fussy baby at night

Is your baby “fussy” at night? Parents interpret “fussy” in different ways, but when your baby is crying for you in the middle of the night and is difficult to console, it’s safe to say that they’re being fussy. Crying itself is natural and expected—it's the main way young babies communicate a range of needs—but why does it happen at night (and sometimes for no obvious reason)? Keep reading for answers to this very common parenting question.

What Is Fussiness in Babies?

There’s no standard definition or single example of a “fussy baby” because each child's temperament is unique. What you might think of as fussy is likely different from the way other parents may describe the behavior. But in the context of decoding your baby’s nighttime cues, a fussy baby usually means a baby that cries and is hard to console. Because babies can’t yet use words, their crying, fussiness, or irritability can be a way to express what's going on or inform you that they need something.

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Why Is My Baby So Fussy at Night?

If you’re a sleep-deprived parent, rest assured that you’re not the only one asking yourself this question! Babies cry during the day and at night—it’s a fact—but that doesn’t make it any easier when your little one seems extra fussy and hard to console before bedtime. The good news is that there’s almost always a reason babies cry and/or appear fussy, including at night. Among the most common reasons babies become fussy at night or during the day are the following:

  • Hunger

  • Being too hot or too cold

  • Overtiredness

  • Wet or soiled diaper

  • Illness or digestive issues

  • Overstimulation or boredom

  • Discomfort

  • Separation anxiety

  • Colic.

Fussy Baby at Night: Hunger, Diaper Changes, and Temperature

When your baby is uncomfortable, it’s likely they’ll cry to let you know. Feeling hungry, having a wet or soiled diaper, or being too hot or too cold are all reasons your baby may cry and act a bit fussy at night. Feedings and Diaper Changes Although parenting is usually unpredictable, there are a couple of things you can count on: feedings and diaper changes! Your infant will probably sleep most of the time during a 24-hour period, but not necessarily for long stretches of time, as a newborn sleep schedule tends to coincide with feeding and changing. As your baby grows older, they’ll wake less frequently. However, if you’re wondering when babies sleep through the night, that may not happen until about 8 or 9 months of age, or older. A fussy baby at night could very well be a hungry baby in need of a feeding. Likewise, babies don’t typically enjoy the feeling of being wet or soiled, so don’t be surprised if your fussy baby needs a diaper change.

Temperature To ensure safe sleep for babies, it’s important that your little one isn’t too hot or cold. Dress your baby in clothing meant for sleeping and use no more than one additional layer than you would wear—and check that the room temperature isn’t too hot or cold. It should feel cool but comfortable to you. Be sure that the crib is placed away from windows, to avoid direct sunlight and drafts, and also away from radiators. It might take some time to understand exactly what your baby needs, so check on your little one regularly and adjust their clothing or room temperature as needed.

Fussy Baby at Night: Illness and Digestion

If your baby or newborn is fussy at night, another reason could be digestive issues or some sort of illness. Remember that your little one is communicating to you in the only way they know how, so if they’re not feeling well, they’ll likely cry. If your baby is restless at night but not necessarily crying, it could be a sign of abdominal pain or gassiness. For example, your baby may move around instead, drawing their legs up to relieve this pain. Other common ailments and conditions that can cause fussiness include:

  • Colds and flus

  • Earaches, toothaches, and teething

  • Constipation

  • Headaches

  • Inconsistent or poor sleep patterns

  • Bladder infections.

Fussy Baby at Night: Feelings and Discomfort

Besides crying from physical discomforts, babies can also be fussy at night due to conditions or feelings that they don’t know to manage quite yet. Some common emotional reasons for a fussy infant are

  • overtiredness

  • frustration

  • overstimulation

  • boredom

  • loneliness.

In these cases, your baby may just need your attention or a little soothing. But in some situations, your baby might be experiencing colic or separation anxiety, which we discuss below. Colic If your baby cries at the same time every night, and cries extensively without stopping, this pattern could indicate colic. Colic is when an otherwise healthy baby has inconsolable crying spells that typically

  • occur at the same time (usually at night)

  • last three or more hours each time

  • start when they are a few weeks old and improve around 3 months old.

Colic can be confusing for parents because it can seem that your baby is crying at night for no reason. A baby with colic tends to be an extremely fussy baby or one that cries every night at the same time and is inconsolable. You typically have to wait it out, but if you ever have any questions or concerns about how to deal with colic, consult your baby’s healthcare provider. Separation Anxiety Your newborn may cry and be fussy at night for a number of reasons, but separation anxiety wouldn't be a likely cause until your baby is a little older and can grasp the concept of object permanence. Once babies begin to understand this idea that something or someone can exist when it's not in sight, they often become anxious and cry when a parent leaves the room, not knowing when and if to expect their parent's return. Separation anxiety typically begins in the second half of the first year, often at around 8 or 9 months. If your baby only cries at night when you leave the room or is fussy all night because they seem to miss you, they could be experiencing this emotion. Whether it’s colic, separation anxiety, or any of the common issues listed above, sleep is not easy for a baby! Watch our video below for additional insights on helping your little one develop healthy sleep habits.

Don’t miss these must-watch sleep tips from a pediatric sleep consultant.

How to Calm a Fussy Baby at Night

Once you can identify the reason behind your baby’s fussiness, you'll be better equipped to respond. But knowing how to calm a fussy baby at night tends to be more about prevention rather than just reaction. If you look at your baby’s nighttime fussiness by general groupings of symptoms (physical symptoms vs. emotional discomforts), there are a few tactics that can help you calm and maybe even prevent your child’s fussiness.

