Emma-Stone is a very easy-going child, about 22 hours a day. “But late every afternoon, it was like she was possessed by the devilーーI couldn’t get her to stop crying,” said her mom, Suzanne, who is from Exeter. “Sometimes it’s so bad that my husband comes home from work to find both Emma and me crying in pain.”
There are no recent scientific studies that prove babies are particularly fussy between 4 and 6 p.m. But parents and pediatricians use vivid language to describe this time, such as “midnight,” “arsenic poisoning time,” or in Emma’s case, “sundown.” –because Emma is quick to get excited at sunset. I hear that a lot,” says Dr. Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a parent consultant. . “It’s a tough time for almost every family.”
The Crying Game
Why are these times so tough for babiesーespecially in their first trimester? “Just like everyone else, babies get exhausted at the end of the day,” explains pediatrician Harvey Karp, author of the DVD and book The Happiest Baby on The Block. author of the DVD and book The Happiest Baby on The Block. In addition, this is the time of day when your child is least able to relax. Studies show that babies’ body temperatures usually peak in the late afternoon, leading to the most severe insomnia. So your little one is exhaustedーーbut still unable to relax.
The infant’s immature nervous system doesn’t help either. “In the first three months of life, her brain is unable to regulate her behavior, such as the rapid transition from feeling irritable to a calm state of mind,” says Norbert Herskovitz, M.D., co-author of the book “A Good Start in Life: Understanding Your Child’s Brain and Behavior. Finally, a newborn’s body produces very little melatonin, the chemical that helps set up our sleep-wake cycle. This means she can’t easily distinguish between day and night, or sleep for more than a few hours straight. By the end of the day, your baby may be exhausted.
When your baby reaches 4 months of age, his tendency to fall apart at sunset diminishes considerably. His body begins to produce more melatonin, and his brain matures to the point where he can easily shift his attention from one thing to another. “This means that babies are better at keeping themselves busy and getting out of trouble faster,” Dr. Herschkowitz explains.
But while the 4- to 6-month time period is usually relatively calm, don’t relax: Your baby will face new developmental challenges at 6 to 7 months that may again trigger his afternoon anxiety. “At this stage, babies are very curious,” says Dr. Karp. “They are so excited about all the new things they can do that they often resist sleep and become overtired and cranky.”
Even if your baby gets past this stage, 10 months – when he learns to crawl or walk on two legs – can be a tough time. Why? Because mobile babies are tired babies. Dr. Karp explains: “Getting from dawn to dusk from here to there is exhausting.” . This increases their irritability in the late afternoon when their bodies are ready to pass out, but their enthusiasm for exploration is still in overdrive.
Try swaddling. Until about 4 months of age, babies are usually more likely to calm down if they’re comfortably wrapped in a blanket. That’s because it mimics the feeling of being wrapped in the womb. If your baby’s movements are restricted, she’s less likely to flail around or accidentally hit herselfーーwhich can cause a big cry.
Adjust your schedule. If your baby is fussy until 4 p.m., gradually change his nap schedule so that he wakes up later in the afternoon or takes an extra nap in the late afternoon. Your baby may also throw a tantrum because he’s hungry. Try breastfeeding him before your own dinner. Or, if he’s old enough to eat solids, give him a small snack.
Get him into shape. Don’t ignore the calming effect of exercise and the nerve stimulation of white noise on babies. Put on a classical music tape, put her in a baby swing, put her infant seat next to an exercise dryer, vacuum the carpet around the crib or playground, or take her for a ride in the car – all of these things will relax her.
Get out of the house. Your palms may sweat at the thought of venturing into public with a cranky baby, but the new sights and soundsーーin addition to the calming action of traveling in a stroller or front seatーーmay help deflect your baby’s discontent. It may also be just the thing to lift your spirits.