Though we can assure you this phase won't last - just like any tough period your baby goes through - that doesn't really help you or your baby during the weeks that it continues to happen. Here we'll cover:
- when to expect the witching hour and what it looks like
- the reasons most babies experience this stressful phenomenon
- our best tips to prevent and help navigate the witching hour
What is the witching hour?
Wondering why they call this period of evening crying the witching hour?
According to Wikipedia, when it comes to folklore, the witching hour refers to the period of night when "witches, demons, and ghosts are thought to appear." Now, of course, your tiny little bundle of joy is none of those things, but the term "witching hour" when talking about your baby refers to how with almost a snap of your fingers they turn into another form of themselves. From happy and content in one second to inconsolable the next.
But what your little one is experiencing is completely normal baby behavior. And it's comforting to have that validation! We can assure you that you'll find that most parents go through this same trying experience at one time or another.
But that doesn't make it any less stressful and it certainly doesn't fix it.
Our goal is to get you the strategies you need to get through this difficult time of day. Because the unfortunate truth is that it's often witching hours - yes, plural - where your baby seems to cry and want nothing else but you.
When to Expect the Witching Hour
Speaking of time, it's helpful to know at what age you can expect your baby to experience the witching hour and at what time of day.
For each of these considerations, there is a range. There will also be situations outside of what's typical but doesn't make it abnormal by any means. It's important to remember that all babies' developmental timelines and temperaments are different.
How old will my baby be when they experience the witching hour?
You will most likely get a bit of a "honeymoon" period with your newborn before the witching hour starts showing up a few weeks in. From there, you can expect that it will likely continue for several weeks. According to Healthline, it will be at its worst around 6 weeks of age and ultimately come to an end around 3 months of age when a routine is more established.
What time of day can I expect the witching hour?
For most babies, you can expect the witching hour to show up in the early evening hours - usually around 5-6 p.m. For some babies it will last for less than an hour, many will calm once laid down at their typical bedtime and others will be fussy and needy for hours until they finally get what they need (or exhaust themselves completely).
And the truth is that it may not be the same every single day. But generally speaking, you'll probably start to notice a pattern of crying and clinginess fairly quickly.
Even if it's difficult to pinpoint why they are upset, there is always a reason for it.
Reasons for the Witching Hours
Before you had a baby, you probably figured it'd be pretty simple to calm a crying baby. Feed them if they're hungry, put them down if they're sleepy, or change them if they have a dirty diaper. Right? But babies are so much more complex than that! But since they can't tell you what they need, they communicate their frustration through crying and it's far more difficult to calm them than you probably imagined.
The truth is that babies need constant care and attention while simultaneously trying to make sense of their new surroundings. Coming from a warm and cozy womb into a big and busy outside world is overwhelming and it takes time for them to get used to it. Add in the fact that they are growing and developing at an incredible rate...you would cry at the drop of a hat, too!
Even though the rest of the day may go smoothly with your baby as happy as a clam, as the day winds down, this often changes. And when you think about it, it's not all that strange after all. I would bet you're feeling pretty drained yourself by 5 or 6 o'clock - you just have better strategies to deal with it.
So here are some of the reasons that your baby may experience more crying and fussiness during the "witching hour":
- Overstimulation - It's been a fun day with lots of growth and learning for your little one. Though this is great for your baby, once evening rolls around, they've likely had enough. But all of the noises and bright lights don't just stop, and so they deal with it by getting crabby and fussy. It's their only way to cope when it's all been too much.
- Overtired - Most people are tired come evening. As the day winds down and it gets closer to bedtime, your baby is naturally going to get sleepy. They may cry or want to be held more than usual.
- Lack of Attention - The dinner hour is a busy time of day. Everyone is home from work and school and that may mean that your baby feels lost in the shuffle. If they aren't getting the attention that they need, they will let you know it!