Calming a Fussy Baby at Night: Physical Symptoms

If your newborn or older baby is fussy at night and won’t sleep, it could be due to the physical symptoms listed above. Here are a few things you can do to try to avoid these sleep interrupters and soothe a fussy baby:

  • Feed and change your baby before bed. If your baby always seems to wake up hungry or with a wet diaper soon after falling asleep, try to build a final feeding and diaper change into your regular bedtime routine. (Remember that newborns tend to wake up every few hours for feeding, so a bedtime meal won’t prevent waking in younger babies.)

  • Check for signs of illness. Keep an eye on your baby so you can pick up on any signs of illness. Symptoms of common colds and flus include coughing, sneezing, a fever, congestion, nasal discharge, and trouble eating or nursing. If your little one seems to be ill, consult their healthcare provider.

  • Rock your baby on their left side. If digestive issues are the cause of a fussy baby at night, you can help your little one find some relief by rocking them while positioned on their left side. Of course, put your baby down to sleep on their back, but letting them rest on their left side while in your arms before sleeping can help ease digestive or stomach pains.

  • Keep a journal. If you need to visit your baby’s healthcare provider, it may help to take notes about daily habits. Track when your little one sleeps, wakens, eats, and cries. The pattern might help the provider address any issues, such as colic or food allergies.

Calming a Fussy Baby at Night: Emotional Symptoms

If you have a fussy baby at night because of an emotional symptom, your game plan will look a little different. It’s tempting to run and comfort your baby at the first whimper, but you’ll want to find a balance between comfort and helping your little one learn to self-soothe, such as with the Ferber Method sleep training technique. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Create a calming bedtime routine. Set your little one up for a restful night with a bedtime routine that keeps them calm. If your baby seems extra fussy at night, a soothing bath, baby massage, or bedtime story could help ease them into a sleepy and comfortable state.

  • Help your baby get used to the crib. How do you get your baby to sleep in a crib, especially if they cry when you put them down? Patience and consistency! One of the best strategies is to get your baby used to falling asleep on their own in the crib by putting them down before they’ve dozed off rather than holding them until they fall asleep. This way, if they wake up in the middle of the night fussy and crying, your baby won’t expect to be held in order to fall back to sleep.

  • Wait a minute before attending to your fussy baby. It will take time for your baby to develop the ability to self-soothe, but they can’t master the skill if they don’t practice. Young infants need comfort, so if your newborn is crying all night, it’s probably because they need you! But as your baby gets older, wait just a minute or two before going to them—or poke your head into the room rather than picking them up. Slowly, they’ll begin to develop some self-soothing habits.

When Do Babies Stop Crying at Night?

Do you ever wonder when your baby will get less fussy—and hope that time is soon? Hang in there! As babies continue to mature and reach developmental milestones, they will also start to sleep better. Most babies will eventually fall into a natural sleep pattern. However, some babies are more sensitive than others and struggle with adapting to a routine or settling down when feeling fussy. If this is the case with your little one, know that in time your fussy baby will become calmer and stop crying as much. Consider a few of these timelines and milestones, which may indicate that your baby’s regular fussiness at night is about to become a thing of the past:

  • Colic. As mentioned above, colic doesn’t last forever. It usually starts just a few weeks after a baby is born and fades around 3 months or so. Keep this age in mind if you have an extremely fussy baby who appears to be crying at the same time each night for no reason.

  • Separation anxiety. Infants may exhibit signs that are similar to separation anxiety, but this condition doesn't usually appear until about 8 or 9 months. But don’t be surprised if separation anxiety makes a comeback in the toddler years! Either way, your baby will eventually grow out of it.

  • Learning to speak. When do babies start talking? You can look forward to this milestone at around 1 year, when your baby might start saying a few first words. Of course, it takes time to develop spoken language and learn how to use words to express emotions, but your baby will eventually learn how to get your attention without crying. By 24 months, they might even be able to voice that they’re hungry or sleepy.

  • Sleeping through the night. Remember that babies will naturally awaken for feedings and that it takes time for their sleep cycle to include longer stretches of snoozing at night. But there’s relief in sight: When a baby is 6 months old, it’s common for 60 to 70 percent of all sleep to occur at night. And by 8 or 9 months, it’s possible for babies to sleep up to 12 hours without waking for a feeding. And remember that, eventually, most babies settle into a regular sleep routine.

When to Contact Your Baby’s Healthcare Provider

Having a fussy baby at night is common and may occur for many reasons, most of them natural, expected, and not a cause for concern. But, of course, when your baby is extremely fussy and crying uncontrollably or all night long, you may find it difficult to cope, and may need to reach out for help and advice. Don't hesitate to call on your child’s healthcare provider. If your baby’s fussiness is a sign of a deeper issue, the provider can help you get to the root of the problem. Or the provider can suggest other soothing techniques more specific to your situation.

The Bottom Line

There’s no exact definition or meaning of a “fussy baby,” as every child has a unique temperament. However, fussiness generally refers to scenarios when babies keep crying to communicate that something’s wrong, which is a natural and expected behavior. So, what’s behind a fussy baby at night? Your baby may be crying and acting fussy at night for any of these reasons:

  • Feeling hungry, hot, or cold

  • Needing a diaper change

  • Feeling ill or having digestive issues

  • Dealing with separation anxiety

  • Being overtired, bored, or overstimulated

  • Feeling lonely or frustrated

  • Colic.

And are you're wondering how to calm a fussy baby at night? The best strategies involve anticipating your baby’s needs by feeding and diapering them before bed, creating a soothing and calming bedtime routine, and comforting them (young infants) or helping them learn self-soothing techniques (older babies). It also helps to practice patience and remember that babies will eventually outgrow things like colic and separation anxiety and begin sleeping for longer periods at night as their sleep cycle naturally adjusts. Hang in there! Most likely, your baby will grow out of their nighttime fussiness. But if you ever need any help or have questions or concerns, your child’s healthcare provider is always there to support you.


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