Fussy Evenings

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated February 5, 2013.

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Fussy Evenings

Fussy babies can be challenging, but being prepared can help new moms cope.

Many mothers struggle with the evening time when they have a new baby.  The only thing that seems to soothe the baby is nursing…a lot!  Though the rest of the day may go well, their baby seems to fuss and want to nurse constantly all throughout the evening.  Also known as cluster feeding, this practice and the time it demands makes other activities around the home difficult.

Is my baby fussy because of a low milk supply?

Mothers mistakenly believe that their baby is fussy because they don’t have enough milk.  Typically, during the first two weeks or so after birth, a baby spends about 20 hours a day sleeping.  After the first couple of weeks your baby begins to adjust to life outside the womb and spend more time awake.

At the same time, a mother’s breasts are adjusting to how much milk they need to make (governed by how much the baby is taking in!) and her breasts may begin to feel softer and less full.  As her baby fusses more in the late afternoon or evening, and her chest feels less full, a new mom can begin to panic and wonder if her baby is getting enough milk.  It can be a very difficult and heart-wrenching situation!

But take heart and rest assured, this is all perfectly normal – for both you and your baby.  In fact, many mothers go through periods when they are convinced their milk supply is low, even though their babies are gaining weight and their breast milk intake is similar to other babies.1

Why do other babies sleep more than mine?

It is also very normal for breastfed babies to fuss more than formula-fed babies in the beginning.2  This in no way changes the fact that breast milk is superior, in every way, to formula. Nor does it impact its importance for you and your baby.

Rather, breast milk is easily digested in 48 minutes, while it takes almost double the time, 78 minutes, to digest the same amount of formula.3 This is why a formula-fed baby seems to sleep longer between feeds – her body is having to work much harder to digest the meal it was fed.  Many times a baby will sleep so that all the body’s effort can work on digesting the foreign substance.  In this case, appearances can be deceiving.  The breastfed baby isn’t more unsettled, she is just acting normally according to normal needs of infancy.  Babies that are complacent and undemanding can actually be at higher risk for slow weight gain.

Busy Days, Fussy Evenings

Another reason babies can become fussy during the evenings is the fact that they have been stimulated (or overly stimulated) throughout the day.  By the evening, your baby is ready to wind down and be with his favorite person in all the world – his mother.  He knows that if he nurses he can get alone with her and relax in her arms.  Perhaps he is overly tired and having trouble settling; just being with his mother and comfort nursing helps him to relax and later go to sleep.

Tips for Coping with Fussy Evenings/Cluster Feeding

  1. Make sure your baby is napping enough throughout the day
    A baby that is overly tired can have a harder time getting to sleep.
  2. Get a sling
    When your baby is fussy and just wants you. . . and when you have nursed your baby for what seems like hours. . . being able to hold your baby close in a sling may allow her to calmly relax and you to have free hands to get the other necessary things done.
  3. Anticipate your baby needing more of your time in the evenings and plan accordingly
    Try to prepare dinner in advance so that later you are simply heating or reheating your meal.  Even better, put your meal in a slow cooker in the morning so you don’t have to worry about it later in the day!  If you have other young children at home with you, consider moving baths and other typical night-time routines to less hectic times of the day.
  4. Talk with your partner or other friends/family about helping out during the evenings…
    so you will be able to relax and get away with your baby while your older children and other household chores are still taken care of.
  5. Remember this too shall pass…
    and much more quickly than you think!  Babies grow and change so much every day!  By around 8 weeks, he will have an easier time entertaining himself as he begins to grab for toys and play more contentedly on a playmat, etc.  The more developmental milestones he accomplishes – head control, grabbing toys, rolling over, sitting up, crawling – the busier he will be playing and the less he will need you.

Though this can be a very trying and intense time, remember it doesn’t last long.  Soon your baby will grow and not need you for his every need.  Cherish these precious days when you alone can provide his every need and desire.  Finally, check out your local breastfeeding support group.  There are other moms there who are just like you – and talking together and supporting one another will help you see you are not alone. . . and you and your baby are both perfectly normal!

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Hillervik-Lindquist, C., et al. (1991). Studies on perceived breast milk insufficiency. III. Consequences for breast milk consumption and growth. Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica, 80(3), 297-303.
  2. Lucas, A. and St James-Roberts, I. (1998).  Crying, fussing and colic behavior in breast and bottle fed infants.  Early Human Development, 53(1), 9-18.
  3. Cavell B. (1981) Gastric emptying in infants fed human milk or infant formula Acta Paediatrica Scandinavia. 70(5):639-41