Nicole Ratcliffe, Founder of Baby2Sleep, shared seven things all parents of a six-week-old baby should know
The first weeks with your newborn seem like a whirlwind with visitors and celebrations, but then the dreaded ‘six-week woes’ set in.
Studies have shown that at this point, a baby’s hearing is fully developed, they can distinguish their parents’ faces from strangers and smiles are starting to form.
These happy moments can be overlooked because your newborn is also experiencing a growth spurt, sleep regression and sometimes colic – making this milestone a struggle for new parents.
A child and parenting expert has revealed seven science-backed things to DailyMail.com that all parents should know to survive the six-week hump:
Seek out baby groups
Nicole Ratcliffe, Founder of Baby2Sleep, told DailyMail.com that baby groups are a way to help parents feel less isolated from the world and find other parents who may be experiencing the six-week woes.
‘When looking for a baby or mum group, look for one with similar interests to what you like. Baby groups aren’t really about the baby,’ said Ratcliffe, who is also a speaker atThe Baby Showin England.
‘Yes, it’s lovely to have the sensory and all the different colors, and it gives you ideas on the different things you can do with them at home, but actually, the baby tends to sleep a lot through the classes and the groups are more about you the mom or the dad.’
A 2023 study by theUniversity College London found loneliness can often contribute to depression in expectant and new mothers.
The teamgathered accounts from 537 women from 27 research papers on four continents.
Lead author Dr Katherine Adlington (UCL Psychiatry and East London NHS Foundation Trust) said: ‘We found that loneliness was central to the experiences of expectant and new mothers with depression.
Ratcliffe, Founder of Baby2Sleep, told DailyMail.com that baby groups are a way to help parents feel less isolated from the world and find other parents who may be experiencing the six-week woes
‘We know that depression and loneliness are often interconnected — each one can lead to the other — and this may be particularly true for perinatal depression.
‘Having a baby is a huge transition and upheaval period that can involve losing touch with people and existing networks, such as work colleagues.’
The research showed that some causes of loneliness included stigma, self-isolation, emotional disconnection, and insufficient support.
Be honest with people and talk about your problems
‘Be honest with the people who you meet. You might hear people saying that their baby’s sleeping through the night, or they’ll say they’re absolutely fine, or everything seems great on the surface,’Ratcliffe said.
‘But really, you might be sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my goodness me, my baby’s not sleeping or feeding well. I don’t know how I’m feeling’ and you may be doubting a lot of things. But actually, you might not realize that they’re feeling exactly the same as you, but everyone’s scared to admit how they feel.
‘If you’re open and honest about how you feel, you might find this opens up a whole new type of conversation and a safe area to express yourself.
‘It might give other parents with the same sorts of feelings that freedom to be honest too, and you might just save somebody’s sanity or their relationship or make them feel less alone.’
The same study from UCL found that many women fear being judged as a ‘bad mother and hiding their problems from others, which can also lead to hiding mental health issues, thus making the individual withdraw and self-isolate.
Enjoy the smiles
Your newborn might appear to smile straight out of the womb, but these are ‘reflex smiles, ‘ which means your baby’s muscles are working as they should.
The expert urges new parents to enjoy the smiles, which are just starting to appear on the six-week-old’s face. These are social smiles compared to reflex smiles that form when a baby is first born
But starting between 6 and 8 weeks, babies develop a ‘social smile,’ which is identified when the newborn uses their entire face, not just their mouth.
‘Coming up to around six weeks, your baby is starting to smile, which is absolutely incredible one of the most wonderful things that can happen, especially if they haven’t been that interactive with you up until now,’ said Ratcliffe.
‘When your little baby starts to respond to you, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
When you come in, they begin to wriggle, coo, smile, or tilt their head toward you. Make the most of this.
‘Spend time just looking at your baby, pulling funny faces at them, tickling them and making them giggle because the smiles your baby gives you and how that can make you feel can really help with your mood, especially if you are feeling low at any point. It’s also amazing for bonding.’
Monitor your mood
‘What you might find is, if your baby is not giving you that tingly feeling, start asking yourself ‘why?’ saidRatcliffe.
If your baby’s giving you that big smile and you’re not getting that flutter, something might be going on an underlying thing like PND.
‘Ask, ‘Am I ok?’.Ask around to see if this is the same for others. Speak to your health visitor or GP about it.
‘Given that stats from Maternal Health Matters show that one in five mums struggle with some perinatal mental health problem, it’s worth considering.
