If you have recently had a newborn in the house, this witching hour baby time period may feel all too familiar! Even if you haven’t had a newborn recently, you may still be scarred by the witching hour. So what is the baby witching hour and why is it so difficult for babies and parents?
Because our babies are so new and are neurologically immature, there is a limit to how much stimulation they can handle during the day.
It is very easy for them to get overwhelmed! Cue the baby witching hour.
If this is blog is something you’ve come across because you’ve got a screaming baby in your lap, then let’s dive into it!
This blog will cover:
- Baby witching hour
- Witching hour baby: when does it end
- Witching hour baby vs colic
- Baby witching hour tips
- When babies outgrow the witching hour
- Witching hour baby 3 am (or other times?)
- Witching hour baby 4 months
- What is colic
- When is the witching hour
What is the baby witching hour?
This is the time when an otherwise happy or content baby loses their mind, for lack of a better description. It is an extremely fussy time somewhere in the late evening, like from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
What usually works for calming them during other times of the day, does not work well during this time, if at all!
They are just generally unsettled and unhappy. They are worn out and hyped up!
Is this period of time “normal” or “common”? I’m going to make an argument here that the witching hour gets tossed around as something that is “normal” but is actually just common and can maybe be avoided entirely.
Often times, parents think that cluster feeding needs to happen during this time. However, after researching the witching hour, I discovered that cluster feeding can actually make it worse, not better!
The rooting to suck reflex is another cue that is mistaught, with parents largely learning it is only a hunger cue. When in actual fact a baby root to suck for comfort too as sucking relaxes them, ‘turning on’ the digestive system enabling it to work advantageously.
Unfortunately, the misunderstanding of these cues leaves the well-intentioned parent responding to their unsettled baby with more food, often referred to as cluster feeding.
So the thought is that by misinterpreting the cues, babies digestive systems are being overloaded all day, it catches up to them during the later evening hours, and you have a miserable baby on your hands.
A lot of digestion happens later in the day, while serotonin is also higher which is produced in the gut.
Serotonin is thought to increase the contractions in the digestive tract and without melatonin (which newborns do not produce yet) to relax the gut, they experience the intestinal cramping making them more uncomfortable in the late evening hours.
This is why trying to get all of their burps out is so helpful!
Some research suggests that it is your baby’s way of “letting out steam” or getting out their extra energy from the day.
Witching hour baby: When does it end?
This time period will start around 2-3 weeks, peak around 6 weeks and fully resolve between 3-4 months.
If you haven’t heard of the Period of Purple Crying, then that could also explain what is happening around this age!
“The acronym PURPLE is used to describe specific characteristics of an infant's crying during this phase and let parents and caregivers know that what they are experiencing is indeed normal and, although frustrating, is simply a phase in their child's development that will pass.
The word Period is important because it tells parents that it is only temporary and will come to an end.”
P- Peak of crying (your baby may cry more as the weeks go on, peak around month 2, and resolve between 3-5 months)U- Unexpected (the crying comes and goes and with no reason)R- Resists soothing (may not stop crying no matter what you try)P- Pain-like face (they may look like they are in pain, even though they are not)L- Long-lasting (crying can last 5+ hours a day)E- Evening (your baby may cry more in the late evening than other times of the day)
Baby Witching Hour vs Colic?
Colic has a very specific pattern to it, known as the rule of 3’s. To be “diagnosed” with colic, your baby has to cry for 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, for 3 or more weeks.
These spells also happen at the same time each day.
According to KidsHealth, during a colic spell, your baby may:
- have a high-pitched crying or screaming
- be very hard to soothe
- have a red face or pale skin around the mouth
- pull in the legs, stiffen the arms, arch the back, or clench fists
The witching hour is similar, but may not have this specific pattern!
Baby Witching Hour: Tips
So what can you do to get through this time? Here is a very comprehensive list that you can exhaust while in survival mode:
1) Prevent baby from getting overtired.
This is NOT always possible, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re dealing with an overtired baby.
However, it is important to remember that little babies actually need quite a bit of sleep, so maximizing it that can help at the end of the day!
Why is that so important? When young babies are sensitive to being awake for long periods of time, their body will release cortisol and adrenaline to keep them going, giving them that second wind (and extra stamina to fight sleep when they need it most).
Learn to read sleepy cues, trust the clock, and stay ahead on naps! This blog talks all about newborn sleep, what their sleep cycles look like, how long they should be awake at a time, and what cues you may see.
