Updated: Jan 7
Oh, the newborn stage. It's enough to rattle even the toughest parents. I've got loads to say about the newborn period, but for now I want to focus in on one specific piece of it...the 6-week mark. On a good note, six weeks is half of 12 weeks, which means you're halfway through the newborn stage! Hopefully you're starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. However, the 6-week mark is not without it's challenges.
I almost think the second month is harder than the first. Maybe it's because I'm currently in the second month, but hear me out. Yes, the first month with a newborn is so exhausting and hormonal. Even if it's not your first kid, you will have forgotten just how hard it is and feel like you have no idea what you're doing at times. I call it the newborn fuzz. However, you were likely expecting it to be hard at first, right? You may have also had some help in the beginning. But by the end of the first month, your help is probably waning and you're starting to wonder if you will ever shower, sleep, or see your friends ever again.
On the other hand, you may start to see some light at the end of the tunnel around 4-5 weeks. You should be getting a bit longer stretches of sleep at night. If your baby would only sleep being held at first, that should be better by now too. Then...six weeks comes along. This is where I'm at with Ezra right now.
What Happens at Six Weeks?
A LOT! You've probably heard of the witching hour. This is a period when a baby is fussy for no apparent reason, usually in the evening. He's been fed, changed, and you're trying to get him to sleep, but he just won't calm down no matter what you do. The peak of witching hour fussiness usually happens between six to eight weeks.
Even though you may not realize it, your baby is beginning to have more brain development at six weeks. He'll soon start to make eye contact with you, smile, and "coo" and "talk" to you! This is all beginning to develop at six weeks. Vision is also improving. To top it off, there is also commonly a growth spurt happening at six weeks. A growth spurt may cause a baby to want to eat more often, day and night.
All of these things put together means you will likely experience some extra fussiness and your baby waking even more often at night. You may have started getting some 4-5-hour stretches of sleep and all of a sudden your baby is now up every 2-3 hours again. This stage often leaves Mamas and Dadas thinking they're doing something wrong.
I recently spoke at a Babies and Bumps event and had the chance to hear a pediatrician speak before me. He mentioned that he tells every one of his newborn parents that the first eight weeks are the hardest and that things start to get easier from there on. When it was my turn to speak, I made it a point to mention that I whole-heartedly agreed with him on that! It's so true...those first eight weeks are tough...brutal even, with the peak around six weeks. Once you get over that hump, you start the downhill climb off the newborn mountain!
Tips to Make It Through:
1. Follow your baby's lead. Newborns aren't on a set schedule, especially around six weeks. Don't feel locked in to what your baby was previously doing or what you'd like him to do. For example, Ezra was eating about every 3 hours during the day by four weeks and we had a few 5-6-hour stretches at night already. Right before he turned six weeks, he was back to eating every 2 hours during the day and every 3-4 at night, just like he did in the first few weeks. There is nothing wrong; this is all normal. Please reread that last sentence. Your baby is fine, you are fine, and you will both get through this phase. Just don't expect consistency from him; go with his flow and it'll be much less stressful.
2. Remember it's temporary. Tell yourself, out loud if necessary, that this is temporary. The other night, when I was struggling to get Ezra to sleep, I told myself out loud:
"You will get through this. You've already done this twice and made it through. It does get better. It'll get better soon. There will be a day you can put him down at bedtime and he'll sleep until morning, like the other two."
That pep talk didn't help him sleep, but it did help me calm down some. I was right in the middle of all of this when I started writing this post. Now, it's a few days later and things have already started to get better. He'll be seven weeks in four days, and he's already back to sleeping a 6-7-hour stretch at night. He also just put himself to sleep for a nap this morning and is currently sleeping in his crib while I type away. It's still not time to expect consistency yet, but it's definitely a start!
3. Get help. Ask for help when you need it. Sitting and doing nothing while my husband cooked, cleaned, and took care of the older two kids was hard for me. I felt like a failure. Yet, during this time, I couldn't do much. Ezra needed extra attention, and I was the one he mainly needed. Like I mentioned, he was eating much more often, which left me sitting on the couch for at least 30 minutes every two hours. I was also more tired because those longer stretches of night sleep had regressed. So, I needed to accept the help. Find help wherever you can and don't feel bad accepting it.
4. Keep practicing. One key thing I talk about in my New Bundle of Joy Sleep E-Course is practicing good sleep skills. I don't ever recommend sleep training a newborn, but there are some things you can practice from the start to lay a good foundation for sleep later. Don't throw all of those out the window at six weeks. Yes, you may not have quite as much success during this time, but keep trying and he'll eventually get back to it once you're over the peak of this mountain.
5. Focus on the good. Yes, it's a hard couple of weeks. However, there's also quite a bit of exciting things happening too. This is when your baby will begin to make eye contact with you. He will start smiling in response to you as well as cooing and "talking" to you. Moments like these make the tough times worth it!
The 6-week hump is a common time of struggle for parents of newborns. Thankfully, it is temporary. Go with the flow, get help, and keep practicing good sleep skills, and you'll get through it soon enough! Which of the above tips was the most helpful to you? Comment and let me know!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant