Ah, newborn babies. As soon as you announce the pregnancy, people are tripping over themselves to talk to you about that lovely baby smell, those tiny bottoms, and how lovely it is when babies grip your finger. But no-one ever mentions the arsenic hour, do they?
No-one ever warns you in advance, that each evening, your baby will use every ounce of his energy to cry very loudly, and that everything you try will simply make him cry louder.
Oh, and the name is misleading, because it can last much longer than an hour. Some babies are unsettled for hours at a time during the evening.
Listening to your baby cry is a horrible experience. A baby's cry is a very difficult sound to hear, and is deliberately designed to be disruptive, but when it's your baby, your tiny newborn baby, it makes it so much harder to listen to.
You may find yourself feeling panicked, stressed and even helpless as you listen to your newborn wailing.
Coping With The Arsenic Hour
As you desperately try to soothe your child to no avail, you may find your mama confidence dwindling, try the following tips to help you cope with the arsenic hour:
Arsenic Hour Tip #1: Be Prepared
The witching hour is going to happen. I'm sorry, but it is. So be prepared. Accept that the witching hour will be a part of your life, at least for a few weeks, and then devise coping tactics. If you spend each day hoping that there will be no witching hour, then it will be even harder to handle when it finally arrives.
Accept it, await it, and remember that it will not last forever. The witching hour will be a part of your life for a very short period, and then you can move on and forget all about its existence.
Arsenic Hour Tip #2: Remember This Isn't Your Fault
One of the most important things you can do to survive the witching hour, is to keep your cool. The witching hour is normal, lots of babies find it difficult to settle in the evening, and there are thousands of other new mammas going through this exact thing this very moment. Remember, you haven't done anything wrong, you're not a terrible mother, and this is normal. Repeat as necessary.
Arsenic Hour Tip #3: Get Some Peace
Your baby has had a whole day of excitement, and may now be feeling overstimulated. Just like you may find it hard to switch off after a stressful day at the office, your baby may struggle to disengage after seeing a cow for the first time (or whatever exciting things your baby may have been doing between feeds and nappy changes).
Turn out the lights, turn off the television, and spend some time sitting in a relaxing environment with just your baby. Your baby may find the peace soothing, and may find it easier to calm down in this environment.
Arsenic Hour Tip #4: Wear Your Baby
Another great way to help your baby hide away from stimulants, is to put him in a sling or wrap. Once held tightly against your chest, listening to your heartbeat and breathing in your scent, you may find that your baby is better able to relax. Take a stroll around the garden, or simply move around the house, to help your baby feel comforted in the sling.
Arsenic Hour Tip #5: Have Backup
Listening to your baby cry for long periods of time is horrible, and can be very draining. Have backup to hand so that you can get take five minutes to recharge your batteries before going back in to try again. Take turns with your partner so that each of you tries to settle the baby whilst the other one escapes from the noise. If you have family or friends closeby, have them on standby for particularly bad nights. Sometimes all it takes is five minutes
Arsenic Hour Tip #6: Get Outside
Your baby's cries can be deafening indoors, but may feel more manageable in the great outdoors. Put your baby in your sling, wrap or stroller, and head out into the evening. The fresh air and motion may help to calm your baby, and you may find that the fresh air and change of scenery does you the world of good.
Arsenic Hour Tip #7: Give Good Cuddle
It's a horrible feeling when you cannot do anything to soothe your crying baby, but rest assured that he feels much better simply because you are with him. Cuddling, rocking and singing may all feel useless when he's still screaming, but you are helping him to feel reassured and safe.
Arsenic Hour Tip #8: Have A Bath
Skin to skin is great for helping you to bond with your baby, and the warm water may help to relax you both. Run a bath (not too warm), and then get in and have a cuddle together. Have the lights low, and play some calming music to create a soothing environment. Be prepared though, babies are not the greatest bath companions because they do not yet understand society's very important no-pooping-in-the-bath rule.
Arsenic Hour Tip #9: Feed Your Baby
In breastfed babies, the witching hour could be caused by hunger. Newborn babies often cluster feed in the evenings, and this means you may spend hours in an on-again-off-again rut.
It can be a frustrating time, but it's normal. Your baby may be going through a growth spurt or developmental leap that necessitates extra feeds, so always offer feeds on demand to breastfed babies. If it works, it works – if not, move on to another tip.
See BellyBelly’s article on tips for surviving cluster feeding.
Arsenic Hour Tip #10: Burp Your Baby
Babies sometimes cry because they are experiencing discomfort caused by trapped gas. Make sure you wind your baby after each feed to help him get up any excess air.
Arsenic Hour Tip #11: Use White Noise
Hoovers, blenders and hairdryers are relied upon by mothers across the country as a way to calm a bewitched newborn. Some babies are comforted by the white noise, and experts believe this is because the sound replicates life in the womb. You can even download apps to your phone that play white noise in the hope of soothing fussy babies.
Arsenic Hour Tip #12: This Too Shall Pass
Those four words will get you through almost anything during the first few months of parenting. Yes, the arsenic hour is hard. Yes, you feel helpless. Yes, at times you even feel a little bit on edge, but it will pass. The evening fussiness will one day (very soon) be a thing of the past. Whenever you feel like it is all getting to be too much for you, simply repeat “this too shall pass,” until you feel a little better.
Could It Be Colic?
Colic is characterised as long periods of intense crying in otherwise healthy babies. Around one in five babies suffer from colic, so there is a chance this could be causing your otherwise contented baby to cry all evening. Colicy babies have very intense cries, and may arch their backs, clench their fists and become red faced during bouts of crying.
If you think your baby may be suffering from colic, contact your healthcare provider for advice. For more information, see BellyBelly’s article on colic.