Tip #1: Look for disengagement cues early!
I know this time of the day is probably your busiest time, but remember, your baby has had a long day full of learning and growing. If your baby is usually fussy starting around 4pm, start keeping an eye out for your babies 1st disengagement cues around 3 or 3:30pm (these cues will occur before he starts fussing or crying). What to look for? Grimacing, frowning, turning away from stimulation, back arching and squirming. By noticing these early signs of distress you can change your baby’s environment before he starts to escalate his cues and cry. For more about disengagement cues, read one of our original posts, Baby Behavior Basics: Part 3.
Tip #2: Reduce stimulation in your baby’s environment
If you are noticing “I need a break” cues you may need to change your baby’s environment (or diaper!) or stop interactions and let your baby have a break. Infants may be tired from a long day and react to overstimulation with irritability. Sensitive babies exposed to late afternoon or evening changes in light, noise, movement, smells, and activity may become overwhelmed. You don’t have to stop everything, just try a few changes to your routine, like turning the TV off or asking older siblings to play in another room.
Tip #3: Identify specific situations during this time of the day that cause your baby distress
Does your baby have a meltdown when you go to the grocery store or run errands during the late afternoon or early evening? Try to take care of these trips before your baby’s fussy time. You both will feel much less stressed!
Tip #4: If your baby is already crying and is NOT hungry, you can try the following soothing techniques
After you have checked your baby’s environment for things that may need changed, use repetitive low-key stimulation to calm him like speaking softly over and over, holding, rocking, or stroking the baby over and over. Remember, babies will take longer to calm down if they are very young or very upset. Be calm and patient! This will work!
Tip #5: Wear your baby
A past post of ours highlighted a recent study that showed carrying your baby for an additional 3 hours per day reduced daily duration of crying by 43%! Often close contact will help soothe your baby, and you will be able to notice early signs of distress.
Tip #6: Get support during this time of day
Ask your spouse, partner or another loved one to take over for a while. Take advantage of baby-sitting offers from trusted friends or neighbors. Even an hour on your own can help renew your coping strength. Recognize your limits. If you feel like you are losing control, put the baby in a safe place — such as a crib — and go to another room to calm yourself. Have a friend or family member come over to watch your baby for awhile while you take a break. If necessary, contact your doctor, a local crisis intervention service or a mental health help line for additional support.
We hope we have shared some useful tips to support you with caring for your baby during this difficult time. We too have paced the halls with baby in arms for hours on end, and actually, I have some fond memories of nice LONG walks in the early evening the summer after my daughter was born. The combination of fresh air and the soothing movement of the stroller seemed to calm her (and me). We became very friendly with the neighbors on our street that summer, and some of those encounters that started with conversations about our very loud (but beautiful) crying baby have evolved into great friendships and offers of support!
St James-Roberts I, Halil T. Infant Crying Patterns in the First Year: Normal Community and Clinical Findings. J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. 1991;32:951-968.