TLDR: The witching hour is a common occurrence for babies under three months of age when they fuss or cry at the same time every evening. It can be tough on parents, but there are a variety of techniques to try, and if all else fails, know that the witching hour phase does eventually end.
Does your baby always seem to get upset at the same time every night? Does it seem like nothing you do helps them calm down or stop crying? Your baby may be experiencing the dreaded witching hour.
“Whether you’ve been caregiving all day or are coming home from work, you’re exhausted and want to relax—and that’s right as your baby needs you and won't be soothed. It’s a lot. Know that you’re not alone.”
While it seems like this phase will never end, your little one will grow out of it. Here’s everything you need to know about the witching hour.
What Is the Witching Hour?
The witching hour is a term used for an otherwise healthy baby who fusses or cries at about the same time every day. Usually, this will happen during the late afternoon or evening between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Does it only last an hour?
The short answer is no. Some babies may cry for a few minutes, while others could cry for a few hours.
What Causes the Witching Hour?
Generally, the witching hour is not caused by any underlying condition, so unfortunately, there isn’t an exact reason your baby is crying at the same time each night. Doctors and parents do have a few ideas about why this happens, though.
Your baby is feeling overtired
It’s incredibly easy for a baby to become overtired. If they didn’t have a long enough nap or if they missed one, it could lead to a baby being overtired. Even an unusually busy day may cause this. The term may not seem to make sense as it sounds like an overtired baby would just go to sleep, but unfortunately, once your baby is overtired, it's hard to turn it around and get them to bed.
Your baby is hungry
The witching hour may hit if your baby is hungrier than usual. This often happens during growth spurts. Babies may have a growth spurt at two or three weeks old, six weeks, three months, and six months. During these growth spurts, babies want to feed more often during the evening hours, which could also make them fussy.
Your baby is overstimulated
It’s incredibly easy for a baby to become overstimulated. It happens when babies get overwhelmed by more noise, visuals, or experiences than they can process. Loud music, the television, a day out of the house, meeting new people, and going to unfamiliar places are just a few examples that may contribute to overstimulation.
Your baby has a sensitive stomach
For some babies, the witching hour hits because they have gas or reflux. The whole digestive tract isn’t fully developed yet in babies, but specifically the lower esophageal sphincter2 . This muscle opens as your baby swallows their milk.
When they finish eating, the muscle should close, but the muscle isn’t fully developed for some babies and may cause acid reflux.
Gas is caused when air gets into the digestive tract. This may happen if your baby is drinking out of a bottle, but it can also happen with breastfed babies if they don’t latch correctly.
When Do Babies Grow Out of the Witching Hour?
Like most difficult newborn phases, you’ll be happy to know that the witching hour won’t last forever. Usually, this start will start when babies are around two or three weeks old, peak around six weeks, and end around three months. You might notice that these ages are also when your baby has major growth spurts.
If your baby is currently in the midst of a witching hour phase, we know it seems like it’ll never end. Planning your days around this time can be exhausting, and seeing your baby upset without being able to console them can take a toll on you.
Are the Witching Hour and Colic the Same?
Not quite, though they do have some similarities.
Colic is defined as when a baby cries for three or more hours, three or more days a week, for over three weeks. Usually, when a baby has colic, they may cry harder than the witching hour cry, and it may be harder to soothe them.
Colic may start a few weeks after your baby is born, lasting until around three to four months.
Ways to Help Your Baby—and Yourself
The witching hour is not only upsetting for your little one—it can take a lot out of you, too. While it may be daunting, knowing that your baby is otherwise healthy can be a relief. The goal is to find ways to settle your fussy baby.
Here are some tricks and tricks to help soothe your baby and help you get through those moments.
Create a sleep routine
The first thing you can do to help both of you is to create a routine that focuses on sleep for your baby. Nighttime sleep is essential, but if your baby is not sleeping well during their daytime naps, they may be more likely to be fussy during the witching hour.
Your baby will likely fall into their sleep patterns in the first few weeks. Once you notice these patterns, you can reinforce them.
Having a routine for sleep can help prevent your baby from getting overtired or overstimulated. Remember, sleep begets sleep. Meaning, that if your baby isn’t getting enough sleep during the day, they will likely be fussier in the afternoon and have a restless night.
