Babies’ cries are designed to let you know that your baby needs something: milk, a nap, a new diaper, or even just a warm cuddle. But what happens when you meet your baby’s needs and the fussiness doesn’t stop? Enter: the witching hour. Can you say B-R-U-T-A-L?! But don’t worry, we’ve got all the details on what causes this, plus the tips you need to make it through.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- What the witching hour is (and why it happens)
- How long it lasts
- Tips to help soothe baby
- Plus, how to take care of yourself when the going gets tough
What is the Witching Hour?
The witching hour is a period of time (usually between late afternoon until just before a newborn’s bedtime) when baby cries more, is fussier than normal, and requires more soothing and feeding. Many breastfed babies will even cluster feed during this time.
What causes the witching hour?
Experts aren’t really sure why this happens, but there are several theories:
- Dip in milk production: Mama’s prolactin levels take a little dip at the end of the day, which can make some babies fussier at the breast as they try to get more milk.
- Overstimulation: A long or busy day can leave baby overstimulated and, as a result, fussy.
- Exhaustion: Just like an overtired toddler seems full of intense energy, an overtired baby might just be fussy as he gets ready for a long stretch of sleep.
What Time is the Witching Hour?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. The witching hour isn’t just “one hour” as the name implies; it’s more like the “witching hours.” The witching hour can vary from baby to baby, but it usually begins around 3-4 p.m. and lasts through 10-11 pm.
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How Long Does the Witching Hour Last?
The witching hour often begins when a baby is around two to three weeks old, and usually peaks when baby is around six to eight weeks old. Thankfully, it’s usually just a phase—most babies start to outgrow the witching hour around three months.
How to Get Through the Witching Hour
If you’re in the thick of the witching hour, it’s likely that you have one questions running through your mind: “How will I get through this?!” The good news is there are many strategies and coping mechanisms to make it through the witching hour. Try these tips the next time baby won’t stop fussing:
Offer the breast/cluster feed
If you suspect baby is fussy because of the natural dip in prolactin during the afternoon, then cluster feeding may be a good option for you. Cluster feeding not only stimulates more milk production, but it also gives your baby the chance to receive the nutrients he needs and the comfort/closeness that he wants.
Babywearing can offer many benefits to a fussy baby: closeness to mama or papa, soothing rocking motion, and a warm, safe place to nap. If your baby is overstimulated, it’s a good idea to avoid forward-facing carriers, as this can continue to overstimulate your baby.
According to a study published in The International Breastfeeding Journal, skin-to-skin has several benefits including: reduced crying, improved mother-baby bond, and stabilized vitals for baby. (source) During skin-to-skin, the body naturally releases stress-reducing hormones and as a result, baby’s vitals (i.e. temperature, breathing rate, heart rate) stabilize. It can literally calm your baby from the inside out. And as a bonus, this study suggests skin-to-skin contact has lasting benefits—even twenty years later!
Try baby massage
Even babies can benefit from the occasional massage. In fact, one study suggests infant massage is as effective as vibrating chairs in terms of successfully calming a colicky baby. What’s more, additional research found that baby massage lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and stimulates melatonin production, helping babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Reduce household stimuli by dimming the lights, turning off external noises (e.g. TVs, etc.), and creating a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere. You can even play soft music—try classical music, lullabies, or cello covers of pop songs. This not only help your baby unwind during the witching hour, but also helps get baby into a solid bedtime routine.
Draw a warm bath
Anecdotally, many mamas find that a warm bath is the perfect antidote for fussiness, and research backs this up. According to a study published in Early Human Development, a warm bath (especially with lavender essential oils) can reduce crying, promote more restful sleep, and calm down baby. (Source) Some researchers believe that human touch and interaction is part of what makes a bath so relaxing for a baby.
Go for a walk
Have you noticed that many baby rockers or bouncy seats have the option to play nature sounds? There is a very good reason for this: Nature sounds can actually calm a person. (source) But walking through nature is even more effective. Place your baby in a baby carrier and take a stroll around the block. Your baby will benefit from human touch, feeling your warmth, and listening to the sounds of nature.
In the womb, babies experience a lot of movement that, according to Dr. Harvey Karp, trigger a reflex that helps keep them relaxed. Even after birth, some babies simply can’t sleep without that same movement.
You can mimic this movement by:
- rocking baby in a glider,
- gently bouncing them on a medicine ball,
- walking with baby or gently bouncing them up and down in a baby carrier,
- using chairs, swings, and even bassinets that mimic natural movement.
Play white noise
If baby’s witching hour is triggered by overexertion or exhaustion, a white noise machine may help. According to a study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, 80 percent of babies who listen to a white noise machine fall asleep within five minutes. (source). Why does this help? According to pediatrician Dr. Harry Karp, this activates the calming instinct.
But it’s important to note that a white noise machine can further disrupt some babies, especially when they’re already upset. In these cases, the “shhh” sound may be more soothing. You can use your own voice, a Baby Shusher, the Baby Shushing app, or the sound of a hairdryer on loop. If using an app or a YouTube video, be sure to put your phone on airplane mode to limit EMF exposure.
How to Take Care of Yourself During the Witching Hour
Even though calming your baby during the witching hour is priority, it’s also important to take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is not only good for your own mental health, but it also allows you to be a better source of calmness for baby. In fact, studies say that mothers of highly irritable infants are more prone to depressive symptoms that can lead to the baby blues or postpartum depression.
Try these tips to take care of yourself when the going gets tough:
If the witching hour affects your ability to make dinner or take care of your other children, ask for help. Whether you need assistance around the house or a hand getting dinner on the table, reach out to your partner, a friend, or another family member.
Use nipple cream
Cluster feeding may calm your baby when the witching hour strikes, but don’t let your breasts take one for the team. Treat nipples with a DIY balm after each nursing session to prevent irritation and cracking. You can also use soothing Booby Tubes if needed.
Take a magnesium supplement for stress
Magnesium is known for combating muscle cramps, but did you know that magnesium also helps reduce stress and promote feelings of calm and relaxation? (source) If you think you might be low in magnesium, ask your healthcare practitioner if a magnesium supplement is right for you.
Support a positive mood
Don’t underestimate the power of your mindset. When you feel good, you’ll be able to handle the witching hour with more patience and positivity. Be sure you’re taking cod liver oil, getting daily sunlight, and eating a healthy diet—all things that help support a good mood. Exercise is another good mood-booster, and—bonus!—a daily stroll outside can boost your baby’s mood, too.
Lean on mom friends for support and reassurance
Sometimes just talking about the witching hour is therapeutic. It feels good to know that you’re not alone, that the witching hour is normal, and that other mamas have gone through this—and survived.
When the Witching Hour Might Signal Something More Serious
What happens if you think the witching hour is more than just the witching hour? If your baby is inconsolable day in and day out, you may have colicky baby on your hands.
Look out for the rule of three, when baby cries:
- For 3 hours a day,
- At least 3 days a week,
- For 3 consecutive weeks.
If you suspect the witching hour is something more, like colic, see your child’s pediatrician. They can help rule out any issues like acid reflux or dairy sensitivities and work with you to create a plan of action.
While the witching hour can be challenging to manage, it’s normal. It’s often just a phase—it will pass.