You may have heard of a witching hour but until you experience it, the true meaning really becomes obvious. So if you are one of those parents, currently trying to manage terrible upset, fussing and crying with your little baby anywhere from 5pm to 11pm, then hopefully some of my suggestions here might help.
This tendency is typical in babies from 2-3 weeks and may last until 3-4 months, with a peak around week 6. Don’t worry not all babies will experience this, but for those that do- it can have a very serious impact on the new family unit. The unmanageable upset, the feeling of being ineffective and of course the crying really can negatively affect parents, both emotionally and physically.
Often this intense period is attributed to “colic” – which may be represented by “prolonged crying episodes for more than 3 hours a day, for three week, when you have an otherwise typically developing and healthy child.”
There are lots of videos online from baby advocates such as Harvey Karp, that encourage parents how to support their babies during this time frame.
Wrapping your baby in a swaddle can help to focus them and to help them to feel like they are back in the womb world, even if it seems like they resists this effort, be confident and continue as when they are this upset, it will be hard for them to know what will help them- it is our task to help those feeling of calm to start to emerge.
Then you can add extra layers to your efforts, by gently rocking, swaying, jiggling and even dancing with your baby. Babies respond to motion- they have spent 9 months in-utero and sometimes even vigorous (but safe) motion helps to calm them when they are dis-regulated in a crying cycle. Rhythm may be your friend, patting their rump or even tapping on their dummy if you are using one. Doing a tom-tom rhythm has a distinct calming effect, even when it seems they will never calm down.
You may also find that sucking on the breast or the dummy or even your finger is another way of helping to invoke their calm reflex. Sucking helps to release endorphins, promote relaxation and calm and in this instance, may really be another piece of the puzzle as you layer up your calming efforts.
You may also find that introducing white noise is another helpful strategy to help calm your baby down. This is a sound that is reminiscent of the womb again and can help to calm a baby down. Turn it up really loudly to begin with, as this can help to distract them from a crying cycle that they find hard to leave. I would suggest that you avoid the actual hairdryer and download an app on your phone or invest in a white noise machine.
Although it can be hard to do, I feel that the more grounded calm and confident you are in handling the baby during these episodes, the more swiftly the crying and fussing can be brought under control. Instinctively babies feed off our emotions and so they pick up on our stress, making them feel more stressed, contributing to a viscous pattern. Having faith in how you are dealing with the episodes and giving enough time to your efforts rather than quickly deciding that it doesn’t help is key. It is very easy, when the episode is so intense to feel like nothing helps. Going outside, trying to be mindful, and engaging some deep breathing exercises can all help to initiate the calm that we are seeking.
Loudly shushing in your baby’s ear, again like white noise can help initiate a level of calm and you may also find that they concentrate when you sing or repeat a mantra.
The above suggestions are for when the crying is escalating, but efforts can sometimes be made by day to avoid this tendency too- whilst colic is typically cited as the reason for this melt-down presentation, becoming cumulatively overtired by day may also result in a crying session as your baby cannot cope come the end of the day.
We can make supreme efforts by day, to learn to read the language of sleep and by observing the sometimes less subtle signals, like brief eye rubbing or zoning out- we can help baby achieve enough sleep by day every 1-2 hours- even if this means, rolling, holding, rocking and wearing them. This may then mean that by the end of the day their overtired tank is not filled to capacity and thus avoiding some of the meltdowns that parents report.
Similarly, having a balance between stimulating and over-stimulating your baby may also have a positive impact- efforts to fill their sensory diet, but also attempting to bring them away from busyness and sensory overload, can also be helpful.
This may be a case of diming lights, reducing noise and levels of light from the television, phone and radio and engaging in some quiet one to one time; especially if you have a busy household with older children. For a little person who has spent 9 months in a muffled, dimly lit womb world, the outside world can be overwhelming. Noticing this and helping to create calm for baby, before the episode commences can be a powerful tactic.
Whenever possible do ask for help and seek support of your partner if applicable and when available -your family network. I often call this the intensive care period, and our goal is to keep everyone alive. Remind yourself that you are doing a fantastic job, that parenting yourself and newborn is much harder in practise than it seems to be on Instagram. This period, does have an ending, I know that you will want to wish it away, but do your best to sit with it and feel it and acknowledge, yes this is really hard- and within this, consider what single act of kindness could you enact for yourself today?
Lucy Wolfe, is a sleep consultant, Author of the bestselling book The Baby Sleep Solution and All About The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of “Sleep Through”, a natural bed and body sleep spray and relaxing rub, and mum of four. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country.