These cluster feedings are more common for breastfed babies. If your baby is particularly fussy in the evenings, you may want to try offering them another feeding.
If your little one is going through the witching hour phase, try limiting stimulation. If you like listening to music during the day, try calmer music or listen to it at a lower volume.
Try to limit the amount of time your baby is exposed to TV—even if it’s just on in the background, the visual stimulation can be overwhelming for a baby.
Limiting how many new people they meet during the day might be helpful too. If you have family and friends excited to meet your new addition, try scheduling them on different days, with a couple of days in between. The different voices, smells, and experiences can overstimulate your baby.
Check baby’s milk
Your baby may be experiencing the witching hour because their stomach is sensitive, and they may have gas or reflux. If your baby is formula-fed, you may need to change their formula to a different option for their tummy.
If they’re breastfed, look at your diet for any foods that may promote gas, like dairy products, broccoli, cauliflower, or spicy foods. While research shows that there are no foods a breastfeeding mother needs to avoid4 , there’s anecdotal evidence that certain foods can cause gas for some babies.
If you suspect something you’re eating is causing your baby’s tummy troubles, try cutting it out for a week or two to see if it helps your baby.
Sometimes, a little change of scenery is all your baby needs, too. You can try walking in the backyard or going for an after-dinner stroll around the neighborhood. Even if it doesn’t help turn the crying switch off for them, it may help you take a minute to reset.
Swaddle your baby
One trick that works for some babies is using a swaddle. The feeling of touch is essential to babies, and swaddling can make your baby feel like they’re in a big hug. Swaddling can also help to reduce overstimulation.
Since noise can be overstimulating, putting on white noise can help drown out other sounds. Theoretically, white noise is reminiscent of the sounds your baby heard in the womb. This can have a unique calming effect on your baby during the witching hour. Try a sound machine or use a white noise app or playlist on your phone.
Keep your baby close
Your baby usually wants to be held. They want to feel your touch and love around them, even if they’re fussing or crying. If your little one is experiencing the witching hour, pick them up and give them extra snuggles. You can try walking around with them, putting on soft music, and “dancing” with them in a swaying motion, rocking them in a chair, or try bouncing gently on a yoga ball with them in your arms.
Use a carrier
Sometimes an inconsolable baby doesn’t want you to put them down. Unfortunately, the crying usually hits around dinner time, when you need full access to your hands and arms. This is when a baby carrier can be a huge benefit. Not only can you get things accomplished, but many babies also love being so close to your chest.
Baby carriers are also helpful if you have older children who also need you during the witching hour. With a baby carrier, you can hold your baby and tend to their needs while still being there for your big kids.
Take a minute for you
The witching hour can be a tough phase for you to get through. It can be hard to see your baby upset, and hearing them cry can be overwhelming too. Don’t forget to care for yourself during this time.
Taking a minute for yourself can help you reset and give you the space to support your little one so you both make it through the witching hour as comfortably as possible. If you don’t have another caretaker in the home with you, put your baby in their crib, where they’ll be safe while you take a minute, set a timer for five minutes, and take that time to decompress.
Ask for help
If you’re having a difficult time during the witching hour, don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you have a partner, you can set timers for each of you to take turns until the witching hour is over.
Calling a family member, friend, or neighbor you trust with your baby can also be a huge help. Having someone there with you to help you through this time, even once in a while, can help make the witching hour a lot more bearable.
Having a support system in place to help you with the highs and lows of parenthood is so important.
If your baby is going through the witching hour phase—crying or fussing during the same time every day—remember you are not alone. Luckily, most babies grow out of the phase by the time they’re three months old.
"As long as you’ve ruled out any possible intolerance or allergies that might contribute to their fussing or crying, in this phase of life, be as gentle with yourself and your schedule as possible, says Major.
“My advice: Day-time naps and feedings as needed, not too much stimulation, and a bit of outside time every day,” she continues. “This isn't just for the baby, but you too! We’re giving, giving, giving all day. Make sure you’re resting, eating, getting outside, and having all the support possible to see you through this phase.”