As a new parent dealing with a fussy baby, you may be feeling alone, exhausted and overwhelmed. But it may be helpful to learn you aren’t the only one going through this. Many newborns go through a period of fussy, sleepless evenings. You might have heard it referred to as the witching hour.
The baby “witching hour” – is it real? Is it normal? And what can you do about it? Read on to find out more.
Is The “Baby Witching Hour” Real?
Even if you’ve never heard of the witching hour, you may have experienced it. The term baby witching hour refers to a fussy period (which can actually last many hours) that many newborn babies experience. These fussy evenings generally begin around 5-6 weeks of age and can last for a few months. Your baby may cry and fuss for hours on end, or they may drift off to sleep only to pop their eyes open again 10 minutes later.
There’s a reason why the tired new parent is such a prevalent stereotype!
The good thing to know is that this IS just a phase and it will NOT go on forever. This too shall pass. And it doesn’t mean you are going to have a very upset infant, toddler or child. So what does it mean?
Why Do Babies Get Fussy In The Evenings?
An internet search reveals a plethora of possible answers/explanations for the witching hour including: Cluster feeding, colic, digestive discomfort, or brain development. Although no one really knows for sure what causes this fussy evening phase, it does seem to be possibly related to feeding and digestion as well as overstimulation.
There is a growth spurt right around the age of 6 weeks old which can cause increased hunger. This is what leads to cluster feeding, especially in breastfeeding babies. In addition, at this age babies are beginning to spend more of their time awake and less time sleeping. Cognitive development at this stage is also exploding. Your baby’s brain has been stimulated all day and so settling down again at night can be difficult for them.
All of the increased activity in the home during the busy evening hours, and the challenge of mom’s divided attention only add to the overstimulation of your already-tired newborn.
What Can You Do About The Baby Witching Hour?
Now that you know you’re not alone, and a little bit about what causes it, you’re probably wondering what you can do about it. There are some things you can try to soothe your baby, and some coping strategies and tips to help calm your nerves also!
Soothing Your Baby
Even though it seems contrary to what you would think, your baby may be having trouble settling down to go to sleep because he or she is OVER tired. If your baby isn’t taking enough naps during the day, this could actually make bedtime more of a struggle.
Some parents have found success with a soothing lavender bath or diffusing soothing scents of essential oils. Skin to skin contact can also help to settle your baby. Trying to wear your baby in a sling may help you be able to still accomplish some tasks around the house while simultaneously soothing and supporting your fussy infant.
In addition, you’ll want to re-create the womb as much as you can. This is why parenting clichés such as motion and swaddling help many babies sleep.
The 5 S’s method is a popular technique that helps overstimulated and fussy babies calm down. Many swear by this method to soothe a cranky baby instantly.
- Side-lying position
- Shushing sound (or white noise)
- Sucking – finger, bottle, nipple or pacifier
You may have heard some of these old clichés before, but motion that simulates the womb environment really can help. Go outside for a long walk around the neighborhood, take a drive with baby, or try placing them in a swing. Another option is holding your baby while bouncing on a large fitness or birthing ball.
Since the in-utero environment is actually very loud, a white noise machine may help your baby feel comforted and able to fall asleep more easily.
If these soothing methods aren’t working, there could be something else going on. There has been some evidence that the witching hour could be related to digestion and that cluster feeding can make the cycle worse. If you suspect that colic or other digestive issues could be exacerbating the issue you could try giving baby some relieving products such as gripe water, probiotics soothing drops, or colic calm. And if you suspect that excessive gas may be a factor, you’ll want to be sure to ramp up your burping efforts. Many parents underestimate just how much trapped wind their new baby has and how many times they will need to burp for relief.
In the end, it really comes down to trial and error – finding what works for your family and your baby. You may need to try many (or all) of the tips and tricks listed above to find one that works for you. You may even find that some strategies work some evenings but not on others. Sometimes your upset baby will actually resist soothing and just needs to cry for a short time. These next coping strategies will help YOU get through it.
Coping Mechanisms for Parents
This fussy hour often comes at the most inconvenient times for many families. The evening hours are when parents are just getting home from work, and are trying to prepare dinner, help older kids with homework, get ready for bed, etc. When you yourself are already tired from the stresses of a long day, you will probably be feeling less equipped to handle the additional challenges of a tired, upset baby.
Sometimes the only thing you can do is to ride it out and know that it will not last forever. Here are some tips / wisdom that many parents have found helpful to get through this phase:
To help reduce the number of things you need to worry about in the evenings, try to prep dinner earlier in the day, order in if possible, or take advantage of meal trains and those well-meaning friends and family who have been practically begging to help.
Many parents find relief by taking turns with the care of your baby during this fussy period. Since the witching hour typically occurs in the evenings, this may be right around the time when a working parent is arriving home and can take over for a few hours. Having a set time when you know you will be getting a break can help reduce your stress and anxiety of dealing with a crying baby.
Some families prefer to have a grandparent or other family member come to help for a few weeks or months during this period of parenthood. Another option is to hire a postpartum doula or nanny. You don’t have to go through this alone.
If you have other friends or neighbors who are new moms, you may even find it helpful to get together as a group in the evenings and support each other. In Western society today, parenting has become very isolated, but it can be very helpful to get back to your roots and find or create a community. As the saying goes – it takes a village!
When you are completely alone in a house with a screaming infant, you can start to feel like you are going crazy. Getting outside or calling a friend to come help is very helpful.
It may sound harsh, but if the crying is beginning to stress you out, putting in some earplugs can help reduce the volume. If you’re not a fan of earplugs, playing some soothing music in the house for you and baby or even upbeat music for you can be a real mood changer. Some parents even enjoy putting baby in a sling and dancing around the house.
Another thing to note – this may not be the time to force a regimented evening routine or strict bedtime – just relax and go with it. There’s nothing wrong with an early bedtime or flexible evening routine. Find what works for you – and if it isn’t broken; don’t fix it. There will be plenty of time to try again with more structure when your baby is a little bit older.
Managing your own stress is just as important as managing your baby’s distress. Once the sweet relief of bedtime has arrived – treat yourself with a favorite chocolate, a bubble bath or a phone call to a friend. You’ve got this!
When Should I See A Doctor?
If you find that your baby is fussy all day long and not just a few hours in the evening, it may be due to another reason. These possible reasons include digestion troubles, food allergies, an ear infection, lack of sleep, constipation or reflux. Keep an eye out for signs of pain such as an arched back, grunting, high-pitched screaming and crying, or grimacing. If your baby is showing obvious signs of pain, consult with a doctor as soon as possible.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to follow your gut. As new parents, especially new mothers, our instincts kick in and we *know* when something is wrong. While some crying is normal, if you feel that something else is going on with your fussy infant, don’t hesitate to visit a healthcare provider or consult with a nursing consultant or postpartum doula for some extra help.
Even though the fussy days and nights seem endless, your baby will outgrow this stage before you know it. Some fussy evenings are normal as your newborn learns to adapt to this new, chaotic world around them. Trying some of the tips, tricks and strategies in this article should help provide some sweet relief for you and baby both!