The first few weeks after birth are a blur, but eventually, home life starts to settle into something resembling a rhythm. Right about the time that you start to think that you might have the hang of this baby gig (usually around 5-8 weeks), many babies begin to demonstrate a behavior known as sundowning. Late in the afternoon, the inconsolable crying begins, and it doesn’t stop until everyone in the house longs for a sensory deprivation chamber. Some parents call it the witching hour, which is a euphemism for “centuries.”
Evolutionary biology suggests that babies just need to cry as part of the normal arc of development (and possibly to discourage their parents from ever having sex again). Regardless, it’s also true that some babies really are easier than others. If you did not win the Easy Baby Lottery, please take heart in the pithy sentiment that nothing lasts forever. If that is insufficient comfort, here are a few survival strategies to get you through this phase.
Sundowning survival strategies
Be kind to yourself
- Set low expectations. Don’t plan to get anything else done during this time. Heed the wisdom of Anna and Elsa. Let it go.
- Take a break. Switch off with your partner and get out of the range of your baby’s cries, even just for a walk around the block. If you’re tempted to keep on walking straight out of town, this is normal, albeit impractical. Call me.
- Ask for help. In days of yore, our whole village supported us through the childbearing year. Now we are largely on our own after baby’s first photo hits Instagram. Recognizing when you need to lean on someone is a virtue and a strength. Ask your cousin or coworker to stop by for an hour to help bounce the baby. Schedule one of my witching hour house calls. Signal your neighbors and hoist a flag on your mailbox that says “NEW BABY. PLEASE SEND FOOD.”
Plan ahead for the witching hour
When it becomes clear that you’ve entered the
apocalypse period of purple crying, give in. The only way out is through. For your own sanity, structure your day around it.
- Nap during the day whenever possible. This will basically be true for the rest of your life.
- Avoid making plans that require you and the baby to be out of the house in the late afternoon or evening.
- If you succeeded in stocking the freezer before baby arrived, pull out a few meals to defrost for the week. (If you didn’t, and wish you had, call me.)
- Order dinner delivery from 2DineIn or your favorite pizza joint.
- Hit up the prepared meals options in Portland: Whole Foods, Figgy’s, Home Catering Co., and many others offer hot meals to go.
- Accept all offers of food from your friends, colleagues, and neighbors. People want to help you, and they’re not always sure what you need. Let them feed you. In the fourth trimester especially, food is love.
Soothe your crying baby
What works one evening might not work the next, but through trial and error you might hit upon your baby’s magic calm button.Whatever works for you is what works for you. In our family, that turned out to be the Moby, the stability ball, and an endless loop of Party Rock Anthem. One family I worked with found that their baby preferred Dad’s off-key but heartfelt interpretation of Wonderwall. Ballast & Buoy is a judgement-free zone, folks. Do what you must to survive.
- Movement: Wear your baby securely while you walk or dance with them. Rock them in a glider or baby swing. Gently bounce on a stability ball.
- Sound: Some babies respond well to sounds that remind them of the womb’s constant white noise. Try humming, singing, listening to music or turning up some external white noise. The librarian’s specialty, shushing, is especially recommended by Dr. Karp.
- Touch: Nursing, massage, a warm bath or warm water on the feet.
- Environment: Some babies like to be out in the fresh air while others prefer dark, cozy rooms. If one doesn’t do the trick, try the other. Sometimes a change of scenery breaks the spell.
For more research-based background and tips on infant crying, check out Seattle Mama Doc’s “Colic, Crying, and the Period of Purple Crying” and Dr. Karp’s 5S technique.
If you’re really struggling with this era of infancy, you’re not alone, no matter what it feels like in hour 3. It’s not your imagination: this stage suuuuuuucks. But it truly can’t last forever, and you don’t have to endure it in isolation. Before you reach your breaking point, reach out. Surround yourself with other parents of newborns. Schedule a witching hour house call. Text a friend who’s been through this too. They will tell you: you will get through this.
The Period of Purple Crying: Why Does My Baby Cry So Much? by Ronald G. Barr, MDCM, FRCP(C).
Cell Press. “From mice to humans, comfort is being carried by mom.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2013.