Beware of the witching hour
Many new parents dread the end-of-day blues, when baby becomes unsettled. But baby whisperer Sharlene Poole says you’re more in control than you think
The witching houris something commonly agreed upon as part and parcel of having a baby, particularly a newborn baby.
It is a term given for babies who, from 4-9pm, can be unsettled – wanting to sleep but can’t. Some refer to these babies as having ‘colic’ when they are unable to be put down. When I started my training and began working alongside parents with babies, I’d often experience the ‘witching hour’ and believed that it was normal for most parents to go through.
It wasn’t until I was two to three years into my career as a maternity nurse that I started to see things differently. I now strongly believe that this is something totally avoidable.
I realised that it is a baby’s way of trying to tell us that we, the caregivers, have not set out the pattern of the day in quite the right way for them personally – we’re not meeting their individual needs.
I noticed over my career, as a maternity nurse, that the more
I understood common links in babies and all of the points listed below, the less I saw babies being unsettled in the evenings.
There are a number of reasons for this ‘witching hour’:
How much sleep they have had, balanced over the day (this includes how much stimulation they’ve had and if that has affected their sleep), subject to their age and personality.
How well they have been winded and fed throughout the day.
Digestion issues or unresolved reflux/allergies/intolerances.
How confident and content the parent/caregiver was.
How well a breastfeeding mother is looking after their diet.
Respecting their developmental milestones, expecting change and growth in what was their daily routine.
Recently, after a six-week, 24-hour job that I have just completed, we had many visitors comment on how ‘good’ the baby was in the evenings, how ‘lucky’ the parents were, how their baby had ‘colic’ or was unsettled. This brought me right back to those early years maternity nursing when I had many visitors or elders in the profession question my method or restrictions of sleep, waking a sleeping baby, foods you can and cannot eat and so forth.
On this last job, I would be given an odd look when, in the daytime, I was not allowing the baby to be picked up when asleep with visitors. I was also limiting how many people handled the baby, would wake the baby for a feed if asleep and would take the baby away to a quiet place when large groups of family or visitors were getting too loud.
All of these things in the early weeks of a baby’s life, subject to their personality, can play a huge roll in the evenings. It is not just one day a week, it is looking at what happens for the majority of the week.
If I look at what would be the most crucial points above affecting the evenings, I’d say that it comes back to feeding and sleep balance.
After three weeks of age, babies go through their first significant ‘milestone’ and growth spurt. So in the first two weeks, it is important to be settled, creating great feeding routines for weight gain,
and allowing both mother and baby to have plenty of rest.
Then, after this, I look at how much sleep and how long they are awake for, subject to their personality and how old they are.
The old ‘up for an hour, down for two’ doesn’t stay the same all the way through their first three months, nor do all babies have obvious tired signs, and if you are not working on a ‘time-based’ guide for settling and feeding, then some babies need more guidance, while others are natural routine makers.
It’s about respecting the enormous amount of change that a baby is experiencing by coming into this world and growing with their incredibly fast development, which changes every few weeks! ′
Sharlene's top tips for avoiding the 'Witching hour'
Create great sleeping and feeding practices at the start
and middle of the day so that by the end of the day, your
baby is not over-tired and unable to feed or cope with digestion issues.
Post their three-week milestone, babies do not necessarily require the same amount of sleep over a 12-hour day. Usually they need less in the afternoon and evening, but more at the start and middle of the day to be able to settle and sleep well in the evening.
Rest and eat well during the day, particularly when you are breastfeeding, so you can cope with the afternoon and evening.
Look to see if your baby needs more guidance/routine. They may not be natural routine makers themselves and you both may need more assistance to help get the balance of the day right for their age and personality.
Limit outings and visitors in the first three to six weeks. These are the foundation weeks and the biggest time of adaption for you both.
Trust your instincts. If your baby is unsettled or seems like they are in pain, and you have tried routine but it is not working, seek help as it may take asking more than one person to find the right solution for you.
For more information and support, talk to your midwife or Plunket nurse, or refer to my book, Baby Whispering,
or visit sharlenepoole.com.
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