There’s a reason why they call that time in the late afternoon to early evening the witching hour – when your baby goes into meltdown for no apparent reason, you could be forgiven for thinking he’s possessed! Overstimulation, hunger and tiredness can lead to a world of misery for both of you.
“When we’re overtired, our bodies help us stay awake by releasing cortisol and adrenalin,” says Megan Faure, author of Baby Sense, who specialises in caring for babies with fussiness and sleep problems. “So instead of being able to sit quietly, little ones will get into a frenzy of activity, restlessness and neediness that manifests itself in the witching hour.” If you’re struggling, here are the magic solutions…
Put your grouchy baby in a sling or his pram and take a walk. “Not only is the fresh air good for you, but simply getting out of that stressful space will instantly lift you both,” says Megan. “It also helps fill that strange time of the day when you don’t know what to do with him.”
Discomfort and straining when pooing can be a sign your baby is constipated.
Don’t rush in
You’ve just settled your baby and sat down for tea when he starts his witching hour cries. Your initial reaction is to go back to him. But resist the temptation if you can. “It won’t psychologically damage your child if you leave him to have a good shout,” says childcare expert Rachel Waddilove.
“If you know he’s fed, winded and comfortable, it’s worth waiting 15 minutes. If he doesn’t stop, go back in, pick him up and see if he’s got any wind. Then put him back down again and go back to your tea. The more you carry him round, the more tired he’ll get. He won’t feed as well at the next feed, which will make him less likely to settle again.”
If your newborn is hungry, she will will start with a murmer and build up to a more forceful cry as her need for food increases.
Keep an eye on the time
“There’s a limit to how long a baby can be awake and happy,” says Megan Faure. “If you push that limit, you’ll end up with a fractious child.” The time limit changes as little ones get older – for a new baby, it’s 45 minutes to an hour. So if you’re putting your newborn down at 7pm, he should have had an hour’s sleep before that, at around 5pm.
For a toddler, it changes to around three to five hours. “It’s counter-productive to keep your children awake the whole day,” says Megan. “Adrenalin will kick in and they’ll find it even harder to unwind and sleep.”
Regular massage on your newborn can smooth some of those cranky kinks out. “Massage helps develop your baby’s nervous system, so he can cope better with the stimulation he receives during the day and avoid feeling overwhelmed at the end of it,” explains baby massage expert Gayle Berry.
“It also releases feel-good hormones which lower the build-up of stress hormones.” You can’t do this once he’s grisly though. Pick a time earlier on, when he’s happy and alert.