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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

The 3-Month-Old Witching Hours

By Amalah

Hello,

We have a 3 month old baby and he is VERY fussy every day. He usually starts out pretty happy in the mornings and with each nap he wakes up more and more angry. This has been going on since about 6 weeks. Typically sleeps fairly well at night. He may wake up once or twice to eat. We have been putting him to sleep for the night at 9:00 pm and after about and hour he wakes up crying. A lot of the time I can get him back to sleep with a pacifier or by patting him. Other times it turns into a battle where he stiffens up and cries, which is our normal afternoon/evening routine.

He typically wakes up around 2 and 6 in the middle of the night to eat and goes back to sleep fairly easily. Wakes up around 9 for about an hour to eat and play a little. He can’t stay awake for more than an hour or hour and a half without getting fussy and needing to take a nap. His naps last about 45 minutes to an hour. We have the sound machine going and have the room fairly dark. I still swaddle him for naps and bedtime and with each nap he wakes up worse and becomes more inconsolable.

Just wondering what you think could be the issue and if there is anything I could try!

Thank you.

So I see two likely possibilities here: You have a scheduling issue so he’s getting overtired throughout the day, OR he has a digestive issue and the crankiness is building with each subsequent feeding because he’s gassy or reflux-y. Or it’s colic of unknown origin. You didn’t mention anything like excessive spit-up or passing a lot of gas, but you DID mention his body stiffening up, which is a verrrrrrry common sign of colic or other digestive discomfort. The timing of when the symptoms started also support that it’s probably a touch of colic.

Here’s a good sample sleep and feeding schedule for a 3 month old, although note that babies this young REALLY vary in their sleep/wake schedules. He doesn’t need a ton of “awake” time, and while you will likely start seeing more awake/alert time in the weeks ahead, for now it’s really okay to simply swaddle and put him down for a nap at the first sign that he’s tired. Even if he’s only been awake for an hour. Let him set HIS schedule for now. He gets fussy, yawns, rubs his eyes = instant nap. Don’t try to push him into some other set schedule because someone else’s 3 month old stays awake longer, or because some family member is bugging you with the assvice or complaints about “that baby is always asleep! why do you let him sleep so much?”

That said, I would highly encourage you to take your concerns about his increasing levels of distress and crying to your pediatrician. Definitely mention that he stiffens up and cries, particularly in the evening, and how he grows more inconsolable throughout the day. He might need medication for reflux, food allergy testing, a new formula (if you’re bottle feeding), elimination diet for you (if you’re breastfeeding)…or it could just be old-fashioned mystery colic without any obvious, underlying cause.

Here’s a good round-up of ways you can give him some relief, and I’m 100% sure our intrepid commenters will have LOADS of great advice for you. (Don’t let OP down, peeps!) I will say, if it IS colic, it sounds like it’s on the somewhat mild side, since he’s sleeping fairly well at night. (Some babies will basically just scream bloody murder for hours on end.) And thankfully, colic is generally outgrown by four months of age, so you’re almost there. But definitely talk to a real doctor about this in addition to us Internet People.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Sara

    Yes, to everything you recommend, but I’d add have him checked by an international board certified lactation consultant for tongue ties even if he’s not breastfed.

  • Cori

    We had a baby like that – always fussy, getting worse throughout the day etc etc. We just thought he was a cryer and warned people before we visited not to expect a bouncy happy baby. He also had these awful leaky up-the-back poos constantly. Everyone said it couldn’t possibly be food allergies because he was (and still is) massive. But at 6 months old I gave him a piece of cheese and he immediately started to swell up. Turns out he has a LOT of food allergies and was getting the worst ones through me constantly throughout the day. I’m not saying that allergies is definitely the cause of your troubles but it’s worth looking into. I still feel guilty for not knowing sooner that he was suffering (but what’s motherhood without a hefty dose of guilt?). For what it’s worth, after he and I both eliminated all his trouble foods he became a totally different baby. Happy smiley and a joy to be around. Here’s hoping you find some answers or relief as well – it’s such a hard thing to navigate. Best of luck!

