If you have a fussy baby at night, you may be wondering what's going on. Faces are red; tears are falling, and patience is wearing thin. You’ve checked the diaper; you’ve fed and burped; you’ve rocked and walked and maybe even taken a car ride, and yet nothing seems to soothe your normally pleasant cherub of a child as they turn into an inconsolable screamer. Parental anxiety rises with the decibels, as night after weary night you endure the “Witching Hour”.
What is the Witching Hour?
If you are experiencing a normally content baby who for no discernable reason begins to cry inconsolably and consistently right about the time dinner needs to be made, and continues into the evening, these may be signs of the witching hour. When is the witching hour? The witching hour baby typically descends upon a household around the age of 2-4 weeks. It is a stressful time for many parents who are caught by surprise when their previously peaceful child begins to morph into a screamer consistently each late afternoon or early evening.
What Causes Baby Witching Hour?
The witching hour doesn’t have an exact known cause. Many experts believe babies who are overtired, overstimulated or experiencing digestive discomfort will succumb to consistent bouts of crying in the late afternoon and early evening hours. Some use the term “colic” interchangeably with “witching hour”. Colic, however, has a more specific diagnosis related to digestive issues. Your pediatrician can help you discern which you are dealing with.
For breastfeeding moms, another cause might be a lower milk supply. After a busy or stressful day, mama’s milk supply can drop off by the late afternoon. Try a few days of longer, more frequent breast feedings that provide more of your calorie rich hind milk. This, along with plenty of fluids for the nursing mama, may bring relief if a low milk supply was the cause of your baby’s discontent.
Although crying in babies isn't generally a medical problem, you should still rule out any medical reasons for your baby's crying. Contact your pediatrician if your baby has any of the following symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
- Not as alert and active as usual
- Losing weight or not gaining weight
- Loose or bloody stools
- Not eating
- Not sucking well
- Won't calm down, no matter what you do
The mystery of it all is what makes it the “witching hour”. This frustrating realization is only tempered by the fact that it doesn’t last forever. Like many of the difficult stages of parenting, the witching hour will end.
When Do Infants Grow Out of the Witching Hour?
After sneaking up on you in the first few weeks of life, the witching hour will typically resolve itself. When does the witching hour end? You can usually expect relief by around the age of 3 to 4 months. If you are in the throes of these unexplainable crying spellings, that may seem like an eternity, but you will survive. Thoughtful preparation can help you manage your own stress levels as you give your child all the patient, loving care they deserve.
Tips to Cope with the Witching Hour
It’s important to evaluate your routine, as overstimulation is the biggest potential reason for the witching hour. Examine your baby’s patterns of eating and sleeping during the day. If it is truly the unexplainable witching hour, increasing feedings or altering nap times during the day will have little effect. These baby witch tips will assist you in soothing your infant and making the best of a difficult but short-lived season:
Turn on white noise — You can try a white noise machine, a fan, or a recording of a heartbeat.
Hold your baby in your arms on their left side or stomach — This may soothe temporary digestion issues.
Put your baby in a sling and walk or rock them — This reminds your baby of being in the womb. It may comfort them.
Give your baby a pacifier or your finger to suck on — Sucking is soothing for most babies.
Don't overfeed your baby — Try to wait at least 2 to 2.5 hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next. Being too full can make your baby uncomfortable.
Check for food sensitivity — If breastfeeding, you may want to try eliminating milk, caffeine, or cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) from your diet. Some bottle-fed babies show signs of milk protein intolerance that a doctor can identify. Bottle-fed babies may need their pediatrician to change their formula.
Take note — Keep a diary of when they eat, sleep, wake, and cry. You may find a pattern that you can discuss with your baby's doctor.
Sleep begets sleep — It is important to remember that infants need quite a bit of sleep, so maximizing it can help them rest at the end of the day! Don't neglect naps thinking your baby will sleep better at night. Baby will likely become overtired. But don’t let your baby nap for more than 2 hours at a time during the day either. Try putting your baby to bed earlier if they are having trouble settling at their usual evening bedtime.
Massage your baby — Research has shown that baby massage lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and stimulates melatonin production, helping babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Keep calm and carry on — Babies mirror the emotions of their caregiver. Take a break if you are stressed. Get some fresh air with your baby in a stroller or a baby carrier. Take a slightly warm bath with your baby. It is totally okay to put your baby down in a safe place and take a few minutes to de-stress. Ask for help when you need it.
When Does Witching Hour End?
Technically infants outgrow the witching hour by 4 months of age, however, if you have a little one who is overtired, then they may be fussier in the late afternoon/early evening hours regardless of age.
It is helpful to check out the obvious reasons a baby may be crying:
- Diaper needs to be changed
- Too hot or cold (wearing a Woolino sleep bag will help regulate your little one’s temperature)
- Ongoing digestion issues
- Wants a change of position
- Something is painful (hair tourniquets)
If you are ever concerned about why your newborn is fussy in the evening, or any time of day, trust your instincts and always consult your pediatrician!