“Waaahhhh! Waaaahhh!” Just the thought of a crying baby can make your blood pressure rise. Nonstop crying is especially stressful for new parents who might not know how to make it stop!
You may have been warned about the dreaded “witching hour” — those late afternoon and early evening hours when your baby just can’t seem to settle down.
For many parents, it seems like the hours stretch on forever. But rest assured, your baby is not the only one who seems unsettled in the evening. Nighttime fussiness is common for babies.
Still new parents want to know: Why is it happening? How long will it last? And perhaps most importantly, how do you get it to stop? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the information you need to survive (and dare we say thrive?) during this challenging time.
The following might be causes your baby is suddenly fussy in the evening:
- Growth spurt hunger. As your baby goes through phases of intense growth (common growth spurts occur around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months), they may be hungry and want to cluster feed.
- Slower milk letdown. While many moms assume a fussy baby isn’t getting enough to eat, that may not always be the case. Still, your milk composition changes at night, and you may experience a slower milk flow. The change in milk volume might make for a cranky baby.
- Gas. If your baby is feeling gassy, and they can’t seem to pass it out of their tiny digestive system, they may feel very uncomfortable!
- Overtired baby. It’s a common misconception that keeping a baby awake longer will make them sleep longer. By the end of the day, if your little one has gone too long without a good nap they’ll be very tired. An overtired baby will have a hard time settling down.
- Overstimulated baby. A baby’s underdeveloped nervous system is more sensitive to bright lights, sounds, and changes in their environment. For instance, you may notice the light of the TV in a dark room, or maybe the volume alone, makes your baby cry.
- Colic. While all babies cry, if you find that your baby is crying for three hours or more, for three days a week, for three or more weeks, it’s time to see the doctor! Your pediatrician should do a thorough exam to rule out other conditions.
You may first notice your baby getting a little fussier in the evening hours when they hit 2 to 3 weeks of age. This period will likely correspond with a growth spurt and some increased cluster feeding.
For many babies the peak of evening fussiness occurs around 6 weeks. If you’re reaching that point, hold onto hope that it’s about to get better!
While there is no guaranteed time when babies outgrow the “witching hour,” it often ends around 3 to 4 months of age.
Calming a fussy baby can seem like an intricate dance that you’ll never be able to master. You may find that a technique that works today won’t work tomorrow. Fear not, though. We’ve got you covered with plenty of suggestions to try calming your fussy baby.
- Wear your baby. Not only does babywearing free up your hands to finish those end-of-day tasks, but being close to your heartbeat is extremely comforting for your little one.
- Take a walk. Not only can a change of environment be good for your baby, but the rhythm of walking is often a game changer. Bonus: meeting up with another adult to chat as you walk will help you keep your sanity!
- Reduce stimulation. Turn down the lights, reduce noises, and swaddle your baby to make it easier for their nervous system to calm. Doing so might even convince your baby to take a short cat nap.
- Give baby a massage. Touch is a great way to relax and bond with your baby. While you could incorporate oils or specific types of touch, massage is still effective when it’s very basic.
- Start bath time. Water can be extremely soothing for little ones and a great distraction. Even better, you’ll have a clean baby afterwards!
- Soothe with sound. Ssshhhing, soft music, and white noise can all be effective ways to soothe your little one. Don’t be afraid to experiment playing different types of music and different types of vocalists. You may be surprised by what your baby likes, and it may change from day to day!
- Vary breastfeeding positions. If your baby is hungry and keeps wanting to feed, try switching up positions. Even simple changes to your position can impact milk flow and your baby’s comfort.
If your baby seems to have gas, you may want to:
- Spend extra time burping baby. If your baby doesn’t burp after a few minutes of trying, it’s OK to move on and try something else!
- Bicycle their legs in the air. This technique is also useful if your baby is constipated.
- Try over-the-counter options. Before you consider gripe water or gas drops, discuss options with your baby’s doctor first.
- Choose slow-flow bottle nipples. By adjusting the nipple flow, less air may enter your baby’s digestive system with their milk.
- Change your baby’s formula. Before giving up on a beloved formula brand, you can also consider trying the same formula in a ready-made formula version, which might lead to less gas than the powdered kind.
- Experiment with your diet. If your breastfed baby is showing signs of gas discomfort and you’ve tried other solutions to no avail, it may be time to consider eliminating certain foods from your diet. (Foods to consider avoiding include dairy products and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.)
The late afternoon and early evening hours may seem very long if you have a fussy baby. Understanding the potential causes of your baby’s fussiness and trying different methods to soothe your little one will help you get through the witching hour. Remember that this, too, will pass.