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How To Help A Fussy Baby

A Must-Read for Parents of Fussy Babies

If you’ve ever raised a fussy baby, you know that it often takes more than singing and rocking to calm them.

Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Occupational Therapist Patti Ideran, OTR/L, CEIM, is an advocate for fussy babies and those diagnosed with colic — defined as crying or fussiness for more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, for at least three weeks. She’s also an advocate for their parents, who need tools to cope with the continuous crying.

“Many babies who are diagnosed with colic are actually disorganized babies,” says Ideran. “Most of these infants need more regular feeding and sleeping patterns, and the skills to self-soothe.”

Ideran has decades of experience working with fussy babies. An occupational therapist for 35 years — 20 of those years at Central DuPage Hospital — she has been focusing on the treatment of infants and toddlers for the past 15 years. Certified in Brazelton Institute’s Newborn Behavioral Observations and the Neurodevelopmental Treatment Approach in pediatrics, she is also a certified educator of infant massage.

“Patti is often referred to as the baby whisperer because of her expertise with fussy/colicky babies,” says Lauren Wallenius, manager of Rehabilitation Services at Central DuPage Hospital. “Colic is often misunderstood and sometimes dismissed. When patients come to her, they have often tried numerous techniques at home to try to calm their infants and are frazzled, exhausted and overwhelmed.”

Patients are referred to Ideran by pediatricians and other pediatric specialists because they know her approach works. As part of her program, she schedules four sessions with parents and their newborns to help them regulate their sleeping and feeding patterns, and significantly reduce colic. She works with the infants’ parents on strategies like infant massage and observing their baby’s tired and hunger cues.

“Some of these babies are so overstimulated and so overtired,” Ideran says. “After a few sessions, parents often report that they have a different baby. The baby cries less, and eats and sleeps at more regular intervals.”

Ideran teaches the babies different ways to self-calm. “Some babies naturally self-calm while others are too dependent on being calmed by movement, such as rocking, in a stroller or in a car,” she says.

Ideran’s personal goal in 2018 was to submit a poster to the American Occupational Therapy Association. Since then, she has worked closely with Mark Fishbein, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, on therapy interventions for colic. The poster, “The CALM Approach (Cues, Arousal Levels and Massage); Short-Term Occupational Therapy for Colicky Babies” was presented at the Children and Youth Specialty Conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association annual meeting held in Milwaukee in September.

The poster included data from 32 infants whom Ideran saw as patients. The primary ages of the babies were between 6 and 12 weeks old. Patients attended an average of 3.6 sessions. Improvements were observed in 91 percent of the babies.

To help create more awareness about how to cope with colic and educate other professionals so that these parents have resources to enhance the parent-child relationship, Ideran and Dr. Fishbein are writing a book for parents with fussy babies.

Her biggest sleep tip for a fussy baby? Look at the times your baby is awake. How long has he or she been awake? “A newborn can easily miss their next window for sleep and become overstimulated and disorganized, and are often past a point of no return,” says Ideran. “Sleep begets sleep.”

“Fussy babies are at higher risk of child abuse. It can be very stressful for their parents to hear the continuous crying,” says Ideran. “We can always make a difference early on, so why make a fussy baby wait?”