The Witching Hour: What is it, why does it occur and how to survive it?
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
The witching hour is the time of day that most parents dread. It comes at the end of the day when everyone in the house is tired, including you! You’ve been taking care of your baby (or babies) all day, barely getting a moment to have a bite to eat or use the bathroom in peace, and then BAM witching hour hits. It’s draining, exhausting, and feels like it will never end. I am here to tell you that it does end, and it usually ends around four months of age.
So, what do you do between now and when witching hour seems to just magically disappear? I’m here to help you get through it while keeping your sanity, and helping your little one through this evening rough patch.
What is the Witching Hour?
Before we dive into my top tips for surviving witching hour, let’s talk about what it is. Witching hour usually starts in the late afternoon and lasts into the early evening (5:00 - 11:00pm). It’s when your newborn starts to fuss, and then that fuss turns into crying, and that crying turns into screaming. This can go on for hours…yes, I said hours, and while some little ones can be soothed by eating or being held, others may seem inconsolable.
The witching hour typically begins around 2 - 3 weeks after your baby's due date, it peaks at 6 weeks, and then it is usually resolved by 3 - 4 months. Some parents interchange the terms colic and the witching hour. Colic is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for three weeks in a row. The witching hour can be an intense case of the witching hour so some of these tips in this article may help with colicky babies as well. If you cannot seem to soothe your child after trying these tips, and you suspect they are actually colicky then consult further with your pediatrician.
Why Does the Witching Hour Occur?
One good way to get a better grip on this whole witching hour thing is to understand why it happens in the first place. Here are five potential causes.
#1 Overstimulation: If your baby had been overstimulated throughout the day, it can cause fussiness and irritability. Newborns can only handle so much stimulation at one time, so too much noise, or even too much light can make witching hour worse.
#2 Overtired: An overtired baby is often an unhappy baby, and at the end of the day, your little bundle of joy may be completely overtired from the events of the day. If your baby has missed a nap or two over the previous days, this can lead to exhaustion which can quickly lead to fussing at the end of the day.
#3 Stomach Discomfort: Gas or acid reflux can certainly contribute to the witching hour, and this is especially true for very young babies with immature digestive systems.
#4 Cluster Feeding: Newborns tend to cluster feed at night as a way to prepare for a longer stretch of sleep. Your baby may become fussy during the evening when they are demanding what seems like one feed right after another. Remember that this phase may be frustrating, but it is also temporary!
#5 The Busy Evening Routine: Typically evening routines get busy. The older kids get home from school, both parents are home from work, and dinner needs to be made. With everything that needs to get done, your baby may feel like he or she needs to demand more attention from mom or dad leading to that evening fussy behavior.
6 Tips on Surviving the Witching Hour
Now that we know what witching hour is, and some of the reasons it may be happening, let’s take a look at my tips on how you can survive it all while keeping your sanity!
#1 Focus in on Your Current Nap Schedule: Nap schedules change frequently as your baby gets older, but if your newborn tends to scream for hours on end in the evening, it may have something to do with how long they nap. It’s important to keep your baby well rested, as a well-rested baby sleeps better. If your baby missed a nap, and you have things that need to be done around the house, try baby wearing. Your little one can catch a quick nap while you carry on with your evening routine.
#2 Eliminate Background Noise: If your baby is overstimulated, reducing background noise may be just the trick to creating a calming environment to help relax your baby. Dim the lights, turn off the tv and go to a quiet room to feed. A calming environment and a full belly may be just what your baby needs during the witching hour.
#3 Go with the Flow: When it comes to having a newborn, letting go of certain expectations, and just going with the flow can help reduce some of the pressure new moms put on themselves. Accept that cluster feeding will happen and that it’s totally normal! Cluster feeding can help comfort your baby, and you may even get more sleep after your baby tanks up on milk for the evening.
#4 Evaluate Your Diet: For breastfeeding moms, if you suspect that witching hour is the result of tummy issues, then looking at the foods you are eating may be helpful. Things like milk, caffeine, or spicy foods may cause tummy upset. Frequent burping during and after feeds can also be very helpful for gassy babies.
#5 Use White Noise: White noise isn’t only great for sleep, but it can also work wonders during those witching hours. White noise mimics all that noise your little one heard in the womb, so it can be very calming for them. Haven't you heard the stories about putting on the vacuum or turning on the dryer/washer so your baby calms? These tactics have the same affect on baby's.
#6 Go outside: Sometimes just going outside for fresh air and a change of scenery will help your little one. I have seen babies go from crying non-stop during witching hour, to completely calm when outside taking a walk while Mom/Dad baby wears or puts the baby in a stroller.
If you have tried implementing these steps, and are still struggling during those late afternoon and early evening hours, then ask yourself, does your baby seem unhappy most of the time? Is she constantly crying and refusing to eat? Does she seem uncomfortable? If you said yes, then these could be signs of reflux. My advice: contact you pediatrician immediately.
Lastly, take a breath, and repeat after me. Witching hour does not last forever! While you are in the thick of it, it may seem like it will never end, but it does. This is just a phase. The nervous system is immature and this too shall pass.
If you have any questions about the witching hour drop those below in the comments section. Interested in working with me? Email me to schedule a FREE 30 minute discovery call!