  • Danielle

    Our kid was much the same, he had silent reflux (yay, there’s a silent type that has 0 spit up but worse discomfort for the baby). We ended up getting him on omeprazole and a special hydrolised formula and he was fine within about two weeks. We weaned him off both things around 6 months once he could sit up and he know loves his dairy with no issues. Couple of things that might help – prop his cot the hell up, like almost rolling down it high, put him to sleep on his left side as the back and right can make reflux worse, rub don’t pat his back as that can further irritate the lining and generally keep him as upright as possible for as long as possible after feeding (like 20 minutes). Good luck, it does pass!

  • Lindsey

    My daughter started showing symptoms of digestive problems around 6 weeks. Has he had / does he have mild rashes, or bad diaper rash despite regular diaper changes and lots of cream? Green, frothy or stringy looking poop? All babies spit up, but excessive, there-goes-that-whole-feed kind of puking, or constant spit ups? Those things in addition to the crying point to a food intolerance. If he doesn’t have any other symptoms besides just the crying, it’s unlikely he has a diet intolerance of some sort.

    Either way, having him tested for a food intolerance is pretty simple and cheap. Your pediatrician can test for occult blood in his stool and if that’s present, suggest a hypoallergenic formula or diet eliminations for you (probably beginning with milk and soy and then if things don’t improve maybe progressing to eggs). If he DOES turn out to have an intolerance of some sort, don’t underestimate how vigilant you have to be in eliminating ALL of that item from your diet. My daughter would react if I ate so much as a slice of bread that had milk powder way at the bottom of the ingredients list. And it took a solid two weeks of very strict diet changes to see a real difference in her.

    She did outgrow the intolerance by 8/9 months and now drinks straight milk with no problem, so it is temporary, and the diet changes will do wonders for your postpartum weight loss efforts ????

    • Jenelle

      Since the OP mentioned she is still swaddling, it is very dangerous to elevate the crib or place the baby on his side. Since both of those things can increase the likelihood of the baby rolling on to his stomach, and not having his arms free to push himself up, this can increase the risk of smothering and SIDS since he can’t use his arms to help lift his face away from the mattress. In older babies who are not swaddled, these can be helpful for reflux.

      • Jenelle

        Sorry, that was for Danielle’s comment above!

  • Grainne

    Before going to extreme measure, try the easy ones. My baby was also super fussy, though a bit younger than yours, and mostly later in the day. Our pediatrician jumped to reflux and gave us medication. But we found that just burping him A LOT and bicycling the crap out of his legs throughout the day basically pushed out the gas. No need for more extreme measures. If you look into the research, reflux is probably way over diagnosed today and that it’s actually quite rare.

    My mom says they used to really encourage burping babies a lot more than they do now. She suggested burping multiple times throughout a feed, not just at the end. And seriously, bicycling the legs or just gently pushing the knees towards the chest while lying on the back can work wonders.

    Once we started doing that, my son would fart all the time. He was seriously like a whoppie cushion when you pushed on him. And his whole demeanor immediately changed. As an almost 4-year-old, he’s still super gassy, but now he can take care of it on his own, lol.

    • Claire

      Agreed! The leg bicycling worked wonders for my little girl as well- I love the whoopee cushion analogy, so true!

      I also had a TON of excess breast milk with a super fast letdown. Apparently she was swallowing a lot of air, and drinking a lot of foremilk, which also led to lots of gas (apparently this is often misdiagnosed as diary intolerance).

      • Grainne

        YES! I had the same situation. Lots o’ milk with a fast letdown.

  • Sarah

    Babywearing! Feed (nursing or bottle) upright in the carrier, wear baby for twenty minutes afterwards, at least. Wear skin to skin during fussy moments. Wear to regain your sanity, etc etc

    Feeding upright with the pressure on baby’s tummy from wearing is especially helpful.

    Search for a local bwi group or sling meet if you need help finding a carrier for you, or if you need help using a carrier you already have. For a 3 mo I would stick with rs or wraps, although there are some cinch able mei tais that might fit at this point. But I would still stick with a less structured carrier so baby can be swaddled up against you for comfort, support, and tummy pressure.

  • KimCS

    My son started crying and showing signs of discomfort around 4-5 weeks. He didn’t excessively spit up and was growing well but had “silent” reflux (haha he was anything but silent). After his first dose of ranitidine/Zantac he was completely different and finally was able to relax and be a happy baby. I did try some elimination however he didn’t have any food intolerance. I wish I hadn’t waited as long to get him on some medication. If you think your baby might have reflux ask for a trial of medication.

