Q: [Infants] Is the “witching hour” a real thing? Our normally chipper newborn seems to be happy all day and right as the house starts humming around dinnertime, the wails begin. Is it us? Is there too much chaos that it is stressing her out? Does she hate the smell of my cooking? HELP!
A: It tends to strike when parents most need a break. At the end of the day, your well-fed, otherwise happy baby begins to fuss and cry and nothing seems to help. It isn’t your cooking, it’s colic.
Colic is common. It is estimated about 40 percent of babies suffer from colic, and most children suffer from it between 6 p.m. and midnight. It generally begins in the first month, peaks at six weeks and gradually tapers off before subsiding at age 3 or 4 months.
The clinical definition of colic is a baby who cries for three hours a day, three days a week for more than three weeks. That definition, however, is a little strict considering colic can affect each baby, and their parents, differently. I define it as a baby who is fussy and crying for longer than can be tolerated by a parent. Many patients ask, “Why it this happening and how do I stop it?”
There have been theories that a colicky baby points to some kind of digestive issue. While breastfed babies can experience colic because of a sensitivity to foods in a mother’s diet, an actual intolerance to milk protein is quite rare. If you breastfeed and believe something you’re eating may be causing excessive gas, which can be painful for a baby, try eliminating gassy foods — such as legumes and dairy — to gauge if that has an impact.
More often than not, however, colic is predictable. This tells us that it likely has nothing to do with a mother’s diet and everything to do with a baby’s inability to self-soothe. Just like older children can get cranky and whiny at the end of a busy day, babies also can experience overstimulation. And they communicate that feeling the way they communicate every other need they have: They cry.
Try turning down lights, soothing music and rocking. Offer a pacifier because sucking can sometimes calm a fussy child. Be mindful not to jiggle the baby in an attempt to soothe — which is a method some suggest — because this does not help calm the nervous system. Swaddling can help an infant feel secure and settled, as well as the “colic hold.” To perform this hold, position the baby across your forearm, supporting his head with the crook of your arm, then gently rock.
Monotone sounds from everyday household items like the vacuum cleaner or clothes dryer also have been helpful, in some cases.
Sometimes these things don’t work and frustration mounts. If you find yourself reaching a breaking point, it’s OK to put your baby in a safe place, like their crib. Shut the door, walk away and take a few deep breaths. In the best case scenario, a parent can look for help from another family member to take a break. NEVER shake your baby.
If your child is excessively crying at all hours of the day, call your doctor to rule out any medical issues that might need attention. The most important thing for parents to know when dealing with this frustrating time: There is an end.
This, too, shall pass.
Meigan Everts, M.D., FAAP, is a pediatrician with Hoag Medical Group. Having practiced medicine for over 30 years, Dr. Everts provides comprehensive pediatric care and places an emphasis on long-term development. She enjoys seeing her patients year after year and following them through their journey. www.hoagmedicalgroup.com