Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Why Newborns Babies are Fussy at Night? What causes it | EXPLAINED

Why is my Newborn Fussy at Night? 

Newborns are commonly fussy at night.  This often occurs during the period of 6 pm to 9 pm. This is often referred to as the “Witching Hour.”  

Your role as a parent is to become a sleep detective and figure out why your newborn is fussy at night or during the day.

What Causes Babies to Be Fussy At Night? 

  1. Cluster Feeding 

Newborns usually need to “cluster feed” at night time.  If Mom is breastfeeding her supply is lower in the early evening and so babies often need to nurse more frequently during this time to stock them up for a longer stretch of sleep.  This is usually the first stretch of sleep during the night.  It is not uncommon for it to take an hour for you to get your baby to sleep at bedtime until 10-12 weeks of age when the witching period tends to recede.  

  1. She’s Tired.  

We all have a “sleep drive” that signals our brain when it’s time to sleep.  Most babies up to 3 months can stay awake no more than ~1.5 hours before it becomes harder to get them to fall asleep and then stay asleep.  So your baby wants to eat and sleep - competing needs this time of day.  She may be staying up longer than the 1.5 hours to eat and now she’s tired, which means fussy.  In the daytime, I find in my practice that many people mistake fatigue for hunger, especially during the day. Feeding ends up masking the root cause of hunger which is why watching the clock to know when it’s time to sleep can be very helpful. 

  1. Being Uncomfortable.

I often hear about babies getting their nights and days confused.  Breastfed babies get their melatonin, the hormone that signals their brain that it’s time to sleep, from Moms breast milk until about 3 months of age. It’s difficult for a baby to get their days and nights confused.  If your child is awake for extended periods at night, she’s uncomfortable.  This is usually due to being gassy.

Why Is my Baby Gassy? 

Some parents report that their newborn will not allow them to put them down.  They will only sleep on them or in a carrier.  These babies are NOT flexible about where they sleep.  Is this personality?  Possibly, but it could be that this baby is uncomfortable and being upright and close to a parent is soothing.   Having reflux, being gassy or having a sensitive tummy are common reasons I see for refusing to be put down.  Babies who are gassy are often uncomfortable all the time, not just at night.  Parents often report that she will ONLY sleep on someone. 

Signs of gas include a lot of wriggling, arching bag and grunting.  Some babies may visibly be trying to “push.”

5 Reasons That Could Cause Your Baby’s Gas

  1. Your Latch

If you are breastfeeding with an imperfect latch, you might be allowing excess air into your child’s stomach.  Same concept applies for bottle feeding.  Air in her gastrointestinal tract will make her uncomfortable and need to burp or toot.

  1. Oversupply

Oversupply, having an abundance of milk, can make a child gassy.  It’s like drinking out of a fire hose for your baby and she’s bound to swallow some air, which can be hard to digest.   La Leche League has a great reference on oversupply that I used with my second child.  I had a ton of milk and she kept projectile vomiting.  The milk was coming too fast for her, she swallowed a lot of air and her body pushed it back out

  1. Your Burping Technique

Are you getting all the bubbles out? Are you using finesse over force and thinking about squeezing the bubbles up from the stomach?  Do you hear one burp and then stop?  Think of burping as squeezing bubbles out rather than hitting them out.  Rather than stopping after 1 burp, give yourself a 2 minute burping period to see if any others come out. 

  1. Gut Flora

Your baby’s gut flora is still immature.  You have no control over this, some babies are just born with more sensitive stomachs than others.

  1. Food Sensitivity

Piggy backing on the gut flora cause some little ones are more sensitive to certain foods than others.  

I have found foods that Mom eats that can be hard to digest include:

  • Caffeine - black teas, coffee, sodas, chocolate.
  • Foods high in sugar - candy, chocolate covered almonds, ice cream, dried fruit
  • Foods high in protein - protein bars and shakes, beans

Food sensitivities are going to be very unique to your child.  My daughter didn’t do well when I drank caffeine but my son had no problem with 1 cup a day.  Start by making a food log and correlating when your baby is fussy.  The time from when you eat a food to when your baby is digesting it can vary significantly.  There can be huge variation from minutes to hours.  

When you hear your baby grunting or fussing in the night take a moment to pause and listen.  The instinct is to get up and pick them up right away.  But can you listen to your baby’s sounds and observe her body language to notice any patterns.  Then can you pick her up and try and burp her to see if that was the cause?  Did she burp and now you correlated body movement to the cause?   Consider when she ate last.  Was it just an hour ago and she had a big feed? Well then might not be hunger bothering her, but maybe she needs to burp?  What else can you do to help her relax back down into sleep? 

Having a newborn is a HUGE learning curve.  It’s so hard to know what’s “normal” and what is “abnormal.”  

One of the most common causes of having a fussy baby all the time is being overtired.  Not being able to read sleepy cues, which can be hard to read, or mistaking the cues of fatigue for hunger. Being overtired can sometimes mimic colic.

In my Amazon Best Selling Book, The Helping Babies Sleep Method, I teach all of these skills, how to be a sleep detective, how to know when a nap was too short, how to get your baby on a flexible schedule so you have more tools to help you figure out why your baby is fighting sleep.

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