What is Witching Hour, and how on earth do you survive it?
Do not worry; you are not alone; surviving witching hour is not for the faint hearted. But you already know this, so let us discuss some tips to help you survive this period in your baby’s life.
What is Witching Hour?
I will start by saying this is not so much a Witching Hour as it is Witching Hours. This time of the day is not limited to one hour. Witching hour describes that part of the day between early and late evening (5 p.m. – 11 p.m.) when you find your baby will not settle. Some babies remain unsettled for a chunk of this time, whilst other babies are unsettled for no more than a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the more tired they become, the crankier they become.
Fortunately, this phase does not last too long. This unsettledness phase typically starts around the 3-week mark and peaks at six weeks, resolving between 3 – 4 months.
Signs of Witching Hour
Here are some of the signs to look out for:
- Your ordinarily happy baby is crying for no apparent reason in the early and late evening.
- Your baby is difficult to settle and cries for a few hours despite your best settling efforts.
- Your baby cluster feeds yet does not settle. Or your baby may even reject feeding – always fussing – this was the case with my son.
What Causes Witching Hour?
No-one knows definitively what causes Witching Hour, with some experts saying it does not even exist. Then, of course, some lucky parents sail smoothly through these hours without noticing any difference in their baby's temperament.
However, here are some theories as to what causes Witching Hour:
- Tempo in the household changes – It usually is at this time of the day when there is a flurry of activity at home. Older children are picked up from day-care, partners are coming home from work, dinner is being prepared, televisions may be on, siblings squabbling etc. All this activity can be too much for babies; they become overwhelmed and unsettled.
- Your baby is overtired – This is a bit of a vicious cycle. Your baby starts to fuss in the early evening when all the activity is going on. They become increasingly difficult to settle, which means it goes past their usual bedtime. As a result, they become overtired, making it more difficult for them to relax and sleep, and so it continues.
- Lower milk supply – Mums find that their milk flow is less, which can be very frustrating for a hungry and tired baby toward the end of the day. Low milk supply is normal because the hormone that produces milk (prolactin) is lower at the end of the day.
- Growth spurts – Babies experience many growth spurts during their first year, many of these during the first few months.
What Makes Witching Hour So Challenging?
- End of the day – Everyone is tired – you, your partner, your baby. Everyone needs some rest, yet you must find some energy reserves to get through the next few hours.
- A build-up of anxiety – Unfortunately, when unsettledness has been going for a few nights, you start to expect and dread this time of the day. You begin to feel stressed and tense, knowing what lies ahead.
- Parent preference – Often, a baby may only want one parent, and although you may not think it is possible, your baby may become even louder when handed to the other parent. This refusal to go to anyone else makes it particularly hard for the preferred parent.
- Worry – Parents can start to worry that there is something wrong with their baby. It is hard to believe that a tiny human can make so much noise if nothing is wrong.
10 Tips for Coping with Witching Hour
Tip 1 – Keep Your Baby Close
This tip may seem like an obvious one, as your baby will probably scream even louder if you try to put them down. Try placing your baby in a baby carrier, go for a walk – sometimes the movement and change of scenery is all your little one needs to settle down.
Tip 2 – Don’t Ditch Your Bedtime Routine.
As tempting as it may be, now is not the time to ditch the bedtime routine. Read a book, sing a song, give them a lovely baby massage – a consistent routine can help your little one to settle.
Tip 3 – Take a Bath together.
Bathing with your little one can help to soothe and relax them.
Tip 4 – Remind Yourself that all Babies Sleep Eventually.
It may not feel like it at the time, but all babies eventually fall asleep, often from exhaustion. So, try to stay calm and remind yourself that the time will pass and your little one will ultimately be sleeping soundly.
Tip 5 – Ask for Help.
Ask your partner or a grandparent for help; it is not realistic to think that you can do it all, especially when you are probably running on empty yourself.
Tip 6 – Offer a Feed.
You could try to offer a feed. Some babies do cluster feed during this time. However, do not become concerned if your baby rejects feeding. My son would often refuse the breast at this time of the day. Initially, I thought there was something wrong with my milk (I even sent my husband out late one night to buy formula, which my son also rejected).
Tip 7 – Try Skin to Skin
Your baby will likely calm down when they feel their skin against yours. Enjoy the snuggles with your little one, and you will find yourself relaxing as well.
Tip 8 – Be Organised
I know this is easier said than done with a newborn in the house. But try to be organised by preparing meals in advance and freezing them. If you are bottle-feeding, prepare bottles in advance of Witching Hour and get any other things you may need to survive, like food and drinks for yourself.
Tip 9 – Be Flexible
Sometimes you need to ‘give in' to your baby. If you have done everything you can, and nothing is calming them, then all you can do is hold them close, rock them and do whatever you can to help them settle.
Tip 10 – Reduce Stimulation
As I mentioned, this is often the time when the tempo goes up in the house. Try dimming the lights and reducing the noise and if you can, take your baby into a quiet room and sit with them.
When to Check with your Paediatrician
Whilst this incessant crying is normal, how do you know if something else is afoot?
If your baby cries for 3 hours or more constantly, for three or more days, your little one may have colic. Colic often starts around six weeks and resolves itself between 3 – 4 months. If your baby is arching their back and/or pulling their legs towards their tummy, it could be colic.
Reflux could also be the cause of all the crying. If your baby does have reflux, you will probably notice frequent spits ups that make your baby very unhappy.
If you are concerned about prolonged periods of crying, it is best to discuss this with your paediatrician.
The Witching Hour can be stressful and feel never-ending. But as with the many phases your little one is still going to go through, this too shall pass. Remember to look after yourself and to get help where you can.