It’s that time of the day again! Your normally happy-go-lucky baby has turned into a fussy, inconsolable child who just won’t stop crying. And that’s even though you’ve done all the things that usually settle them.
Bet you feel like adding your own tears to the deluge. Could this be the witching hour?
Once you’ve been there, you’ll understand. Most parents will nod in sympathy when you mention the witching hour. And that’s because many of us have jiggled an otherwise calm baby through these hours. Yes, sorry to say, but that’s actually hours not hour.
The witching hour seems to happen around the same time every day. Think late afternoon, evening, and into the early night hours: anywhere from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. The good news is that this challenging (it certainly does stretch your nerves taut) period eventually comes to an end.
Keep tabs on it and you’ll see that it often begins between weeks 2 or 3, peaks around week 6, and then comes to end around the 3-month mark.
So if the witching hour is a real challenge and doesn’t belong to fairy tales, what actually causes it? While no one has any definitive answers, there are several theories.
- Hustle and bustle. Does the tempo in your house pick up in the late afternoon and early evening? Usually these are the hours when other kids and partners are coming home or you’re picking up from child care. You need to prepare supper and you suddenly remember that work call that you must make. There’s a lot going on and the overstimulation can be too much for some babies. The crying cycle could be a sign that your baby needs some peace and quiet.
- Too tired. Babies from birth to 12 weeks get overtired very quickly. When your baby is overtired, cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream. You’ll find it especially hard to soothe your baby when these wake-up hormones are streaming through their little body.
- Lower milk supply. Most moms find that toward the end of the day, their milk supply seems to be less plentiful. Possibly, this happens because our levels of prolactin (the hormone that helps produce milk) are lower at the end of the day. Lower levels of prolactin mean a slower milk flow and that’s understandably frustrating for a hungry baby.
- Growth spurts. During their first year, your baby will go through many growth spurts. Usually, these growth spurts will come at around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months old. Celebrate these milestones and know that, for a few days, your baby may be fussier and want to eat more.
Witching hour isn’t always an integral part of child raising. In fact, while some parents may face real challenges at the witching hour, some lucky others will glide smoothly through these hours. Here’s to a glitch-free ride for all of us!
If you’re one of the parents who has to rise to this challenge, here’s what you can do to make it easier for yourself and your baby.
If your baby is breastfeeding, you’re probably nursing on average about every 2 to 4 hours. If you’re giving formula, you probably started by offering 1 to 2 ounces of infant formula every 2 to 3 hours and then increased it when it looked like they were still hungry.
But these numbers don’t work when it comes to the witching hour. During these hours, your baby may want to cluster feed, or feed every 30 minutes or more. That’s fine. They may be going through a growth spurt, looking for extra comfort, or filling up their belly for a longer sleep at night. (Longer night sleep? Yay to that!)
Pop in a pacifier
Noticed that babies love to suck? Try using a pacifier to calm your baby instead of offering your breast or a bottle. Cluster feeding may contribute to the challenges of the witching hour because it can overload your baby’s digestive system. Using a pacifier gives you a second advantage.
Check for burps
Gas that is caught in your baby’s belly will make them fret. Make sure that your help release the gas by helping them to burp by patting their back gently or holding them over your shoulder with their stomach resting on your shoulder. Mess alert: Keep a cloth handy for when your baby spits up.
Consider your own stress level
Ever noticed how a fussy baby can suddenly calm down when someone else holds them? Yup, babies can read the emotions of their caregivers. If you’re frazzled, your baby will be fretful; if you’re calm, your baby will relax. Take some deep breaths. Meditate for a bit if you can.
Lesson 101 of witching hour is to remind yourself that you are the best parent for this baby and that you can do it.
If you can, try to step outside. Preferably make a short trip to the park or even just around the block. Being outside gives you a chance to clear your head, forget about the chores that are waiting for you at home, and remember that this baby is usually adorable.
Your baby is used to movement. Remember you carried them around for 9 months? Try putting them in a swing and letting the motion soothe them. If you want to free up your arms so you can work, use a baby carrier.
Try skin to skin
Close contact with your baby can work like a charm. Your baby will most likely relax when they feel your skin against theirs. And as you snuggle up and inhale that baby scent, you probably will too.
Don’t be shy to ask for help. If you’re getting frustrated, or just need a break, ask your partner or a family member to help out. They’ve probably been waiting for you to ask.
So much for the witching hour. But could the incessant crying be something more? It depends. If your baby is crying for 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, for 3 or more weeks at a time, you might want to consider colic. Especially if your baby is arching their back or pulling up their legs towards their belly.
Colic starts at around 6 weeks and often fades by month 3 or 4. Colic could be caused by (surprise, surprise) too much milk. If you have an oversupply of milk coupled with a forceful letdown, your baby could be taking in too much air while feeding. This will give them lots of gas and pain.
Reflux (or GERD for gastroesophageal reflux disease, when the reflux happens often, causing damage to the esophageal lining) could also make your baby cry that tad too much. Reflux happens where irritating stomach acids are regurgitated into the esophagus. Think heartburn to empathize with your baby.
If it’s reflux, you’ll probably notice that your baby frequently spits up and seems unhappy about it. Your best bet, if you’re concerned about prolonged periods of crying, is to contact your pediatrician.
The witching hour is stressful! Your baby is a teeny individual with their own teeny needs that can seem very large at certain times of the day. But keep going… know you’ve got this… because this too will pass.