The baby witching hour is a dreadful but common phase among babies. Learn how to help calm your newborn during their witching hour, so you can both make it to bedtime!
The first time I heard about a baby witching hour, I was holding my very small, very mad 3 week old daughter and staring at her in disbelief.
How was she making that much noise? She was basically asleep for the first 3 weeks of her life. The change in her temperament (and decibels) was a huge shock!
“It’s her witching hour,” my mom said matter-of-factly. I brushed it off as an old wives tale, but then it happened the next evening. And the next.
It turns out, my mom was right. After doing some research and talking with other parents I knew, I realized the witching hour was a very real (and very common!) phenomenon with newborns.
I know you might feel like breaking down at the end of the day along with your little one, but I’m here to help you get through it. Learn more about your baby’s witching hour and how you can both survive it!
What is the Witching Hour and How Long Does It Last?
The newborn witching hour is a name for the extra fussy period of time at the end of your baby’s day. Not every baby goes through a witching hour phase, but it is super common.
When your newborn is between 2 to 3 weeks old, you might start to notice that they are extra grumpy in the late afternoon and evening hours (between about 5 to 10 pm). Thankfully, like so many other phases in your newborn’s life, the witching hour is not something that will last forever.
The witching hour will probably start to fade away when your baby is around 3 months old.
So why is the witching hour a common development in newborns?
What Causes the Witching Hour?
Some causes of the witching hour include:
Overstimulation & Fatigue – It’s common at the end of the day to have an overstimulated baby. There are so many new things for your baby to take in throughout the day. Sometimes all the stimulation and sensory overload makes it harder for them to calm down and rest and this is sometimes why babies fight sleep.
By the late afternoon, you might have an overtired baby on your hands. It sounds counterintuitive, but an overtired newborn will have trouble falling asleep, especially for that last nap of the day.
Hunger – Did you know that a dip in prolactin hormones later in the day might be making your milk supply lower and slower? You’re probably feeding your baby at all the regular intervals, but there’s a chance they aren’t getting the regular fill-up during later feedings.
Formula incompatibility – For babies who are formula fed, it could be contributing to their discomfort. It is estimated that about 5% of babies have a milk-soy protein imbalance (MSPI). If your baby is frequently spitting up after eating formula, you should consult your pediatrician. They might recommend switching to a hypoallergenic formula.
Colic – Developmentally, the appearance of witching hour sometimes coincides with colic symptoms in newborns. You may even hear some parents use the terms “colic” and “witching hour” interchangeably. However, the witching hour(s) happen towards the end of the day, and colic is prolonged upset throughout the day.
The difference between a baby witching hour baby vs colic is that a colicky baby will be inconsolable long before and after the traditional witching hours.
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How Do I Deal with My Baby’s Witching Hour?
Now that you can identify what’s happening, what are some things you can do to ease your baby (and yourself!) through the witching hour? Here are five tips that can help you make it through to bedtime.
1. Watch your Baby’s Wake Windows
Your witching hour baby might be overtired. I know it can feel like your newborn does nothing but eat and sleep all day, but that’s okay! In those first few weeks of your baby’s life, they only need to be awake long enough to eat and get a fresh diaper.
Up until about 11 weeks old, your newborn will only be able to stay awake 30-60 minutes at a time. I know it’s tempting to keep them awake for longer, hoping they’ll get longer stretches of sleep at night. Don’t do it! Keep in mind: sleep begets sleep and follow a newborn sleep schedule to make sure you’re on track!
2. Comfort Using the Shush-Pat
If witching hour starts before the last nap of the day, your baby might need some extra help getting to sleep.
To try this method, place your baby on a safe and comfortable surface for napping (ideally their crib). Gently roll your baby to their side, keeping your hand on them firmly but gently. Pat their back while making a shushing noise (“shhhshhhshhh”) near their ear.
3. Try the 5 S’s
Your witching hour baby might not be ready to sleep just yet, but they might still need some extra comfort. Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s method provides some great options for comforting your little one.
As a refresher, the 5 S’s stand for
- side/stomach position
Work your way through the S’s with your baby to see if any of them provide additional comfort or relief.
I’ve seen the 5 S’s work on a lot of fussy babies. It’s also nice because it offers some soothing technique variety. Maybe your baby is over the pacifier by the end of the day, but a good swing could be just what they need.
4. Offer Physical Closeness
Sometimes the only thing that can help a fussy baby is knowing their momma is near. Try holding your little one, rocking them, wearing them, or even allowing them to feed more frequently for comfort.
If you need your hands free, there are still ways to offer the closeness your baby is craving. Try wearing them against your body in a sling or carrier.
There are lots of great baby-wearing options for newborns out there. Wearing your baby allows you to comfort them and free up your hands to get those end-of-the day tasks done.
5. Do A Favorite Activity
Saving a favorite activity for the end of the day when your baby is at their fussiest can be a game-changer. Sometimes all your baby needs to get their mind off of their discomfort is a distraction.
Does your baby like being in the water? Turn the witching hour into bath time! Does your newborn seem to enjoy music? Maybe it’s time to turn on some classical tunes to distract them.
When my daughter was a newborn, our witching hours were filled with lots of walks. The fresh air and change of scenery always helped to provide a reset for us. Getting some physical activity also helped me to feel better even if my daughter continued to fuss while we walked.
If none of these tips seem to work and you are starting to feel overwhelmed, be gentle with yourself. Remember that you need to take breaks too, especially if you find yourself feeling upset, helpless, or angry that your baby isn’t calming down.
Tag out with another caretaker to share some of the witching hour responsibility if you can. If that’s not an option but you still need a break, place your baby safely in their crib and walk away for a few minutes.
Take deep breaths, and remember it will not be this hard forever. The crying will stop.
When Do Babies Outgrow The Witching Hour?
The big question is when does this dreaded witching hour end, right?
Most parents see an improvement in newborn witching hour fussiness by the time their baby is three months old, but there is a chance it will last a little longer.
You might also see a recurrence of the witching hour in your toddler.
Toddler Witching Hour
If you are starting to experience the witching hour with your toddler, keep in mind that it’s still developmentally appropriate. Towards the end of the day, it may seem like your toddler has more physical energy (hello, hyper!), but chances are good that their emotional energy is low.
Has your toddler been at daycare or preschool during the day? If so, they’ve been spending the whole day following rules and not getting attention from you. By the end of the day, they’ll seek connection and reassurance from you. They’ll probably also test some boundaries that they didn’t dare test while they were at daycare.
The witching hour is a good time to connect with your toddler. Give them some personalized, one-on-one attention. Let them know you’re there for them.
Toddler witching hour is also a great time to try to distract your little one with play. Sensory activities (like Kinetic Sand, Play-Doh, or a water table) can help keep them engaged when their bodies feel tired and wiggly.
If you have things you need to get done, consider setting up your toddler’s play activities nearby so they can still feel your closeness and availability.
As much as possible, try to set and keep a routine so your toddler knows what to expect. A schedule can be comforting and predictable. It will help them anticipate what is coming next and transition into calmer activities in the evening. If you’re struggling with bedtime tantrums with your toddler, these tips can help.
I hope you’ll be able to use some of these tips to get through those last few witching hours of the day—whether your little one is two months or two years old!