Fussy periods and wonder weeks

From time to time throughout a child’s development, parents often describe that their child goes through a fussy period. During these fussy periods, their child is clingier, crankier, cries more and sleeps less. These fussy periods are different to the ‘witching’ or ’arsenic’ times of the day that young babies often have.

For a young baby, fussy periods may only last a few days. Later, as the changes a baby undergoes become more complex, fussy periods may last a few weeks or more. Most parents find that the interval between fussy periods is a few weeks.

Originally, it was thought that fussy periods were 'growth spurts'. However, there is no scientific research that confirms that ‘growth spurts’ do in fact occur.

Then, we referred to fussy periods as 'appetite increases' as it was assumed that babies needed to consume more milk as they got bigger. Indeed, during fussy periods, many mothers find that their baby wants to breastfeed more frequently. So, a baby asking for more feeds was interpreted as a baby stimulating the mother's milk supply to increase to a new 'plateau' to meet these increasing needs.

However, research showed that this wasn't true either. Babies take about the same amount of breastmilk each day between 1 to 6 months of age.1

Then, the concept of 'wonder weeks' was introduced by Hetty van de Ritj and Frans Plooij. A wonder week is said to announce a leap forward in a child’s mental development. To read more about Wonder Weeks, click here.

In conclusion, we don’t really know for sure why children have fussy periods where they are clingier, crankier, cry more and sleep less. For now though the concept of the wonder weeks seems to be a reasonable way to explain fussy periods — unless someone comes up with something else more plausible. Regardless of what is really happening, one thing is known — if the parents respond to their child and give extra attention (eg more breastfeeds) for a few days, the fussy period seems to pass and the child continues to develop normally. So fussy periods are not a cause for concern — just a normal phase your child is going through.

You can be assured you have enough breastmilk.

Before deciding that the reason your child is fussy due to a 'wonder week', it is important to consider whether your child may be unwell. If a child has a fever, nappy rash or an ear infection, for example, the child will be more distressed than usual.

For further information

Website links:

  • Our articles on low supply and baby weight gains will help you to determine whether your milk supply is meeting your baby’s needs
  • Our article on crying babies may help you to work out why your baby might be crying

 Booklets:

  • Breastfeeding: and crying babies This ABA booklet contains suggestions for comforting a baby, as well as ideas for how to manage everyday life with an unhappy baby.
  • Breastfeeding: diet, exercise, sex and more. This ABA booklet contains important information about how to look after yourself while caring for a baby.

 These booklets can be purchased from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

References

1. Kent JC, Leon MR, Cregan MD, Ramsay DT, Doherty DA, Hartmann PE 2006, Volume and Frequency of Breastfeedings and Fat Content of Breastmilk Throughout the Day. Pediatrics 117:(3),e387-e395.

Nielsen SB, Reilly JJ, Fewtrell MS, Eaton S, Grinham J, Wells JCK 2011, Adequacy of milk intake during exclusive breastfeeding: A longitudinal study. Pediatrics 128(4):e907-e914. 

2. van de Ritj H, Plooij F 2010, The Wonder Weeks, Kiddy World Promotions B.V., The Netherlands.

The information on this website does not replace advice from your health care providers.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association October 2015