Remember, you want to get them to sleep before you see multiple sleep cues. You also do not want to keep them awake all day in order for them to sleep longer at night.
This almost always backfires! Babies need a lot more sleep than adults do and their threshold for staying awake/not getting overtired is very low.
If you find that they’re extremely irritable by 9-10 pm at night, consider getting ahead of it and putting them to bed earlier.
2) Get some fresh air!
Sometimes, being inside all day can make us feel like the walls are closing in, especially if we are getting stressed by a screaming baby that won’t settle no matter what we do.
Our little ones have mirror neurons that can literally mirror our emotions. If we are stressing out, it adds chaos to their already overwhelmed or overstimulated state.
Taking a minute to step outside can help both you and your baby. A change of scenery, different smells, and a little bit of motion from being worn or pushed in the stroller can make a world of difference.
Don’t forget that exposing your baby to sunlight both in the early morning and late afternoon can help with a sleep overnight too!
3) Get moving
A lot of babies will crave the motion they had while in the womb. Babywearing around the house or while out for a walk, stroller rides, car rides, swings, and bouncing on a yoga ball are a few ways to help them get that motion they are used to!
4) Decrease the external stimulation.
While in the womb, your baby had very little to stimulate them. No lights, muffled voices, minimal changes to their actual activities.
Cue being born into a world with a lot of variations to lights and sounds. This is overwhelming for them, especially late in the day!
Considering this is when all the living things are happening in the home like a partner returning from work, maybe older siblings are home, meal prepping, etc. Life is crazy!
So what do you do? Step back. Turn off the extra sounds or use white noise. Go into a dark room with them. Add in the bouncing. It is like a triple whammy then!
And when I say white noise, I mean LOUD white noise. The decibel level of your womb measures around 80dB.
You can download a free app to measure yours at home, but know that they are coming from a very loud place (louder than a vacuum) so having the continuous white noise playing can be very comforting to them.
Don’t forget to swaddle them up nice and tight! By mimicking the womb, you can recreate a calming reflex for them. When they’re too old to sleep while swaddled, you may still find that swaddling them during the baby witching hour is beneficial!
You can also read more about the 5 S’s as made famous by Dr Harvey Karp, put it into practice, and soothe a fussy baby!
5) Take a bath together.
Most babies will love a nice, warm bath with mom or dad! Turn off the bright lights, turn on some white noise, and settle into the warm water with your little one.
You will relax and so will they. If they’ve been having trouble eating because they’re so dysregulated from the overstimulation, try feeding in the bath. It can do wonders!
Make sure the bath water is warm enough or else your baby will not like it very much! According to the Mayo Clinic, you will want the bathwater to read around 100 degrees F.
Skin to skin during this time is so beneficial (which you can also do outside of the bath).
According to the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh, “Skin to skin with your baby is also a great way to help calm and regulate their little system. Doing skin to skin is like a baby reboot! Skin to skin isn’t just for moms, dads can do it as well.”
This study about kangaroo care says, “During skin-to-skin, the body naturally releases stress-reducing hormones and as a result, baby’s vitals (i.e. temperature, breathing rate, heart rate) stabilize.” It can literally calm your baby from the inside out.
6) Speaking of feeding…
Some babies will refuse to eat while others want to stay attached for both hunger and comfort. Mom’s prolactin levels naturally decrease in the late afternoon hours (this doesn’t mean you have a low supply).
This can make some babies fussy at the breast where they will latch/unlatch/repeat. It is normal!
The flow can be slower during this time, so just give you and baby some grace as you make it through the baby witching hour.
7) Ask for help!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed yourself, do not be afraid to ask for help. You are NOT admitting defeat if you need a minute to collect yourself.
People want to help you, so take them up on their offers. If you need them to hold a baby while you shower and eat a meal, then let them do that!
The cries of your little one will probably not have the same effect on a person who is not their mama. So even if you feel like you can’t manage it, they will.
8) Step away.
It is 1000% okay for you to put your baby down in a safe space and walk away for 5 minutes. For 10 minutes. Whatever you need to regroup and collect yourself.
Step away, take some deep breaths. Breathe in the fresh air. Listen to some calming music. Do what you need to do.
And then pick your baby up when you are more clear-headed and love on them.
Keep in mind, that all the things we have been doing to “soothe” them may actually be working against you. Sometimes they also need the stillness of their crib with that loud white noise on to calm.
Don’t be surprised if they quiet down and fall asleep when they don’t have the extra stimulation! Give it a try and see what happens.
9) Diet changes?
Some moms find that changing up what they are eating can be beneficial to decrease their little one's digestive discomfort.
The idea is that the molecules from things like cows milk are too large when they pass to the baby and can cause a lot of discomfort for them.
You can start a food diary with what you’ve eaten, when a baby is fussy and see if there is any correlation to specific foods.
Some moms have luck cutting out things like caffeine, gas-producing foods like cruciferous veggies, or gluten as well as dairy.
Start with a process of elimination and see if anything helps to decrease how uncomfortable your baby is!
Also, make sure that your burping your baby really well after feedings and in between. Sometimes even just holding upright after feedings can help with symptoms of reflux in a lot of babies!
10) Infant massage
Because infants are neurologically immature, massage and skin contact really helps with regulating their system.
Evidence-based, peer-reviewed research suggests that infant massage improves digestion, weight gain, growth, development, muscle tone, and sleep among many other things!
This source suggests that infant massage is as effective as vibrating chairs in terms of successfully calming a colicky baby.
What’s more, additional research found that baby massage lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and stimulates melatonin production, helping babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
So what can we do to ease the baby witching hour on parents?
1) Prep extra meals ahead of time when you get the chance. Just knowing that dinner is already ready can make that evening time a little easier to manage (and bonus, you can potentially eat a warm meal)!
2) Don’t leave everything until the last minute. Plan to start routines, dinner, etc earlier than normal so that it does not feel super stressful at the end of the day.
3) Prepare yourself for what lies ahead and get a snack station ready! You may be stuck in one spot with a baby, so the more prepared you are the better.
4) Save their bath for the end of the day unless they really hate it before bed!
5) I know that sleep begets sleep, however, your little one only needs so much sleep during the day and if they are taking long naps/filling up their sleep tank early in the day, then they won’t have enough sleep pressure to take a nap later in the day when they still need it.
Consider gently waking them from naps that are going longer than 2 hours during the day!
6) Make sure to speak with your doctor before giving anything like gripe water, gas drops, or homoeopathic remedies.
7) Find your earplugs and use them if you need to hold a crying baby. Listen to some soothing music so that you calm yourself and baby does not pick up on any extra stress during this time.
8) Support a positive mindset so rest (go to bed early, nap), consider foods full of nutritional value, ask about supplements like fish oil and magnesium, and get outside frequently!
What age does the witching hour stop?
So when do babies outgrow the witching hour? It is usually over by 3-4 months. As a mom to older babies as well, I will say that it feels like the witching hour comes on in the late afternoons after really busy days or when they are starting to get hungry! In that case, it may feel like the witching hour never stops.
But I promise it does! Things usually brighten up around 8-10 weeks for a lot of babies.
How do I deal with my baby's witching hour?
My top tips for dealing with the baby’s witching hour is to: calm yourself, have back up plans for your back up plans (if bouncing isn’t working, turn up the loud white noise or go sit in the bathroom with the ball while wearing them with the fan on).
Otherwise, refer to the top section for more ideas to get through it!
What causes baby witching hour?
It doesn’t have an exact known cause, however, in a lot of cases, it is when babies are overtired and overstimulated or experiencing digestive discomfort.
Is witching hour same as colic?
Colic is very specific when diagnosed, so it is a little different but may present the same when you have a difficult time settling your baby.
Does the witching hour baby 3 am happen?
Not typically, no. The witching hour is specific to the late afternoon/early evening hours.
Witching hour baby 4 months or older?
Technically they outgrow the “witching hour” by 4 months of age, however, if you have a little one who is super overtired, then they may be crabbier in the late afternoon/early evening hours.
It is helpful to check out the obvious reasons a baby may be crying:
- Diaper needs to be changed
- Too hot or cold
- Not feeling well
- Tummy hurts
- Wants to be held in a different position
- Something is painful (hair tourniquets)
It is important to note that if you are ever concerned about how fussy your little one is, no matter what time of day it is, always consult your paediatrician!
Take note of patterns. Is your little one content and mostly easy to put to sleep until a certain time period? Then it’s likely due to being overtired, overstimulated, or in digestive overload.
Is your little one generally unsettled and unhappy throughout the day? Then it’s something else and needs to be explored more with your paediatrician.
Author Bio: Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.
She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!