Does your baby always seem to get upset at the same time of night? Does it seem like nothing you do during that time helps? Your baby may be experiencing the dreaded witching hour. The witching hour is a time when an otherwise content baby is extremely fussy. It typically occurs daily between 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm. It can last a few minutes to a couple of hours. For most babies, the witching hour starts to occur around 2-3 weeks and peaks at 6 weeks. It will typically completely resolve by 3-4 months.
The witching hour is different from colic. Babies who suffer from colic will cry for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for three weeks in an otherwise healthy child. If you try the techniques below and your baby’s fussiness does not improve it may be time to reach out to your Mainstreet Provider.
This is the number one reason for fussy babies. Babies can become overtired quickly. Your baby went from a warm, quiet, peaceful bath to stimulation at every corner. While they may seem like they are constantly sleeping at the beginning, by afternoon or evening time they may start to become more irritable if they haven’t had time to get into a deep, restful sleep. During this time babies can start releasing adrenaline into the bloodstream, making it hard to then fall asleep.
It is important to understand sleep cues and baby wake windows. If you are waiting for your baby to rub their eyes, you are waiting too long. Early sleep cues include redness of the eyelids and staring off. If you can get them to sleep at this time, you can avoid the dreadful witching hour altogether. Keep in mind baby wake windows during this early stage of life is only 60-90 minutes. That includes feeding time. Babies awake past this time may get overtired quickly.
To help with overtiredness, consider the following:
- Go outside
Not only is this good for relaxation but also exposure to daylight in the late afternoon and early evening can also help your baby to sleep better at night.
- Decrease the stimulation
Like we discussed before, your baby was in a warm bath where they were not used to faces, bright lights, or loud sounds. The world can be very overwhelming quickly. It is important to encourage dim lights and reduced noise in the evening hours. Consider having a prolonged quiet bedtime routine to help decrease the stimulation your baby is exposed to.
- Introduce water
Whether it is bath day or not, adding water can be soothing for the baby. If it is bath day, grab a washcloth, strip your baby down, and pour the warm water all over the baby. If it is not bath day, swaddle you, baby, up and tip the top of the baby’s head under warm water in the sink. The sound of running water can instantly calm some fussy babies as it often reminds them of the womb.
Sometimes during these fussy times, we can miss feeding cue. While feeding maybe every 2-3 hours during the day, in the evening your baby may want to feed more frequently. Most mothers let down is slower in the evening hours so sometimes babies will feed for the same amount of time they normally due but they won’t eat as much, thus making more frequent feeds necessary. The slower let down is not a supply issue but rather your body’s way of making sure we allow that baby to relax after feeding in preparation for sleep.
- Know your limits
We all know it is easy to get overwhelmed, especially when short on sleep and hormones are leveling out. It is important during these fussy times that you know when to ask for help. Babies are like animals, they can sense stress and frustrations. The more stressed and frustrated we get the more your baby will likely cry. Asking for help and knowing your limits is the perfect reset most parents need during the witching hour. Whether it is your spouse, family, or friends, know when you are reaching your limit.
If there isn’t someone you can ask for help, know when to set your baby down in the crib and step outside, go to the bathroom, or listen to a song with your noise-canceling headphone. At the end of the day, if you put your baby in a safe location, it gives you time to clear your brain and reset.
The key to avoiding the witching hour altogether is recognizing sleep cues, understanding wake windows, and anticipate before the witching hour starts. Consider starting your low stimulation or bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier than normal to help prevent the tears on both sides. Sleepy dreams!