  • Abby

    The best advice I ever got about newborn digestive issues is to give them probiotics. Most drug stores now sell a liquid version for newborns, or you could also mix 1-2 tablespoons of varying types of yogurt (no fruit pieces of course) into their bottle. It helps so much with gas and digestion in general.

  • Mina

    We figured out our baby had silent reflux when he was three weeks old. It wasn’t that he was cranky, but he cried a lot during the night and made this odd noise like he was trying to clear his tiny baby throat. Also arched a lot when he was angry. We put him on ozomeprazol but what really made a difference was an elimination diet for me, he is intolerant to casein or whey, the test only said he was reacting to dairy. It was an easy test and the results came in the same day, so I would advice you ask about it! If it’s dairy, you have to be really careful with your diet or with formulas, formulas with lactase to break down the lactose won’t work, since the allergies are to the animal proteins. If you are nursing, nurse often and offer the breast whenever he fusses (I know it feels like it’s all you do!), small frequent meals help to keep the stomach digesting instead of empty, which is when the acids do their worst. My baby gets (yeah, at almost 11 months old, we still having this issues) worse at night if I made some bad food choices during the day. Silent reflux sucks!

  • kimm

    My sweet boy would stiffen up and cry and turn red, he looked so mad, it was silent reflux and GERD. He never spit up, but never slept for more than 5 minutes. Until he was 2 weeks old and I took him to a specialist out of desperation. Everyone said, oh, you are a first time mother, its so hard at the beginning. But I was like, this can not be ok. He slept through the night when he took his first baby Zantac, then was switched to Omeprezole . He basically had not slept for 2 weeks until we got him on meds, poor him and us.

  • Lindsay

    My son is 16 weeks old, and until about 10 weeks he was pretty miserable, even on Zantac. I had eliminated almost everything from my diet and he was still miserable, arching his back, spitting up, just generally miserable and fussy after eating, and woke up every hour or two. Out of desperation I bought a can of Similac lactose sensitive formula (the orange label), and after two days of formula he was like a different baby. Happy, smiley, started gaining weight at a great pace, stopped spitting up so much, and started sleeping through the night. It was hard at first for me to let go of breastfeeding, but formula really was the best choice for us. Maybe take that into consideration and give some sensitive formula a try.

  • Bethany West

    Cut out dairy! If you’re breastfeeding, the cows milk proteins get into your milk. If you’re using formula, it’s usually made with cows milk. Those proteins get into him and irritate his digestive system because it’s just not ready to handle such large proteins.

    My kids were both extremely colicky (worse in the evenings) and had green, frothy, liquid, explosive poops (like, they would shoot out, get air, and hit the wall next to the changing mat), and frequent poops (like 6-8x a day) with obvious intestinal pain.

    Once I went dairy free, they had soft, yellow poops that came every other day, sometimes less frequently. They were happy, pain free, and joys to be around unless they were tired or hungry.

    Human babies can take up to a year to be able to tolerate dairy, but mine were fine by 3.5 and 2 months. I could have a small amount of butter on bread, or a small slice of cornbread that had a cup of milk in the batter, but anything more made them miserable for at least 3 days.

    Cutting out dairy is the easiest (and, from what I’ve been told, the most common) solution to colicky babies. Try it for a week and see where you end up.

  • Bridget

    My son had a super bad witching hour(s) at the end of the day till he was about 4 or 5 months old.  One thing that worked for us was Gripe Water.  We suspected he had some colic going on, and giving him some gripe water when he’d get really fussy seemed to calm him down a bit.  But, I’d also have to feed him about 3 times between 5 and 8 p.m., because he’d act like he was starving all the time.
    I think he had some reflux going on, because around 4.5 months, we had to stop breast feeding because his gag reflex would trigger and I end up covered in baby vomit.  I still pumped for another 2 months and supplemented with formula, but once we made that switch, he became way easier to deal with.  

  • Elizabeth

    Wow does this sound like my daughter!  For her it was definitely food allergies – I was breastfeeding and in the end I eliminated dairy, soy, corn, tree nuts and peanuts.  (I tried eliminating gluten but that one had no effect.  Hooray!)  The diet was kind of miserable, but oh, the difference in my baby was so worth it!  It did take a solid 2 weeks to see the effects, though.