The Witching hour? Or the end of a mismanaged day....?
We've all seen it.
We've all heard it.
We've all had that extreme frustration of just not knowing what to do with them!
I am of course, talking about the dreaded 'witching hour'. This is a real thing, let me say that first.
It's incredibly common for newborns to get to the end of the day and just start screaming! We then end up in a blind panic and start incessant rocking, carrying, 'cluster feeding' just to see if we can calm them down. We will try anything because the screams are migraine inducing.
However, similar to many of my other arguments; Just because it's common, doesn't mean it's ok. Baby is telling you something. By the time they get to having inconsolable screaming fits, it's a tad too late. They have had enough.
When this goes on for long enough, and is starting to happen for several hours at the end of the day and happening 3-4 days in the week, you might start to think your little one has developed an illness. A strange disease. A disease that only affects them intermittently, every few days, only in the evenings and then once they are asleep.....goes away.....like magic. #magicsleep
aka.....COLIC. dum dum duuuuuuum.
If you look up any description of what colic is, it explains that in order to diagnose it, they have to be exhibiting the behaviours seen above but that no one actually knows what it is and why it affects some babies and not others. But not to worry! They tend to grow out of it eventually! Here, try a fancy, more expensive bottle.......
A) of course they grow out of it. They get older, need less sleep in the day, are less stimulated and tend to start showing other ways that they are tired (waking at night is a good one!)
B) THAT STILL DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD LEAVE THEM TO SUFFER THROUGH IT!
Baby is telling you something in the only way they know how. They're crying. They're trying to tell you that they are too stimulated. They haven't slept enough. They need to be put to bed. Please stop throwing me about in your arms and shining all the bright kitchen lights on me!
Imagine the desperation of trying to fall asleep but people keep talking to you, not turning off the lights and just generally being loud!
Of course they start to go mental. They are OVERTIRED. Newborns shouldn't be awake longer than 45mins-1 hour each time. That's including feed time. Just because they don't fall asleep by themselves doesn't mean they don't want to.
How many times have you been sat watching TV and decided to watch another episode despite being exhausted? We will forgo sleep if we can.
By trying to time their naps so that they are being swaddled and put down every 45mins-1 hour, you can make sure that they will start to get the sleep that they need. Newborns don't wake up fully between sleep cycles. So once they are asleep, they're asleep. They will then only wake if they are hungry, or finished sleeping.
But once you're in it, how do you get out of it?
It's all well and good, me telling you to watch their sleep signs and then put them down but in newborns, it is much more difficult to tell sleep cues from other types of cues so here's a couple of tips.
Have you ever noticed how young babies get very 'stary' (real word) when they're tired? If not, start watching for it. They start to stop blinking and they just stare......
They know that if they blink, they'll fall asleep! So they fight to keep their eyes open.
That's why gentle methods of getting them to close their eyes when they're very little work like a charm. Gently blowing in their face so it encourages them to close their eyes, or running your finger down the bridge of their nose, or stroking their face with a kleenex in a downward motion.
With newborns, all these methods help encourage them to close their eyes so they can fall asleep.
You would ideally be encouraging these whilst baby is swaddled in their cot as opposed to in your arms or once they start waking between sleep cycles around 4 months (aka the 4 month sleep regression) you'll have a baby who wakes to be settled every 1.5-2 hours! No fun. So start early.
They start to look away from you a lot and it's harder to make eye contact with them. This is them trying to avoid stimulation and surefire sign that they are getting tired.
Obvious cues are the yawns. However, like ad adult, you could yawn at 3pm. Doesn't mean you're ready for bed. So I always suggest that you look for the rule of 3. 3 cues that together mean you can be sure baby is ready for bed.
One of the least well understood but most common cues, I like to call, "The Grizzle". This is when you are playing happily with your baby and they suddenly let out a whinge/groan/moan. If you check your watch, you should notice that they are coming up to the end of their awake window. Add in a grizzle, a yawn and the 'stare', and you can put your baby down during their sleep window so they should settle quickly.
Once newborns are asleep, you can pick them up, wear them, carry them, transfer them or do whatever you want with them as they stay asleep. So get in those cuddles whilst you can. It's only during the 5 minutes of settling that you are encouraging them to fall asleep in the cot.
With naps timed at the right time and the right length, newborns will be ready for bed without their manic screaming show down every night and you can be much calmer about the approaching evening. There will always be days that you missed the naps and they fell asleep at the wrong times and they will inevitably be overtired but as long as those are the rarity, it becomes MUCH easier to deal with and the "Witching hour" should become a thing of the past.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing 'colic' or frequent witching hours then message me now! Babies are never too young to start healthy sleep habits that will last them a life time and we will make the overwhelming job of looking after this new little person much more manageable together.