Photo by Monika Rams on Unsplash

fussy baby in crib

There is no greater frustration than watching your baby suffer and not being able to help her.

I know this first hand. I never felt as helpless as I did when my infant daughter was groaning all night long and hardly sleeping during the day, yet all pediatricians assured me that it was ok and I had to be patient.

It wasn’t ok and every parent who is going through this will surely agree with me.

Obviously, a baby gets fussy when something is bothering her. Colic or teething pains are the universal explanations/diagnoses with babies, but often these umbrella terms simply mask our inability to know what is truly bothering a baby and show a lack of any interest to find out.

A fussy baby is trying to express her discomfort and pain.

Surely sometimes it is colic or teething pain, but many times it’s not. And parental instincts can often warn us when the diagnosis/explanation/advice we are given doesn’t apply to our little one, let alone help her.

An underestimated, but very real & common reason for baby discomfort

One thing that almost no doctor takes into account when a mom brings in a suffering baby is the immediate environment of the baby and whether there are any chemical exposures present that can cause discomfort to the baby.

For example, the effect of toxic gases (aka volatile organic compounds or VOCs) which are released by cheap furniture and crib mattresses can cause a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing and irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes. These are all symptoms that can make a baby feel genuinely uncomfortable and inconsolable. 

While an adult can easily explain how they feel and where it hurts, a baby will simply become fussy because she is suffering and can’t possibly explain it in any way.

These effects are nothing new in scientific literature and we’ve known about them for many years now.

When it comes to cribs, the worrying part is that they surround an infant on 5 sides for up to 16 hours per day. And we have valuable research that shows that the baby’s breathing zone in the crib can contain many times more VOCs than the rest of the room!

In fact, it is really common for nurseries to have very high levels of toxins in the air and dust, when parents are not told what they need to avoid and how to avoid it.

For example, the wrong kind of baby´s brand new furniture can also be a constant source of formaldehyde, one of the most studied VOCs, which also happens to be carcinogenic and trigger asthma attacks.

Photo by Courtney Kammers on Unsplash

If the nursery has been recently painted, like most nurseries are, a conventional type of paint could also emit VOCs 24/7. The same goes for mattresses and several baby items. They can all be sources of toxins that make babies suffer unnecessarily and in addition, could also harm development.

We all understand that putting a baby in an environment loaded with toxic gases isn’t ideal, but it’s what is happening in so many cases because parents are never told how to protect their baby from such invisible dangers.

And babies breathe in more air and eat more food for their size, so they are exposed to disproportionately higher levels of toxins compared to adults or older children. On top of that, their detoxification systems are too immature to eliminate toxins from their bodies properly. Therefore, these toxins affect them much more and for much longer.

Fussy babies may be simply reacting to this toxic load because they can’t possibly manage the symptoms they are experiencing.

Can we blame them?

How to help a fussy baby

To help a fussy baby, start by making sure that her immediate environment is not loading her tiny body with toxins that make her suffer. Choosing a solid wood crib (and other nursery furniture) is the first step for avoiding toxic VOCs in her breathing space.

Also, pay close attention to paints and varnishes in the nursery walls or furniture. Many conventional brands will load the air with VOCs, so make sure you choose low-VOC or no-VOC products.

When it comes to babies, cutting corners can have an immense impact on their immediate and long-term health and wellbeing.

While some fussy babies suffer from colic or teething pain, there are a fair number of infants who don’t fall into these categories. Making sure that the tiniest members of our family breathe clean air and are not exposed to chemicals that make them suffer or compromise their development and long-term health should be the first priority for parents.