that swear by this stuff. However here is my question. Since I have changed the babies formula and have been giving him this gripe water he is a completely different baby. He is actually a happy baby now. I am wondering what you think of this “gripe water”? What are your thoughts are regarding it. I feel like I am doing something wrong giving him something that is not FDA approved.

    Thank you,


  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    “Gripe water” refers to one of many formulations that are available, all marketed as “dietary supplements” that are not tested or regulated by the US government. Many people anecdotally feel they work, but no good study has ever supported their use. They’re probably safe but expensive placebos (as is Mylicon, a more “drug-like” product that has no scientific backing supporting its effectiveness.) I don’t recommend things that don’t have good sound scientific support.


  3. Sheri Flink Says:

    Dr. Roy,

    My son is 12 weeks old. He has been sleeping through the night (9-10 hrs.) since he was around 8-9 weeks old. The past three nights he has been waking up again. At first he just needs a binky. shortly therafter he is hungry. We have not changed anything in his bedtime routine that I can think of.

    Any ideas/suggestions?



  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Sheri, my guess is that he has outgrown the calories he is getting during the daytime. Feed him more often. Also, continue to make sure that he is falling asleep alone, all on his own.


  5. colic relief Says:

    soothing sounds worked best for my baby


  6. Sheri Flink Says:

    Hello Dr. Roy!

    Reid is 4 months old and has been sleeping 10-12 hours through the night. He is still being swaddled. He’s been waking up the past couple of nights getting out of the swaddle. I’ve tried to put him back down in a blanket sleeper but he can’t settle down. Any suggestions on how to transition from the swaddle? We are going out of town this weekend and Reid will be in a pack n play for the first time so I’m even more concerned about his sleeping!

    Amazing how I have no recollection of how I did this with Garrett!

    Thank you!


  7. Dana Says:

    My little man is eight weeks now and is constantly fussy. He is fussy from day to night and at night he grunts and jerks around constantly before awaking only a couple hours later. He lets out cries as if he is in pain and seems to have a lot of gas. He has recently been throwing up a lot. I was strictly breastfeeding because the pediatrician didn’t seem alarmed when I brought him in because he is gaining weight and appears to be completely healthy. He told me to keep breastfeeding but I spend hours on the couch trying to feed and he never seems satisfied. I am beginning to think he is just using the nipple for comfort because he is constantly wanting to feed. I recently gave him Similac Soy since there have been other people in my family who have had issues with milk-based formulas. When I tried a milk-based formula, he immediately through it all up. I don’t want to give up breastfeeding. He just seems in constant pain and there are days that I cannot even go to the bathroom or take a shower because he is so fussy. Any suggestions?


  8. Mohamed Elzeiny Says:

    My 5 weeks old daughter have symptoms of what u’ve just called “colic” as she cries each nights for 3-4 hours farting and crying, till she finish or get tired and sleep, she exclusively breastfeeding from her mother, she is not having a constipation till now, pediatric doctor prescribe simithecone, but no improvement noticed, friend of my wife noticed that my baby curving her back while sleeping and moving more than usual then she claimed that this might be gastric acidity and that we should try gaviscone or zantac… Kindly advise


  9. Dr. Roy Says:

    Mohamed, please discuss your concerns with your daughter’s physician to get specific advice.


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