Does your baby always seem to get upset at the same time of night? Does it seem like nothing you do can help them calm down or stop crying? Your baby may be experiencing the dreaded witching hour.
We know it seems like this phase will never end, but we promise, your little one will grow out of it.
If you use the term witching hour to parents who have been through it, you’ll see the all-knowing look in their eyes. The witching hour is a term used for an otherwise healthy baby who will begin to cry at about the same time every day.
Usually, this will happen during the late afternoon or evening, between 5 pm and 11 pm.
With “hour” in the name, you may be wondering if the witching hour actually lasts an hour. The short answer is — no. Some babies may cry for a few minutes, while others could cry for a few hours.
Generally, the witching hour is not caused by any underlying condition — so unfortunately, there isn’t an exact reason you baby is crying at the same time each night. Doctors and parents do have a few ideas though! These include:
It’s incredibly easy for a baby to become overtired. If they didn’t have a long enough nap, or if they missed a nap, it could lead to a baby being overtired. Even an unusually busy day may cause your baby to become overtired.
Once your baby is overtired, it is hard to turn it around.
The witching hour may hit if your baby is hungrier than usual. Usually, this can happen during growth spurts. Babies may have a growth spurt at two or three weeks old, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months.
Often, babies will want to feed more often during the evening hours, during these growth spurts.
It’s incredibly easy for a baby to become overstimulated.
Overstimulation in a baby is when they become overwhelmed from more noise, visuals, and experiences than they are able to process. Loud music, the television, a day out of the house, meeting new people, and new places are just a few examples that may contribute to overstimulation.
For some babies, the witching hour hits because they have a gas or reflux. The digestive tract is not fully developed in babies, specifically the lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle opens as your baby swallows their milk.
When they are finished eating, the muscle should close. This muscle is not fully developed for some and may cause acid reflux.
Gas is caused when air gets into the digestive tract. This may happen if the baby is drinking out of a bottle. It can also happen with breastfed babies if they latch incorrectly.
If your baby is currently in the midst of a witching hour phase, we know it may seem like it will never end. Planning your days around this time can become exhausting, and seeing your baby upset without being able to console them can take a toll on you.
Like most phases though, you will be happy to know that this time will not last forever.
Usually, this phase will start around two or three weeks old, peak around six weeks, ending around three months. You may also notice that these ages are also when your baby has major growth spurts.
You may have heard parents describe these crying fits as colic. But are they the same thing? 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 they may be less able to be soothed.
Colic may start a few weeks after the baby is born, lasting until around three to four months.
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. Now, 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.
The first thing you can do to help yourself, and baby, is create a routine that focuses on sleep. Nighttime sleep is essential, but if your baby is not sleeping well during their naps, they may be more likely to be fussy during the witching hour.
Your baby will likely fall into their own 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, if your baby isn’t getting enough sleep during the day, they will likely be fussier in the afternoon and have a restless sleep at night.
If your baby seems to be hungrier than normal, they may want to cluster feed. Cluster feeding (a term usually used by breastfeeding moms) is when a baby has shorter feedings closer together for a few hours.
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 the breast. They may just need another feeding.
If your little one is going through the witching hour phase, try limiting their stimulation. If you like listening to music during the day, try calmer music or listen at a lower volume.
Try to limit the amount of time your baby watches the television. Even if it’s on for you, the visual stimulation can be overwhelming for a baby.
Limiting how many new people they meet during the day is 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.
Your baby may be experiencing the witching hour because their stomach is more sensitive. They may have gas or reflux. If your baby is formula-fed, you may need to change their formula to a more sensible option for their tummy.
If they are breastfed, look at your diet for any foods that may promote gas—dairy products, broccoli, cauliflower, and spicy foods.
While research shows that there are no foods a breastfeeding mother needs to avoid, there has been anecdotal evidence that has shown certain foods, for some babies, can cause more gas.
If you suspect it is something you are eating, try cutting it out for a week or two to see if it helps your baby.
Have you ever needed to just go outside to help change your mood? It has been shown that going outside can boost your mood and help you reduce feelings of restlessness.
Sometimes, a little change of scenery is all your baby needs as well. You can try walking in the backyard or going for an after-dinner walk 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.
One trick that works for some babies is using a swaddle. Swaddling can make your baby feel like they are in a big hug. The feeling of touch is essential to babies. Swaddling can also help to reduce overstimulation.
Since noise can be overstimulating, putting on white noise can help drown out ancillary sounds. It is also thought that white noise is reminiscent of the sounds your baby heard in the womb.
This can be a unique calming effect during the witching hour.
Your baby usually wants to be held. They want to feel your touch and love around them, even if they are 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, or rock them in a chair.
With an inconsolable baby, it’s often hard 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. They will likely need you during the witching hour. With a baby carrier, you can hold your baby, sway them, and tend to their needs while still being there for your big kids.
The witching hour can be a tough phase to get through. It can be hard to see your baby upset, and hearing them cry can be overwhelming to you. You are also likely to be sleep-deprived as well.
Don’t forget to breathe.
Taking a minute for yourself can help you reset and continue supporting your little one to 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, set a timer for five minutes, and take that time to decompress.
Their crib is safe for them to be while you take a minute.
If you are having a difficult time processing the witching hour, don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you have a partner in the home, 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—you are not alone. While many babies experience this time, and many parents all over the world are trying all of the tricks to soothe their baby, it can still be a difficult phase.
Luckily, most babies grow out of the phase by the time they are three months.
If you are in the thick of the witching hour, there are many tricks you can try. Some will work for your little one, and some may not. Try a few and see if they have benefit for you and your baby. Don’t forget to take care of your mental health as well.
Take a safe break, or ask for help, so that you can reset.
Unfortunately, babies don’t come with a manual, and every baby is different.
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