Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Behaviour

How can get my 16 week son to be less grizzly and able to amuse himself?

Our son is 16 weeks old and is, for most of the time, a very grizzly baby. He grizzles most of the day and for most of the time doesn’t really seem to want to play. I thought things had changed when he reached 10 weeks as for 3 blissful weeks I had the most contented, smiley, happy baby I could ever ask for. Then it just changed right back and he has been grizzly for the last 3 weeks. I have done nothing different in the routine and am finding things so difficult. Especially when I meet other mums with gorgeous happy babies and mine is just grizzling the whole time!

When I go in to him in the morning I am greeted with huge smiles which continue whilst I change his nappy. I then feed him his milk at 7.15am which he drinks (we were struggling for a couple of weeks to get him to take more than 5-6oz at each feed but he seems to be back on track taking 7-8oz). He is then happy enough for about 10mins on my lap but if I put him under his play gym the grizzling starts and he rolls over and sucks his thumb or just carries on grizzling!

The same happens after each sleep – he wakes all smiley and loves the nappy change (although he cries when I wash and dress him at 8am) and takes his milk well but refuses to play alone, only plays happily with me for a short while, won’t be happy sitting in bouncer chair watching me do chores or be played with and is generally grizzling most of the time. He is starting to want to sit and stand a lot more and right from birth he has always had good head control so I try to spend time doing that with him which he seems happy to do but only for 10mins max. I try tummy time every day but he gets upset after about 2-3mins.

He always seems tired even though he sleeps well and the last couple of days he hasn’t been sleeping great at any of his naps – I can hear him grumbling on and off or chatting or moving around the cot. But this is only recently – he was still tired looking and grizzly even when he slept well.

Also over the last couple of days he has cried on and off from 5.30pm onwards until bedtime at 7pm. My husband baths him slightly later than you recommend at 6.20pm as he likes to do the bath and does it when he gets home but we think my son is so tired by then he just cries and cries. This is only a recent problem and I am surprised as he sleeps for 45mins at 4.15pm. So surely he can’t be tired? If we give the bath at 5.45 or 6pm what do we do with Max for the rest of the time as he will be upset till milk and then he only takes 10mins to drink it.

I just feel exhausted trying to find ways to keep my son entertained and I don’t know how to get him to play for longer than 10mins by himself. Why does he wake all smiles and then for it to change after about 15-20mins? Is there such a thing as a grizzly baby? Should I stop trying to solve it and just accept that my son is like that and hope it will get better as he gets older and can do more?

Any suggestions would be hugely appreciated as am feeling so down about it all. Can’t stop wishing for that lovely happy baby I had for 3 weeks and totally enjoyed.

My son takes 6-8ozs at 7.10am, 10.45am and 2.30pm. He takes 1-2ozs water at 4pm, 5.15pm 5.5ozs, 6.45pm 3ozs, 10.30pm 3.5-4.5ozs. He weighs 15lbs 14ozs.
He naps at 9-9.50am, 12-2.15pm and 4.15-5pm.

All babies have different characters and temperaments. Understanding and accepting your own baby’s will go a long way to help you learn how to cope with him. It is very difficult when you have had a happy baby for a few weeks only to see it all disappear. A baby develops at an amazing rate in the first year. A lot of this development seems to come in stages or phases, followed by a period of relative calm. Just before the next stage is reached, whether it is rolling over, beginning to crawl or beginning to make recognizable sounds, a baby may well be overly fussy, cranky and generally out of sorts. There is a book called “The Wonder Weeks” by Hetty Vanderijt and Frans Plooij which describes the run up to these phases in great detail. [Look on the Recommended Book section of the site.] Reading it may help you understand why your son appears to be grizzly a lot of the time at this age. In a few weeks he will be babbling, using his hands together, and maybe rolling over. Once he is able to do these things he will be more able to amuse himself. At present he is still quite reliant on you to help him explore the world around him.

A baby of this age may be able to amuse himself for 15-20 minutes before becoming bored and either needing a change of scene or some adult interaction. One way to get him to amuse himself alone is to sit with him on his play mat and show him a toy on his gym. Stay with him for a few minutes encouraging him to swipe at the toys but letting him do it rather than yourself. Being beside him but not always totally interacting and playing with him can help. Then tell him you are going to leave for a few minutes. Stay within sight of him and talk to him about what you are doing. It can be difficult to “talk” to a small baby and, although some mothers seem to do it naturally, for others it takes much more effort. Because it is a one way conversation it can be hard, but keep on telling him what you are doing and what you are going to do as you go about your chores.

At present he seems only able to manage about ten minutes before needing a change of scene. If you encourage him by both playing with him and staying near but letting him amuse himself for short times you will gradually notice he gets better at amusing himself. Until he has more physical skills he does need a lot of help from you. Work at getting one chore done such as emptying the dishwasher before you go back and interact with him again. Take him from his chair and spend five minutes on the floor practising rolling with him. Then take him with you and have him near you as you do the next chore. Keep your expectations low of how much you will be able to get done whilst he is awake. Look for things which will only take five or ten minutes before you will need to be with your son again.

Take a good look at the toys he has and make sure they are suitable for his stage of development. Some times a baby will prefer to play with something simple such as a wooden spoon, rather than a specially designed rattle or toy. Look around the house for simple, safe items to give him. Beware of sharp edges, small pieces and make sure whatever it is it won’t be harmed if sucked. Just have one or two toys out at once. Over stimulation with too much to look at and grab for is often a reason why babies are unable to settle to any one thing.

Make time each day to get out of the house. Sitting in his pram your son will be able to look at the world around him. Try to go to different places, such as the park, as well as shopping. Stop and look at a flower stand or watch the leaves blowing from the tree. Encouraging his interest in what is going on around him will help him take a little more interest in the world.

Consider starting a class with your son. Massage or baby yoga could help deepen the bond between you. Most babies adore both. You could also consider a swimming class which would give him plenty of exercise and stimulation. With so much on offer now to mothers it can be easy to over schedule, but two different activities in the week would help break up the days a little and give you something to look forward to.

From your notes, your son seems to be feeding and napping at regular times. He is maybe a baby who needs slightly more sleep and is still not able to stay awake for a full two hours before needing to nap again. Although he still naps in the afternoon, crying after his bath time is most likely to be through tiredness. Would it be possible to have your son all ready to go into the bath as soon as your husband is home from work? He could be in the bathroom enjoying a kick with no nappy on and so be ready. If you do decide to bring his bath time forward he will still be having his milk around 6.15pm and then may be happy to have a short play before bedtime. If tiredness is an issue many babies of this age are settled at 6.30pm/6.45pm.

Watch him in the day for signs of tiredness and take him up to his room for a quiet ten or fifteen minutes before he settles for a nap. He may need to go down slightly earlier than he has been, in order to settle and sleep better. A baby who is tired will not be able to amuse themselves well and so resort to thumb sucking or grizzling.

Another thing to look at is his feeding. Does he take his bottles really quickly? If he does he may be a baby who needs a break and short play mid feed so he is actually sucking over a longer stretch of time. Although he is only 16 weeks old he is quite big and you may need to discuss with your health visitor or doctor the best time to wean him.

Once your son is physically more able to do things for himself, such as rolling and holding toys well, he may begin to be less grizzly and demanding of your time. It is hard work when you feel that nothing is satisfying him but after just a few changes, such as earlier naps, taking him out and about and having lower expectations yourself of what you want to achieve in the day, you will probably feel happier about this stage of your son’s life.