Babies are beautiful creatures, full of wonder and joy for those around them. However, we wished everything was magical and straightforward, but it’s not.
Some challenges come with a newborn, from growth spurts to successfully setting up a sleep routine, and one of the most stressful ones is the dreaded baby’s witching hour.
What’s the witching hour?
Around early evening, most babies will start to get fussy, and the usual soothing techniques you use won’t work. This is called the baby witching hour, or more accurately witching hours, which usually happens between late afternoon and early evening.
It usually starts around 2-3 weeks, and it usually fades away at the 3-4 month mark. During this time, your otherwise content baby won’t stop crying, and although you may think that nothing you do is working, some things may actually help you get through these difficult times.
How to differentiate between the witching hour and a health issue
Let’s be honest, newborn parents, especially of a 2-3 weeks old baby, are mostly overwhelmed and overtired, so it’s normal to get confused and doubt yourself.
Colicky babies will also start crying uncontrollably. However, some signs tell you that this is more than an intense case of the witching hour.
If your baby constantly cries for more than three hours a day and more than three days a week, for three weeks in a row, and is also arching their back and pulling their legs towards their stomach, it may be a sign of colic. Newborns’ digestive system is immature and prone to colic during this phase.
Another issue may be reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease caused by the stomach acids affecting your baby’s esophagus when they spit-up. This is very painful and should be treated to prevent further health issues for your baby.
If your baby is showing any of the previously described signs, contact your pediatrician immediately.
How to manage the baby’s witching hour
So, once you’ve checked for signs of a health issue and found none, but you’re still dealing with a fussy baby who is ordinarily calm throughout the day but at the end of the day starts the crying cycle, then you need to find ways to ride through the episode.
Here are some things to take into consideration while dealing with the witching hours.
1. Overtired baby
There’s a common misconception that the less a baby sleeps during the day, the more they will sleep at night. This may work for older kids and adults, but overtired babies produce cortisol and adrenaline, which prevents them from falling asleep.
It sounds contradictory, but the truth is that the more tired your baby is, the harder it gets for them to get a good restful sleep.
That’s why naps are so important, and keeping a healthy routine that programs your baby to understand when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to sleep.
2. Ambient stimulation
Late afternoon is the time of the day when things pick up at our houses. Other children start to settle down, and partners come back from being out the whole day.
So imagine what it means for newborns who’ve spent 40 weeks in a calm and warm environment and often with a single caregiver during the day. In comes the evening hours and everything is active; there’s a lot of noise and movement all around them.
Their immature nervous system goes into overdrive, leaving us with a classic case of witching hour.
What to do then? Take your baby to a more calm space with dimmed lights and maybe use white noise (which closely resembles the sound our babies hear inside our wombs) to create calm. A warm bath or letting warm water trickle down your baby’s head can soothe your crying baby.
Carrying your baby and rocking them, wearing them with the aid of a baby carrier, placing them in contact with our skin, and allowing our heartbeats to soothe them could also help.
Often singing or humming while carrying your baby on your chest helps them during the witching hour because the vibrations and warmth calm them down.
3. Cluster feeding
Towards the end of the day, our prolactin levels may decrease, whether from stress or poor sleep and tiredness, and cause a lower milk supply. But in the evening hours, babies tend to feed more often, which is totally normal.
Cluster feed is not a significant issue with formula-fed babies or if you combine formula and breastfeeding, but for a mom who exclusively breastfeeds, this is a challenge.
Your body and milk supply will eventually adapt to your baby’s demand, but in the meantime, have some patience and let your body do its job.
If you’re not against bottle feeding, a tip is to have a breastmilk reservoir to use during the night until you can increase your milk production. Calculate the extra breastmilk you require to achieve cluster feeding during the witching hour and pump the same amount, or a little more, to bottle feed it to your baby.
Remember that breastmilk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and frozen for 6-12 months.
4. Get fresh air
Most parents report that getting out of the house and changing the scenery helps a lot with fussy babies as well as for the caregiver. Put your baby in their carrier and take a walk around the block or take your baby to a park.
If you can’t take your baby out of the house for whatever reason, open a window or to a patio or balcony and let your baby enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.
If you do this, whether you’re dealing with the witching hours or not, your baby may sleep better at night. Also, doctors recommend direct sunlight on a baby to regulate melatonin production and prevent jaundice, and about 30 minutes a week is enough.
5. Know your limits
Most moms feel a lot of guilt and peer pressure because they have a preconceived notion of what motherhood should be like, but the truth is that real life may be way different than we expected.
Newborns are particularly challenging, and an otherwise healthy child can constantly be crying for no apparent reason.
Add this to a sleep-deprived mom or parents, and you may find yourself not only with a baby crying, but you will also want to cry yourself. This, too, is normal and part of the process.
So, if you feel that you cannot handle the situation and are getting increasingly aggravated with your baby, it’s okay to step away and take a minute for yourself.
Ask someone to take the baby for a minute or place your baby in their crib or another safe place, and walk away until you’ve calmed down and regained some strength.
Yes, the baby will still cry while you do this, but letting your baby cry won’t be an issue if your baby is in a safe place.
Babies feed on our emotions, so the baby will be affected if mom is stressed or frazzled. Notice how sometimes a crying baby may instantly calm when you pass them over to someone else. That’s because they feel the person’s emotions and sort of mimic them.
So take the time to do some breathing exercises, listen to calming music, get some fresh air, and do whatever you need so you can go back to your baby and be there for them.
This can be applied not only through the witching hours but whenever you feel overwhelmed.
6. Asking for help is okay
Another misconception is that a good mother should be able to handle everything by herself. That’s so not true.
Motherhood is hard, and you’re just a human. And guess what? People love babies and helping out with them, especially family and friends, so they will be delighted to take care of your little one while you get a moment to yourself.
You may find some things overwhelming because you’ve been immersed with your baby, dealing with everything from feeding, changing diapers, keeping a sleep schedule, and overall taking care of your baby and yourself. But the others not only have had a good night’s sleep, but after they’ve helped you, they will go back to a less chaotic routine at the end of the day.
Even your partner should be allowed to help. Ask him/her to take over some feeding times while you get a chance to eat or sleep a little longer.
And the next time a friend or a relative comes around or calls to ask what you need, let them take over for a little while. They also need to bond with the baby, and if they’re willing to help during the witching hours or for whatever hours of the day, then be glad you and your baby have the support needed.
If you don’t have people in your life that you can lean on for support, you can also seek help from other places outside of your circle. Learn more here.
When does witching hour end?
The good news is that the witching hour is just a phase, and it will fade away around the 3 or 4-month mark.
So hold on for a bit longer and know that, even though it seems it will be like this forever, it won’t.
There’s a lot to enjoy about motherhood, but the truth is that a baby may always be facing different challenges as part of their normal development and growth.
The witching hour, or hours, can leave you feeling as if you’re doing something wrong and make you dread the evening hours.
But you need to understand that as a new parent, the first weeks are crucial because you’re starting to get to know and shape a human being, and that in itself is not an easy task.
So be gentle with yourself, take care of your own needs, remember to eat, and have some hours for yourself, whenever possible, to remind yourself that you still have needs that should be fulfilled. Having a baby doesn’t change that.
Remember that if you’re not okay, you won’t be able to help others, your baby included.