- Hunger - It's no secret that babies eat a lot. And a busy day with lots of wake time can mean your baby is ready to take in more calories later in the day. It's also said that a mother's milk supply may be low at this time of day, making your baby feel frustrated and upset even if you just fed them. The Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh discusses how a natural dip in a mother's milk making hormone can lead to slower milk flow at this time of day. It may feel like you gave your baby a full feed even if you didn't
- No routine - A lack of routine throughout the day may lead to either a lack of sleep or lack of food intake. This can leave your baby feeling exhausted or ready to nurse all night to get in extra calories. Just as you probably feel better following some sort of routine, so does your baby. Though 3-6 weeks is too early to have a specific routine, ensuring that your baby has plenty of sleeping time and feeding time throughout the day is important.
What about colic? It's important to remember that colic and the witching hour are not the same things. Most babies will experience a fussy period each day but can usually be calmed using the techniques below. Colic, on the other hand, is defined as 3 hours of crying per day, 3 or more days per week, for at least 3 weeks. It affects about 25% of babies and you can read more about it here. It is usually more excessive than a baby who experiences a witching hour.
So now to the important part - what to do about the witching hour and how to keep your baby (and yourself) calm through this challenging evening period.
Soothing Tips for Getting Through the Witching Hour
More often than not, your baby just wants to be close to you at this time of day and wants to cuddle. If they're not getting that, they're going to let you know! These are the best ways to help you care for your baby during the witching hour and maintain your sanity.
- Use a Sling or Other Baby Carrier - Your baby may not be tired enough for bedtime yet, but they're getting there. This often just means they need extra cuddles from you or want to be held. Often the only solution that you need to cure the witching hour is to put your baby in a baby carrier while you get tasks done around the house. And if anyone tries to tell you that doing this is spoiling your baby, they are wrong! Babies this age deserve all the love and attention they require.
- Cluster Feed - A lot of moms hear this term and think they should have their baby on a 3-hour feeding schedule and that's the end all - be all. But that's not how babies work. They grow at different rates and at different times in their lives and there will be weeks where they will suddenly need a lot more milk. If the only way your baby is soothed is by being attached to your breast, then do it! You are not spoiling or overfeeding them by doing so.
- Consider a Catnap - This may be the perfect time to put a catnap into your baby's routine if you haven't already. If your baby seems overly tired at the same time everyday, perhaps they just need a little 30-40 minute nap to get them through the rest of the day.
- Move Up Bedtime - Though the catnap is a good option for some babies, this may not work well in every household. Perhaps your baby just needs to go to bed earlier. This may prevent them from getting overtired and wipe out the witching hour entirely. If you're worried about them not getting enough calories before bed if you do this, we would recommend trying the dream feed.
- Put Them in a Weighted Wearable Blanket - The Weighted Wearable Blankets from Dreamland Baby are a great way to soothe your baby. If you decide to go the catnap route or move up bedtime, putting your baby in one of these weighted sacks (they even have a detachable swaddle!) can help calm your baby to relax them as you're preparing them for sleep. Even if you're just holding them in your arms while they are awake, the hug-like feeling these wearable blankets give your baby can help calm their little bodies.
- Play music or use white noise - In this article we discuss the powerful benefits of using music to calm your baby, especially when you sing to them. Try this with your baby - it can really relax them after a tiring and overstimulating day.
- Be More Available in the Evening - If you're going to cluster feed your baby, you pretty much have to drop everything else to do so. Some baby carriers allow you to feed while you walk around, so that's one option, but you may just need to take a load off, turn off the TV, and let your baby nurse. But even if your baby isn't hungry, they may just want you to hold them close. We know it can be hard to be completely available to your baby but this might be the cure for your baby's evening cries. Handing dinner or homework responsibilities to your significant other at this time is a good idea, or consider crockpot dinners that don't need any tending from you come evening.
Consider a Dreamland Baby weighted swaddle to help calm and soothe your baby during this challenging time of day.
Ultimately, a calm soothing environment with lots of attention from Mom and Dad is the best destresser for your baby during the witching hour. Busy activity and lots of noise is only going to make it worse. Remember to take extra consideration of your baby's environment while implementing our best tips above. The witching hour can be cured if you take the time to give your baby exactly what they need.