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February 20, 2024

November 16, 2022

Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies

E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician

What You'll Learn

  • Why Moms Feel Inadequate During the Baby Witching Hour or Fussiness
  • How To Reframe Your Mindset About Crying
  • Why Crying Isn’t a Bad Thing
  • Simple Ways to Make the Baby Witching Hour Easier On Yourself
  • The Role of Sleep in Coping With a Fussy Baby
  • What to Tell Yourself If You Are Facing the Baby Witching Hour or Fussiness

As a new mom, one of the most stressful things we can experience is not being able to soothe our babies. So when we face the “baby witching hour,” colic, or a fussy infant, we often feel like failures. 

It’s hard to cope with crying. It’s even harder to let go of the expectation that we should be able to soothe every cry. Today, I’m joined by pediatrician Dr. Whitney Casares, founder of Modern Mommy Doc, to discuss how to survive the baby witching hour, and how to be kind to ourselves in the process.

When Crying Leaves You Feeling Panicked

I never imagined how hard it would be to hear my babies cry. But once I became a mom, nothing was more anxiety-inducing than the sound of their fussing. 

I would intervene immediately at every nighttime cry. I felt panicked if I couldn’t soothe them right away. And, on the fussiest days, I wondered if I was not cut out for motherhood. 

I wondered if I was not cut out for motherhood.

One day, I was driving to a Santa Claus parade with a friend. One of my sons was scream-crying in the backseat, and the alarm bells in my head were going off. I remember having a white-knuckle grip on my steering wheel, wishing I could climb in the backseat and soothe him. 

But when I expressed my frustration to my friend, she calmly replied that she didn’t see his cry as distressing—he was simply communicating that he didn’t want to be in the car seat. 

Logically, I knew she was right. My son was just talking to me the only way he could. But knowing that and coping with it in the moment are two very different things. 

I was so excited when I came across Dr. Whitney’s content. Like me, she was once a perfectionist, determined to work hard and excel at everything she put her mind to. But once she had kids, she realized that it was so much harder than she ever understood. 

She kept trying to put on a front of perfection, but inside, she was crumbling. She felt that if she, as a highly-trained pediatrician, was struggling so much, then it was clear that the system needed to change. She set out to use her experience as a pediatrician in a different way—one that also focused on moms and their mental health. 

I was thrilled to sit down with her and discuss her views on a topic that is extremely stress-provoking for so many moms—crying, fussiness, and the baby witching hour. 

Why Moms Feel Inadequate During The Baby Witching Hour or Fussiness

When I was in the thick of new motherhood, I felt the same way as Dr. Whitney. I had experience working with kids. I was a therapist! But I couldn’t stop my baby from crying sometimes. I couldn’t tolerate the unsoothable crying, and I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. So many of my mom clients experience this same strong reaction when their babies cry. 

Dr. Whitney pointed out that there is a range of reasons why babies cry. They have immature nervous systems and communication systems, and crying is their only way to communicate with us. 

Crying is the only way for babies to communicate with us.

They might cry because they want to be held, or they are wet, hungry, too hot, or too cold. It’s simply their way of communicating their basic needs. And yet, we often struggle, wondering if we are inadequate. 

Dr. Whitney believes part of the problem is that social media, blogs, and books are full of images of peaceful, calm babies, or quick fixes that promise instant soothing. 

So when we can’t calm our babies down, we start to feel like we’re not good enough—that we aren’t good enough problem solvers, that our bond with our baby isn't strong enough, or that there’s something wrong with us or our baby. But Dr. Whitney wants moms to know that’s not the case—and that we can change the way we respond to crying. 

How To Reframe Your Mindset About Crying

Dr. Whitney said the first step to shifting our mindset about crying is to remember Dr. Kristin Neff’s advice about self-compassion—crying is just data. We can react to it biologically, allowing our body and nervous system to take over and move into panic mode, or we can work to create a mindful pause before our response. 

When we can create some space and notice both our baby’s cry and our stress reaction, we give ourselves the chance to problem-solve. 

Dr. Whitney recommends telling yourself three things when you start to feel stress in response to your baby’s cry:

  1. It makes sense to feel stressed
  2. It doesn’t make you a bad mom to experience that stress
  3. Many other moms would feel the same way

Taking the time to remind yourself of those three points will help create the space to remain calm and respond in a helpful way. For example, if I had taken that pause in the car on the way to the Santa Claus parade, I might have realized that driving is a stressful time for me, and made the plan to avoid unnecessary outings whenever possible. 

She said that it helps to tap into awareness and self-compassion, and to try to choose responsiveness overreaction whenever possible. 

