It is very common for a baby’s worst time of crying to be in the early evening or “witching hour”.

This makes it a real struggle to get them down to sleep and frankly very stressful for the parents to see their baby in such discomfort. I have never read in a text book why this is but from an osteopathic point of view we do have an explanation.

Have you ever noticed that even in us, as adults, things get worse in the evening? An easy example is a cold, flu or sore throat that get worse in at night.

Colic or the discomfort a baby feels is on the same lines as this. It is to do with the baby's day / night rhythms and levels of cortisol (which wakes us) and melatonin (which puts us to sleep).

When we wake in the morning it is because of sunlight increasing the levels of cortisol to wake us which then automatically lowers melatonin which stops us sleeping. Cortisol is a stress hormone along with adrenaline that controls our "fight or flight" response. During the day these stress hormones can almost power us through feeling ill or in the case of a baby, feeling colicky. Think of the sports person who gets injured but carries on playing and only feels the injury when the game has finished as the stress hormones lower.

In the evening the cortisol lowers in the baby and they become more sensitive to the irritations of colic, wind and they start to feel it more and the crying commences! To put it another way; as they relax, ready for sleep, they become more aware of their windy, colicky tummy as the cortisol that had been masking it fades away.

There is another side to this story too. The hormones I have been talking about influence our nervous system. Our nervous system has two sides also, a fight or flight side and a calming side.

The fight or flight side put us on alert, but actually shuts down digestion in the stomach.

Let’s take an example of how this might affect a crying baby. Stress shuts down correct digestion in a baby’s tummy so it can’t process it’s milk correctly which produces painful wind, colic, griping and crying.

But what could have happened to such a young newborn that is so stressful? Birth perhaps! An instrument delivery? A long delivery? A very quick delivery? An emergency c-section? A planned c-section, where they didn't even know they were about to be born until they got pulled out? I think there are a number of factors to put a baby on alert and alter the functioning of their gut leading to colic.

You will probably recognise if your baby is in the “alert” state. They will seem constantly "switched on" and will wakes at a pin drop and need to be constantly held. You may get them to sleep but they wake so easily because their nervous system isn't letting them fully relax into a deep sleep so they actually do “sleep like a baby”.

The good news is that cranial osteopathy can calm a baby and release the tensions that are putting them in this stressful alert situation which will then naturally reduce their witching hour and dyscomfort. There will be a bigger buffer between your baby being asleep and awake.