Guest blogger Natalie from Sleep and Settle provides advice on how to survive ‘witching hour’ with your newborn baby.
Many babies experience an unsettled whingy time in the afternoon usually starting around 3pm and ending by 11pm. This time is commonly referred to as ‘arsenic hour’ or ‘witching hour’ when baby doesn’t seen to know what they want, they won’t feed well or sleep well and all they seem to do is whinge and cry. This time in your baby’s day calls for survival techniques never seen on TV!
There have been no researched reasons for this unsettled period so all we can do is have strategies to cope with it. Of course it happens to be in the busiest time of your day as well with your energy at its lowest. The dinner needs to be prepared, the washing brought in and your partner not knowing what they are coming home to. If you have a talk and are prepared for it you will both cope easier and be ready.
Over a few weeks you should be able to identify how long your baby’s ‘arsenic hour’ goes for. It will be somewhere between 3 pm and 11pm, but usually only last for a few hours. Once you have worked out when your baby is finally ready to calm down, you can aim to put them to bed around this time.
Those around you who care about you will support you, accept any offers of help. It might feel like it ……but it won’t last forever. This is a sensible time to get your partner to bathe baby and have some bonding time. If baby doesn’t want to be asleep, you may as well make appointments, invite friends/relatives over ‘to play’ or be in and out of the car.
Generally, your baby will be awake for a longer period than usual, but it should not be more than one hour longer than their recommended uptime. It is normal for baby to only sleep for 45 minutes to 1 hour during ‘arsenic hour’ and to want to feed more frequently. Breastfed babies need to ‘cluster feed’ (feed frequently and often because mum’s supply is lower than other times in the day) and a bottle fed baby will just want to be awake. During ‘arsenic hour’, try everything to make your baby happy. Feeding, cuddling, wrapping tightly, go for a walk in the stroller, a baby sling, bouncer, swings etc. You can try to keep them in their usual routine and put them to bed in their room, but if they are not cooperating just try everything.
Often going for a walk outside makes you feel better, gets you out of the house, and the crying doesn’t sound so loud outside. You may even bump into other mums doing the exact same thing! If your baby will not settle in their bed and the weather doesn’t permit going for a walk, you could try wrapping baby as usual and putting them in the stroller. Tuck baby in as tight as possible and put a cover over the stroller to avoid distraction and stimulation! Push the stroller back and forth over a bump in the floor (between tiles and carpet), the bumpier the better. When baby falls asleep, leave them in the stroller somewhere in the house until they wake up. Remember to only expect a short sleep during arsenic hour. If you feel baby needs more sleep attempt to put back to sleep again in the stroller, but only try for about 20 minutes. If they don’t go back to sleep in that time, get them up and move on with your evening with ‘feed, play, sleep’.
If you are out and have succeeded in getting baby to sleep, don’t let anyone or thing wake them! A sign wouldn’t go astray either pinned to the stroller…”you wake ….you take!”
Try and prepare dinner earlier in the day, have takeaway or accept dinners from friends in the early weeks (if you are breastfeeding remember to avoid spicy, rich foods that might upset your baby. Often well meaning ‘childless’ friends don’t realise their thoughtful gift could cause problems). This unsettled period often lasts up to about 12 weeks of age, so accept all offers of help, you have a lot of surviving to do!
The 5 keys to surviving arsenic hour are:
1. Be kind to yourself and be realistic. Your baby is going to unsettled and generally not cooperate with any routine.
2. Work out how long your baby’s arsenic hour goes for and at least have a goal time when you know ‘it’ will be over.
3. Feed as often as necessary.
4. Try everything you can think of to calm baby until ‘it’s’ over.
5. Go outside. Make this afternoon period your power walking time, appointment time or visiting time (so others can experience it and help!)
© 2018 Natalie Ebrill- Sleep and Settle®-Baby Sleep Consultant 0-5 yrs. RN, Child and Family Health Nurse. Mother of three.
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