Parenting Perspective: The Witching Hour

October 15, 2009

Then she left and it was just us two. Thankfully, my professor husband had a few weeks off, so we took turns stumbling around in the middle of the night to do the feedings. But then he had to go back to work, a schedule that has left me going for hours a stretch, for days on end with the baby by myself. Let's just say it's handful with a kid who doesn't sleep long and wants a feeding every two hours.

And then about ten days ago I got acquainted with The Witching Hour. Every day, between 6 and 8 at night, the baby would cap off his regular feeding with hours of fussing and screaming. Not whimpering, but full on, legs out like boards, arms flailing, face red screaming. I changed diapers, sang songs, moved him from bouncy to bouncy, walked him room to room, and constantly patted his back, both to reassure him and to remove the gas pocket that had to be there.

Luckily, a friend not only recommended the book "The New Basics" by Dr. Michel Cohen, but also had it sent overnight right to my door. And here's what Dr. Cohen writes in the 'W' section under Witching Hour:

Every night at the stroke of seven, Lucy puts on the same show. She dons her black dress, pointy hat, and crooked warty nose and commences shrieking long witchy shrieks. At first you think she's hungry, so you feed her, but instead of calming down, she hisses at you. You wonder if she wants a cuddle, so your rock her gently. She calms down a bit until she scratches your back with her witch's long nails. So you feed her again, and this time she spits out green witch's spit until her face turns red. You got back to rocking…until you hear the clock strike twelve eerie chimes... Lucy's trick ain't no treat."


In a nutshell, Dr. Cohen said everything I was doing to make it better was actually making the Witching Hour worse. He lays it out this way: babies are relatively quiet the first few weeks because they are getting over the intensity of birth. And then they go into what he calls the "adaptive" stage, recognizing they have traded in a dark, mute, climate controlled environment with a constant buffet for a world of bright lights, loud sounds, kisses, diaper changes, warm and cold, and the shock of hunger. During the end of the day during the adaptive stage, babies are... well, ticked off. They can't meet friends for cocktails, go for a run or call their best pal to vent. So, they let off steam the only way they can, with a nice long primal scream.

And all the things parents want to do---offer a bottle, sing in their ears or bounce them around just reminds them of the overstimulation that ticked them off in the first place. So, I've cut all that out. When my little Johnny Drama gets ginned up, I offer him a pacifier, to give him something in his control to focus on. I dim the lights, turn down the tv, and just sit him over my shoulder. Sometimes that calms him down. But sometimes he continues to scream. In that case, I accept he needs to get it off his chest, and allow him to give me his best yell for about five minutes.

Dr. Cohen swears the Witching Hour will disappear around two to three months. But in the meantime, I have a few tricks of my own now to try when my own little hobgoblin wants to scare the bejesus out of Mommy.

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