‘You might find that this is something very normal and there’s nothing wrong with you but it’s ok to ask for help.’
Postpartum depression continues long-after pregnancy and can be debilitating. It affects between seven and 20 percent of mothers, experts say.
Its true prevalence is still being understood because its stigma means many cases go unreported.
In 2006, a University of Connecticut-led research team estimated that half of the cases go undiagnosed.
Women who already suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety, a lack of social support after pregnancy, smoking, and more complicated deliveries are more likely to worsen the condition.
Younger mothers and those that give birth prematurely are also at a higher risk.
Be ready for the growth spurt
At six weeks, your baby will seem fussier than ever before. This could be due to a growth spurt or the onset of colic
At six weeks old, your baby is set for a growth spurt that will only last for a few days, but it seems like a lifetime for new parents.
Newborns at this stage experience increased hunger, disturbed sleep patterns and growing pains.
A 2011 study was the first toshow that increased bursts of sleep among infants are significantly associated with growth spurts in body length.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, monitored 23 parents who recorded daily sleep records for their infant, resulting in 5,798 daily records.
Results show that infants had irregular bursts of sleep, with 24-hour sleep duration increasing at irregular intervals by an average of 4.5 hours per day for two days.
‘By the six-week mark, you might think your baby is settling into a bit of a routine and they’re going longer between feeds, said Ratcliffe.
‘But, they need to feed even more suddenly because they’re going through a HUGE growth spurt.
‘They might want more formula, or if you’re breastfeeding, they might want to go on the breast every hour.
At this point, though, the milk supply is increasing, so it’s a really good time to start pumping.
‘If you’ve not introduced a bottle yet because you’ve been breastfeeding, now is a perfect time to do it.
‘If you start expressing, that’s going to increase your milk supply and by introducing a bottle, you’ll be able to free yourself up a bit more to do things you may not have been able to do if your baby was with your all the time.’
Watch out for Colic and Reflux
Colic – excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy – is a common problem affecting up to one in five babies.
It is characterized as inconsolable crying for more than three hours per day, three days per week, for more than three weeks.
The condition typically peaks at six to eight weeks and subsides by three to four months.
Doctors are unclear on the exact causes of the condition, which is usually nothing to worry about but it can be very frustrating and distressing for sleep-deprived new parents.
Possible triggers are thought to include intestinal gas, overfeeding, an immature nervous system, and lactose intolerance.
‘At around the six-week mark, colic and reflux could be making themselves more apparent,’ said Ratcliffe.
‘Baby maybe crying more frequently, and you might not know what they need.
‘If your baby sounds like they’re in pain and it’s combined with spitting up and being sick then seek medical advice or speaking to a lactation consultant or your GP could be really helpful to ensure you’re treating that right.
The baby coach also stresses the importance of tummy time.A 2018 study of 22 six-month-old babies found those with more ‘tummy time’ during the day are more active, which tires them out
‘It could be allergies causing the reflux or messy reflux (spitting up), or they might need medication.’
During these colicy stages, when your baby is crying and distressed, and you are calm, you can pop baby on you for skin-to-skin.
‘This releases oxytocin which is the love hormone that cements the bonding.
This can be helpful when you’re unsure why your baby is crying and you don’t know what to do.
‘Just pick them up, put them next to you, breathe nice and calm, and let that oxytocin kick in. It’s also a natural pain relief, so if your baby is in discomfort, you can use that as a way to take the pain away.’
‘They may or may not like it, but even if you just put them down for a few minutes, it can make a big difference,’Ratcliffe said.
‘This changes what theyre looking at, helps to strengthen their muscles in their neck and means that you can get down and play with them as well. Its a way of helping them to interact and get eye contact and a change of scenery for the both of you.’
A 2018 studyof 22 six-month-old babies found those with more ‘tummy time’ during the day are more active, which tires them out.
‘While we dont have evidence yet that tummy time directly affects sleep, it increases physical activity,’ lead author Dr Janet Hauck, from New Michigan State University, said.
‘So, parents who feel their baby isnt sleeping enough could promote tummy time during the day to boost their babys physical activity level.’
Tummy time positions babies on their abdomens while being supervised by an adult. It is thought to tire youngsters out by testing their motor skills.
‘The great news is we know how to increase physical activity and motor skill development in infancy. And one of the best tried and true ways is tummy time,’ Dr Hauck said.
‘You lay your baby on his stomach. Being in this position, helps babies gain motor milestones quicker, which is extremely important to their language development, their social development, their physical activity.’