While attending a yoga class recently I overheard a soon to be mummy describing a strange phenomenon to another member of the class. She was referring to her friend who had recently had a baby and for some unknown reason, said baby who is for the most part happy and settled throughout the day, was extremely irritable with long periods of crying between 6 and 8pm in the evenings. The parents were at their whit’s end as no amount of trying seemed to get the baby settled and they were at a loss to figure out what was causing this period of unrest.
This scenario is all too familiar to me and maternity nurses affectionately refer to this period as “The Witching Hour” (although this description is somewhat misleading as periods of irritability and crying can, and often do, go on in excess of 3 hours!) This difficult time can leave even the calmest and most capable of new parents exasperated and reaching for the phone to enlist the help of Baby Matters.
I often reassure parents that this is very common. Every baby is an individual and no book (or blog) can tell you exactly how to solve every problem with your baby. Where possible you should try to read your baby’s cues to understand why they may be unsettled.
Assuming your baby isn’t suffering from an underlying health issue such as reflux, here are some things to consider that could be contributing to your baby being unsettled and having their own “Witching Hour”
Is your baby overtired?
A common situation new parents find themselves in is trying to settle a baby in the evening that is already overtired and over stimulated (we call this being in bail out mode). Your baby is working overtime to feed, grow, and make sense of all the new things in the world. By 6.30pm, as a general rule, a baby under 6 months will be exhausted and ready to recharge. If a baby is having a hard time settling after a bath and the last feed of the evening, I usually recommend that parents bring forward bedtime. Even starting your baby’s evening routine 20 minutes earlier can make all the difference to getting them settled quicker and with less distress to them and you!
Did you know?
For mums who are breastfeeding, did you know that generally your milk supply tends to be lower in the afternoon? This is because your body is reaching the point of needing some rest and replenishment after a busy day of looking after baby. Where possible, I always encourage mum’s to try and rest during the day to avoid becoming overtired (especially if your baby is still waking to feed during the night). Ignore that pile of ironing! Try to catch a nap when your baby is sleeping. Even a 20-30 minute power nap will make the world of difference to your energy levels.
Our modern way of living means that very often we don’t sit down to eat supper until after 8pm. If you are breastfeeding it is really important to eat regularly throughout the day, but in particular in the afternoon. This will help keep your milk supply up and give you that energy boost you need to make it through to bedtime. Lactogenic foods are particularly important in the afternoon, and don’t forget to stay hydrated.
If you’re not breastfeeding that doesn’t mean this rule doesn’t apply to you. It is just as important for you to rest and eat well to keep up your energy to look after yourself and your little one. Something to consider if you are using formula is splitting the last feed of the day before bedtime in two (pre and post bath time). There are a number of advantages for adopting this strategy, the biggest being that by giving your baby a snack to tide them over until bedtime, they don’t become too cranky and “past it” by the time they are finished with their bath to feed well and take enough milk to settle them for the evening.
If you have tried everything you can think of and still feel you could use a little help, the Baby Matters team is standing by to help you recover back your evenings. Good luck!