According to the authors of On Becoming Babywise, Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, the dreaded witching hour refers to evening fussiness when babies cry and become irritable for anything from 1-3 hours at a time. Witching hour normally starts between 5pm and 6pm – just before dinner and bathtime and can sometimes affect night sleep too.
How soon does it start?
Gary and Robert say that this fussiness starts at around 2-3 weeks old, peaks at around 6 weeks old and ends sometime between 3-4 months old.
What’s the main cause of witching hour?
While childcare experts don’t believe there’s one spefic cause of witching hour, there are many theories and speculations. For instance, some doctors believe that witching hour is directly linked to colic, whereas others say it has more to do with overstimulation – by the end of the day, babies’ immature nervous systems struggle to process the sensory overload from the day’s activities. Some experts also believe witching hour occurs more with babies who are prone to reflux or have problems digesting milk (both breastmilk and formula).
The truth is, you might not be able to make witching hour disappear entirely, but you can certainly minimise the difficulty of it and implement calming strategies for your little one.
Here are our top 4 ways to survive witching hour
Reduce its severity by practising calming techniques for you and your baby
(Remember, evidence shows that babies pick up on their parent’s stress too and this can exacerbate the problem). Some great calming techniques include:
- Give your baby a 10-15-minute massage with soothing oils (appropriate for baby massage).
- Go for a late afternoon walk with your little one in his pram or carrier.
- Head outside and sit in the fresh air. There’s nothing like a soothing breeze, birds singing and leaves rustling to calm a crying baby.
- Wear your baby in a sling or carrier and sing softly while cooking dinner.
- Allow your baby to have a quick cat nap if she’s overtired and due for a nap. (Don’t try push your baby past a nap in the hope that she’ll sleep longer at night).
- Prepare yourself to cluster feed if your little one is going through a growth spurt.
- If all else fails and your baby won’t settle for a feed, try bath time first – but only if your little one finds water soothing. Bath time often soothes babies’ nervous system, which will allow them to be more receptive to a feed.
Avoid overstimulation during the day
You might be wondering how your daytime routine affects witching hour, but the truth is, some babies are highly sensitive to stimulation and this could have a big impact on the severity of witching hour, come 5pm. According to the authors of Sleep Sense, Ann Richardson and Meg Faure, “While stimulation is important, it’s essential to follow your baby’s lead as to how much is enough.”
If your baby has been awake for a while, look for these signals that she’s had enough:
- Looking away and gazing into the distance, avoiding eye contact.
- Sucking vigorously on her hands or the dummy.
- Losing interest in a feed and becoming overly fussy.
- Arching her back and crying or moaning.
- If your baby is feeling over-stimulated, try to implement the calming strategies mentioned above. If all else fails, sit in a dark room with limited noise and hold your baby close.
Ensure your baby gets enough sleep
Babies who are in a sleep-deprived state will undoubtedly have a heightened response to whatever is going on around them and be more susceptible to overstimulation. This is a vicious cycle as overstimulation can lead to sleep problems. This means that by 5pm every day, your little one is chronically overtired and unable to calm down with any soothing techniques.
To ensure your baby gets enough sleep, Meg and Ann highlight the importance of watching your baby’s awake time. “The length of time your baby can happily be awake is determined by her age. If your little one is constantly fighting day sleeps and continues to cry when you put her down, chances are, you’ve kept her awake for too long,” they say.
To help your baby sleep better, stick to a nap-time routine and try to avoid letting her snooze or sleep on the go all the time (such as in the car seat or pram). Babies need at least one long, solid nap a day, preferably in the morning after breakfast.
Rule out health problems and find solutions
Although witching hour is common, if your baby is unresponsive to calming techniques and continues to cry for more than 3 hours at a time, more than 3 nights a week and more than 3 weeks in total, she could have an underlying health problem that needs to be addressed. This could be linked to feeding problems, colic, jaundice, digestive problems such as reflux, or viral/bacterial infections that need medical attention.
It’s important to trust your gut and take your little one to the doctor if you suspect any underlying health issues.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .