It can be really frustrating when babies get fussy in the evening for no reason at all especially when they were all calm and jovial during the day.
My almost two-year-old daughter used to be like that (and still does at times) for no apparent reason; at least not one I could think of at that time. I am sure you too can relate because most parents have been there.
What is evening fussiness?
Some parents refer to evening fussiness as baby witching hour.
It is that time of the night usually between 6 pm and 11 pm when babies became extremely irritable and cry for no apparent reason.
During this time, most of them only want to nurse, which they do for a few seconds then pull off and start crying or fussing and then start nursing again. Some babies’ even fall asleep while nursing but the moment you place them in the cot, they wake up screaming.
If you are a new mom, like I was, the fussing and crying during nursing may leave you wondering if the baby is not getting enough milk. You may feel inadequate and want to substitute the breast milk with formula. However, if during the day your baby feeds well without any fussing, then he or she is definitely getting enough milk and there is no need to substitute it with formula.
It would, therefore, be important to start looking out for some of the possible reasons why your baby gets fussy in the evening so that you can assist them where you can.
Possible reasons why babies get fussy in the evening
1. Baby could be colicky
Colic is when a baby that appears to be healthy, cries frequently and excessively than normal without any obvious cause.
Colicky babies tend to cry for more than three hours straight nearly every day whether during the day or at night.
When a baby starts these inconsolable crying bouts especially at night, many parents blame it on evening colic. This is because evening colic starts mainly in the late afternoon to early evening.
Although there is no known cause for colic, many studies have reported that intestinal problems in babies such as indigestion and gas contribute to colic. The intestinal gas and indigestion cause severe pain in the baby’s abdomen, which makes them cry inconsolably.
Other causes of colic that have been reported include lactose intolerance, allergies, and the baby’s digestive system not being fully developed among others.
But how do I know that my baby’s fussiness is due to evening colic?
- The baby cries usually around the same time every day such as in the evening between 6 pm and 10 pm
- Crying and fussing episodes last for three hours or more every day
- If the baby cries inconsolably and intensely for no apparent reason
- Your baby tries to curl up his or her legs, has tensed abdominal muscles and clenches his or her fists while crying.
- Baby tends to relax and stops fussing after passing gas or bowel movement during the crying episode.
What to do for a colicky baby
- Use bottles that can help to reduce colic and gas.If your baby is bottle fed, choosing the right bottle can help to reduce colic. There are some bottles that are designed to prevent air from getting into the baby’s stomach during feeding. For instance, the Playtex VentAire bottles have an anti-colic bottom valve that prevents air from mixing with the milk and ending up in the little one’s stomach during feeding. Several paediatricians have also confirmed that anti-colic bottles help to reduce stomach discomfort in babies.
- When breastfeeding, make sure you hold the baby as upright as possible. This is because if you have very fast milk let down, your baby may swallow too much air as they struggle to gulp. You can also reduce your milk let down by first pumping out excess milk if your breasts are too full.
- Latch the baby properly by making sure that the whole areola is inside the mouth of the baby
- Massage the baby’s stomach and abdomen. This helps with bowel movement as well as to expel the air in their tummy.
- Burp the baby in the middle of a feeding and after. The best way to burp the baby is by holding him or her upright on your shoulder or sitting him/her up by supporting the head with one hand while the other one rubs their back. You can also lay him/her across your knees for a few minutes.
2. Baby may need to fill up/cluster feeding
Another reason why your baby may get fussy in the evening could be due to the need to fill up constantly.
During the first six months of a baby’s life, their feeding habits keep changing. You may find that at times your little one wants to feed after every three hours or more while other times he or she wants to nurse every 30 minutes to one hour.
The desire to feed more frequently than normal is called cluster feeding and usually occurs in the evening. Some of the main causes of cluster feeding include growth spurt and mother’s increase in milk production.
During cluster feeding, babies want to feed more often and get all the attention of their moms for hours, which is at times not possible. The constant need to fill up may make the baby become restless and contribute to their fussiness.
The best solution for cluster feeding is to make sure you have finished all the activities in the house by at least 6 pm. This will give you ample time to sit down with your baby and nurse him/her for as long as they want without worrying about other things like preparing dinner.
3. Baby could be extremely exhausted
Another reason could be your baby is extremely exhausted.
Babies who are extremely exhausted will, of course, have trouble sleeping and if they do fall asleep, it is just for a few minutes and then wake up.
When a baby is overtired, he or she tends to be exhausted to the point where their stress level increases.
