Do You Have a Troublesome Tot?

Example of a Troublesome Tot

All babies are a lot of work and even the happiest sleepiest baby can leave her parents un-showered and exhausted. However when your beloved peanut is NOT happy and NOT sleepy then caring for your baby can be a stressful unceasing grind.

[dropcap]1/3[/dropcap] of all babies are “easy” (although even very easy babies are still a lot of work and you will never convince the parents of an easy baby that their baby is in fact – easy).  They cry very little, when they do they’re easily soothed, they figure out eating and sleeping pretty much on their own. Which ever baby sleep book their parents have bought will work because basically ANYTHING will work for an easy baby. You’ll recognize these parents because they’ll be well-rested, wear clean wrinkle-free clothes, and arrive at the new baby playgroup with homemade zucchini bread made with organic zucchini they grew themselves.

[dropcap]1/3[/dropcap] of all babies are “average.” As the name implies they aren’t super happy all the time but they are relatively easily soothed, they’ll have good days and bad. Eventually they’ll figure out sleep with a little helpful parental guidance, will settle into longer, more predictable nap schedules within 3-6 months, and are generally content little guys.

[dropcap]1/3[/dropcap] of all babies go by many names: fussy, high-needs, challenging, etc. These are our troublesome tots. They cry more, sleep less, take longer to fall into predictable sleep schedules, and generally leave you feeling like a faded version of your previously colorful self. Presumably if you are here, there is a good chance that your baby falls into this category. This doesn’t mean that you ate the wrong cheese when you were pregnant, that you read the wrong books, or simply aren’t a good enough parent. It does mean that your baby needs a little extra help. It’s not easy, and it’s not fair.

Why is Your Tot So Troublesome?

[box type=”1″]Babies are like snowflakes, each one is different. But sometimes I wish I had a different snowflake.[/box]

I loved my little baby fiercely and would have gladly taken a bullet for the little guy. But there were definitely days (or even weeks) where I looked at him and wondered what horrible karmic deed I had done to deserve this crying tired little baby (who often left me tired and crying as well). Why was he so difficult to soothe? Why did he cry so much? Why were his naps so short? Why were our nights so miserable?

  • About 2% of babies have reflux (this was my personal cross to bear). Reflux (aka baby heartburn) generally causes problems throughout the day AND night. Babies sleep poorly because their tummy hurts. This leaves them OVER tired which combined with the sore tummy, leads to a very unhappy baby. The unhappy baby combined with poor sleep quickly leads to very unhappy parents.
  • Colic is typically defined as crying for  more than 3 hours a day, three days a week for at least three weeks. The assumption is that if your “average” baby cries 3 hours a day (in total) than anything above that gets labeled as colic. However typically the defining criteria of colic (vs simply being a high needs baby or having some other contributing factor that leads to excessive crying) is that the large bout of crying typically occurs at about the same time each day. So if your baby can be counted on to lose it from 4:00 – 6:00 each afternoon, you’re probably wrestling with a colicky baby. Various experts suggest that anywhere from 25-30% of all babies will be colicky babies.
  • Food allergies can make babies unhappy and the #1 food allergy for newborn babies bar none is milk protein. Pediatric studies suggest that 6-8% of infants suffer from food allergies, about half of which are allergic to  milk protein (also known as casein). Most will outgrow this by age 3 but that doesn’t help you if you are trying to figure out why your 3 week old is so desperately unhappy.
  • They are simply a high-needs baby. Dr. Sears defines a high-needs baby as one who doesn’t seem to be in pain (as a refluxing or baby with food allergies would be) but “needed to nurse so often, needed to be held a lot, needed human contact.” Thus Dr. Sears makes the distinction that a high-needs baby is one who will remain relatively calm and will sleep relatively well IF his needs are met. I find this a slippery definition however because it implies that if there is no medical basis for your challenging baby, and you AREN’T able to help him stop crying or sleep better, it’s simply because you aren’t doing enough to meet his needs. *OUCH* In my experience some babies are troublesome tots because THEY JUST ARE. You could live for 6 months with a troublesome tot attached to your body in some way or another but it would still be a struggle.

What Can You Do About It?

  1. Know, believe, and have faith in the truth that it gets better. I know this feels like a bitter pablum when you are facing a long dark night with an unhappy baby. But its true.
  2. Take seriously the advice suggested here at Troublesome Tots. This is not simply the opinion of one person but culmination of years of experience of well-educated people who work with families and troublesome tots combined with the best available medical and scientific information available.
  3. Ask for help. This is so hard to do and yet people LOVE to help out! Friends, neighbors, family, etc. Let people drop off meals for you. Let friends clean your house and do your laundry. Let Grandma take the baby in the stroller while you nap. It will make THEM feel great and give YOU a little space to breathe.
  4. Find one thing each week that will help recharge your batteries. What makes you feel good? Yoga? Manicure? Reading the newspaper at Starbucks? “But I can’t relax because my partner can’t handle the baby as well as I can and I worry when I’m out of the house.” Yes this is a hurdle, but you’ll find that with each outing it gets easier. It forces you to care for yourself and it gives your partner more time to practice calming, feeding, bathing, etc. the baby. Trust me – you do NOT want to be the only adult in your house who can successfully handle your fussy baby.
  5. Buy yourself a break. It is almost impossible to find a decent babysitter at all and it is ENTIRELY impossible when your baby is challenging. But a good baby nurse or postpartum doula (while there are many online directories I’m not linking to any and instead suggest that you find one by word of mouth) that can handle even the most challenging baby while you sleep, get outside, or do whatever sanity saving activity will help remind you that there is a world out there and someday soon you will rejoin it. Some will even provide overnight care while you get REAL sleep. These services are expensive but well worth it.

Someday your troublesome tot won’t be so troublesome. Someday he’ll be your best little buddy. He’ll sleep 11-12 hours a night, and for a few years, 1-3 hours a day. He won’t cry anymore. It’ll be easy to make him happy – give him some ice cream! It won’t be the back-breaking exhaustively draining process that it is today. In the meantime, let’s do what we can to make things better.