Some moms call it the ‘witching hour’; others call it ‘grizzly baby time’. I even have one friend who describes the late afternoon/early evening slot with a grouchy baby as ‘gin and tonic o’clock’! Whatever you call it, that tail end of the day with a small baby can seem like a marathon slog, when your little one is fractious, you’re running on empty, and there still seems to be so much to fit in before bedtime. So to avoid tears and tiredness, try our action plan.
8:30am: Get yourself organised
Preparation is the key in stopping end-of-day strife, so prepare as much as you can for the day ahead. While it’s not advisable to prepare formula in advance, bottles can remain sterilised for up to three hours in a microwave steriliser if you keep the lid on. You can also store newly boiled water in a clean Thermos flask, so it’s ready to mix with formula when your baby needs her next feed. Remember to cool it first before letting her drink it.
“I cook the evening meal just after breakfast when my baby is happily kicking his legs on a playmat,” says Anne, mom to Gareth (seven months). “I often make double portions, then freeze half for really hectic days. Then I can give Gareth the attention he demands.”
12:30pm: Take time out
If you’re stressed out, your baby will be stressed, too. Relaxed and rested moms make for happy little ones (and vice versa) so put your feet up for a little while and recharge those batteries while your baby’s having her lunchtime nap.
“When Logan is sleeping, I leave the housework for a while and read a celeb gossip magazine,” says Tanya. “It’s a little oasis of ‘me-time’ in a baby-filled day!”
2pm: Check your routine
It’s easy to let your planned routine slip as the day goes on, but try your best to stick to it. Babies love familiarity, so setting meal, nap and bath times every day means you’re less likely to have a tetchy tot on your hands.
4pm: Start wind-down time
By late afternoon, your baby will start becoming more tired and sensitive. Help her wind down by creating a calm environment to help stop tempers fraying – yours and hers!
The advice from Cry-sis, the UK charity that supports families with demanding babies, is to handle and talk to your baby gently and quietly, and don’t overwhelm her with stimulation. If she does get distressed, try going to a quieter environment.
4:30pm: Grab a sling or baby carrier
Most babies want to be held constantly at the end of the day, and if you’ve ever tried stirring Bolognese or making up a bottle while toting a baby on your hip, you’ll know how hard this can be. The beauty of slings and baby carriers is that they’re not just for going outside – they’re a great way of having your baby close while being able to use both your hands.
“A sling has been my lifesaver. I still use it every night,” says Emma, mom to Sam (three), and Sarah (five months). “I pop Sarah into it – sleepy, cross, fussy, whatever – and it calms her down. She sways around while I make dinner and give my son a bath. Whatever happens, she seems content.”
5pm: Leave the tough stuff
This is not the time to tackle that mountain of ironing or catch up on phone calls, so let the phone take messages and leave the washing-up ‘til later.
“Trying to get things done with a baby crying in the background is bound to make you feel anxious and upset,” says parenting coach Jenny Leonard. “This is when negative thoughts like ‘I’m a bad mother’ and ‘I can’t cope’ start to creep in. If it’s all starting to get too much, give yourself two minutes to refocus, take some deep breaths, and remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved during the day, rather than focusing on the jobs you haven’t been able to get to.”
5:30: Time to bond
Here’s how you turn a negative into a positive: the fact that your baby is grouchy means you have to give her one-on-one time to bond and calm her down. This is one of the most rewarding ways you can spend time with your child. You’ll relish this positive time together and it will help calm your baby.
According to Cry-sis, talking and playing with your baby is a good way to bond. Or try a massage or some nappy-free time.
6pm: Bring in reinforcements
If you feel your patience is slipping away, call in the cavalry. A friend or family member, particularly one with experience in dealing with children, is perfect.
“My mom often pops in around this time,” says Catherine, mom to Alex (four) and Patrick (15 months). “She’s a second pair of hands, and if things are chaotic, it doesn’t seem too bad because I’m not on my own. In fact, we have a good giggle.”
6:30pm: Line yourself up for a treat
Whatever floats your boat – a large slice of chocolate cake, an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, a glass of Chardonnay – just keep that treat in mind for when your little one’s finally in bed.
Did you know?
The average healthy baby is likely to cry between one and three hours per day.
Mom’s tip: I turned the witching hour into ‘mommy and Imogen hour’. “I used to find the slot after tea time the hardest, especially in winter. I was exhausted from night feeds, hadn’t eaten properly all day, and couldn’t wait until bedtime. “My sister suggested a change of scenery, so now, rather than sitting in the lounge, I take my daughter into the spare bedroom or dining room to play. It’s different enough to break the cycle if she’s getting whingey, and I let her have time with her nappy off, which she loves. If I have an extra half hour before bedtime, I fill up the bath and do ‘swimming’ practice with her.”
Natalie, mom to Imogen (14 months)
Three 5 minute fixes to cheer your baby up
1. Babies love motion. From gentle rocking in your arms, to a quick trip in the buggy or a ride in the car, the sensation of movement is a great way to calm an upset baby.
2. Let her feel the love. Bring your face right next to your baby’s, look her in the eye, and give her your biggest smile. She’ll love being able to smell you and feel your closeness.
3. Try a soothing massage. Make sure your baby’s in a warm room, then gently rub in some baby oil, softly stroking her arms, legs, back and tummy.
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