The high level of stress increases the babies’ state of awareness and creates tension in their body which makes it hard for them to relax.
Imagine yourself being in a situation where you are physically exhausted and want to have a deep sleep, but no matter how much you try, you are unable to fall asleep because your mind is still awake.
That can be really agitating.
The same thing happens when babies are overtired. They get really agitated and the only way to let out their frustration is by crying.
How do I tell whether my baby is overtired?
- The baby becomes extremely active during bed time
- Rubs eyes frequently and looks sleepy but struggles to fight it
- Yawns frequently
- Cries inconsolably
- Becomes extremely fussy for no reason
- Becomes clingy and doesn’t want to be put down
- Falls asleep for a very short time and is awoken by the slightest noise
These are just a few of the signs so watch out for others that may be unique to your baby since babies are different.
What to do for an overtired baby
- Ensure the sleeping environment is conducive for the baby. Things like too much bright light and noise can make the baby become over stimulated. Instead, play some white noise and make the room a little darker.
- Ensure the baby is well fed. If he or she is nursing, do so until she is drowsy
- One thing that used to work for us whenever I realised my baby was overtired was a nice warm bath just before bed. My daughter is two years now and this still works for us.
- Let your baby hold his or her sleep associations such as a blankie or a favourite doll. Some babies have a few things that they have over time learnt to associate with sleep and hence holding them reduce their tension and makes it easy to fall asleep.
- For toddlers, you can read their favourite bedtime stories or sing a lullaby to soothe them.
4. Baby could be overstimulated
Another reason could be the baby is overstimulated, which could make him/her very hypersensitive.
Your baby may become overstimulated when exposed to activities that are extremely difficult for them to cope with. This may include activities that bring too much noise, and sensations or experiences that overwhelm the baby.
Activities like birthday parties where the baby is surrounded by other children singing, running around and others screaming and crying can make the baby very cranky.
When a baby is overstimulated, falling asleep can be quite difficult despite being very tired.
You can tell your baby is overstimulated if:
- The baby keeps crying inconsolably
- Looks tired and keeps stretching
- Seems cranky and upset
- Turns their head away from you
- Doesn’t seem excited about activities that make them happy
- And many more since babies are different
How do I deal with overstimulation in my baby?
- Minimise any loud noise in their surrounding and instead put white noise to soothe them
- Swaddle the baby to make them feel as close to you as possible
- Avoid activities that can make them hypersensitive such as swings, bouncers and play mats.
- If the baby is nursing, nurse him or her until they fall asleep.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what could be making your baby to become fussy in the evening, let’s look at some of the things you can do to cope with the fussiness.
How to cope with baby fussiness at night
- Be prepared.
It is good for you to understand that most babies get fussy in the evening for reasons explained above and sometimes for no apparent reason. So the best thing to do is to be prepared both mentally and psychologically and accept that some nights will be rough.
2. Do not blame yourself.
Most mothers tend to blame themselves especially when they think that baby’s fussiness is due to colic or cluster feeding. They feel that the colic is due to something they ate or the cluster feeding is because they do not have enough milk.
This is not the case as you have seen above. So blaming yourself will only make you feel more helpless and hopeless. You can also talk to other moms for advice and support.
3. Cuddling and swaddling assure the baby of your presence, which makes them feel secure and keeps them calm.
4. Give your baby a warm bath to ease their tension and help them feel relaxed
5. Avoid over stimulating activities from late afternoon to evening
6. Give the baby a massage after bath
7. Finish all your household chores early so that you can have time to feed the baby for as long as they want.
8. Play some white noise, read a bedtime story or sing a lullaby to sooth the baby
9. An evening walk with the baby can be quite relaxing to both you and the baby
10. Let your partner or someone else help you with the baby so that you can also relax.
For how long do babies get fussy in the evening?
Evening fussing and crying does not last forever. Majority of babies outgrow the inconsolable crying bouts by five months.
This, however, may seem like a long time but after the first three months, it becomes easier for you. This is because you are now in a better position to understand your baby’s likes and dislikes, what irritates them or makes them more agitated, and things that make them excited.
When should I see a doctor?
At times, the fussing and crying may become too much to the point that it is crucial to see a doctor. Therefore, you should immediately see a doctor if;
- The baby starts fussing after falling ill, getting an injury or falling
- Baby’s temperature increases after crying for a long time
- You notice any change in behaviour in your baby such as lack of appetite and trouble falling asleep.
- The baby seems to be in pain after crying for a long time