Why Crying Isn’t a Bad Thing

Another way to reframe our mindset around crying is to remember that crying isn’t always a bad thing. We often talk about babies in terms of their crying—when babies are calm, we call them “good babies.” But crying doesn’t mean you are bad or your child is bad. 

Dr. Whitney pointed out that we can think of sensitive or “fussy” babies in a different way. We can view them as world-changers. She believes that her highly-sensitive daughter, who is able to sense something is wrong or notice someone else’s pain before anyone else, can use that trait to better the world. 

When we can take the morality out of the conversation about crying and depersonalize it, we can look at it in a more objective way. 

Dr. Whitney recommends trying to zoom out, picturing yourself on a screen or in a bubble, to provide some emotional separation. She pointed out that if you were watching a friend go through the same situation, you would have so much empathy for them and for their baby. But we often beat ourselves up instead of having that same empathy. 

Crying doesn't mean you are bad or your child is bad.

Dr. Whitney said that one of the most important ways we can survive our baby’s colicky or fussy periods is to practice radical acceptance. The more resistance we have to our reality, the more difficult it becomes to deal with that reality. 

If we focus on how much we want our babies to stop being fussy, and how much we wish the situation was different, we struggle more—and we don’t actually improve the situation. There’s nothing wrong with grieving your situation or expressing your frustration. But ultimately, our focus has to be on navigating the challenge in front of us rather than trying to change it. 

Simple Ways to Make the Baby Witching Hour Easier On Yourself

When your baby experiences the witching hour (or several hours), it can be hard to think of any possible solutions. For many moms, it feels impossible to deal with—as if it’s never going to end. 

But there are solutions that can help us through it. Dr. Whitney suggested creating a code word or physical sign to “tag” your partner when you feel like you’ve reached your limit. 

We can also plan ahead, perhaps preparing dinner earlier before the fussiness starts, or establishing a pattern of trading off shifts. 

For many moms, the witching hour feels impossible to deal with - as if it's never going to end.

When possible, Whitney encourages moms to consider bringing in outside help, such as doulas, or embracing technology help like the Snoo. This isn’t accessible for every family. But some families could shift their budgets to allow these purchases. 

If that is not possible for you, focus on making yourself more comfortable. Can you wear your most comfortable robe? Or put on a funny television show or some uplifting music? Creating a comfortable environment can help you move through the baby’s witching hour with peace instead of trying to control it. 

It’s important to remember that it’s hard to engage in problem-solving skills and the ability to come up with creative solutions for your family when you are activated. By the end of the day, when difficult evenings hit, you likely have less capacity. Try to come up with solutions outside of the moment. 

The Role of Sleep in Coping With a Fussy Baby

Nighttime fussiness is often one of the hardest experiences to navigate as a new mom. After a long day of caring for your baby, frequent night wakings and crying at night can be very triggering. Sleep deprivation can feel so difficult to overcome. 

Dr. Whitney said that she often sees parents become so determined to push their babies to sleep through the night before they are developmentally ready. This can lead to baby being underweight, undernourished, or underfed. 

That’s why it’s so important to prioritize your maternal sleep, separate from the baby’s sleep. If your baby needs to frequently wake to eat, let them. But you can lean on your partner or other support members and create a plan to protect a 4-6 hour chunk of restorative sleep. 

What to Tell Yourself If You Are Facing the Baby Witching Hour or Fussiness

If you feel as if your baby is fussier than other babies or you’re struggling to soothe them, it can feel like you are failing as a mom. But it’s important to remember that you are not a failure. 

Dr. Whitney recommended reminding yourself of these three things:

Just because this is difficult, does not mean I am doing it wrong.

I was specifically designed to be this baby’s parent. 

I am enough. 

Remember that you have value inside yourself. You have something amazing to offer and teach your baby. And you will get through this. 

If you are experiencing feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm, talking to a mom therapist can help! Our Wellness Center can connect you with one near you. Book a free 15 minute consult today!

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Tags:

Baby witching hour

Stage:

Postpartum

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OUR GUEST

Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician

Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician, author, speaker, and full-time working mom. She’s a boots on the ground advocate for the success of women in the workplace and at home. Dr. Casares is a Stanford University-trained private practice pediatrician whose expertise spans the public health, direct patient care, and media worlds.

Her first book, The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One was the first of its kind to address the unique needs of modern women as they transition to motherhood.

Dr. Whitney released her second book this year, The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting without Losing Yourself, giving practical, expert-rooted advice and support for modern working moms who are ready to level-up their motherhood experiences and find success in the workplace and at home. 

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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