Jan Gambino Jan Gambino's Blog

Fussy Baby Woes: I Don't Feel Like A Good Mother
Ask The Reflux Mom! I get a lot of questions about all aspects of caring for an infant or child with reflux. This week, I have answered a question from a parent about the challenges of caring for a fussy infant.


What if your baby is so fussy that it is hard to be with her? I don’t feel like a good mother. She can be so unpleasant-fussy all day and irritable no matter what I do to try to make her happy. My arms ache and I can't think straight. Any advice?


It is hard to feel like a good mother when you are not able to calm your baby. In reality, you are a wonderful mom and you are working harder than the average mom. When a baby has acid reflux, she may experience discomfort or pain so the first step is to talk to the doctor and make sure your daughter is receiving the medical treatment she needs to reduce or eliminate the pain. Sometimes a change of diet or a medication is all that is needed to reduce the non-stop irritability. (Note: Some doctors are concerned that high need babies are being over-diagnosed and treated for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. It can be hard to tell since one of the signs of GERD is excessive fussiness and inconsolable crying.)

Sometimes I think it just helps to know what is wrong. One mom I know had two reflux babies. The first baby, Sara wasn’t diagnosed with reflux for a long time. She thought Sara was just a high need, unhappy, clingy baby. As a result, this mom wasn’t always so sympathetic because she thought her baby should “behave” better or learn to deal with life. This mother also thought that it was her fault that Sara was so clingy. She said, “Maybe I hadn’t read the right parenting book or taught her better habits so I made her clingy.” Her other reflux baby, Leah was diagnosed earlier and it was clear why she woke up hour after hour, night after night. She knew it was “the reflux” and not a bad habit that was causing Leah to wake up long after the newborn period. This mother felt more sympathy and patience toward Leah even though her symptoms were more severe than Sara’s and almost drove her to the brink of frustration and exhaustion. She wished that Sara was diagnosed earlier. It would have helped her to find a better solution to her fussiness than holding her night and day and blaming her for being so unpleasant.

While you might not feel very successful at soothing her, I bet you are better than dad, her grandparents or a child care provider at reading her cues and soothing her. She is grateful to you for trying. She wants to feel happy and playful. If she could talk, she would say, “Thank you Mommy for staying with me. I like it when you hold me and sing to me in the rocking chair.”

Here are some ideas for caring for a fussy, high need baby:

Movement: Some babies respond positively to movement and motion. A swing, glider rocker, stroller or sling/carrier may be useful.

Change of Scene: Take your fussy baby out. She may be just as fussy at home as outdoors but you will have some fresh air and sunlight to brighten your day. Just remember to wear your iPod so you won’t be able to hear the advice from others about how to soothe her!

Self Soothe: Help her to learn ways to soothe herself. A pacifier, soft toy, song or other toy should be used to help her find ways to calm herself.

Soothe the Mom: Make sure you get a break each day to re-change your batteries. This is hard work and you deserve a break too. Remember, “A break” may not entail a full day at the spa. What about asking dad to take her for a ride in the stroller or car so you can be home alone for an hour?

I know you probably feel cheated that you have so much work and so little happiness from your little baby. You wish she acted differently and took things in stride rather than having a fit about the littlest thing. You might feel disappointed that you couldn’t do the things you imagined-sip coffee with a friend as the babies sit contentedly in their strollers chewing on rattles or going to the family gathering and letting all of the relatives admire your daughter. It is normal to feel disappointed and defeated at times. I know that I felt angry at the reflux for making my daughter so miserable. While it may feel like the fussiness will last forever, it does get better over time. Meanwhile, try to get a break, cherish her brief moments of happiness and surround yourself with people who are positive and helpful.


Check with your
doctor first!