What is the witching hour for babies? Insights, Causes, and Coping Strategies

The witching hour, dreaded by most parents, occurs at the end of the day when fatigue has set in for everyone in the house, including you! Throughout the day, you’ve been tirelessly taking care of your baby (or babies), barely finding a moment to eat or use the bathroom in peace. Then suddenly, BAM, the witching hour strikes. It’s draining, exhausting, and it feels like it will never end. But let me assure you, it does end, and typically around the four-month mark.

So, what can you do in the meantime, while the witching hour seems to have a never-ending grip? I’m here to assist you in navigating through it while maintaining your sanity and helping your little one through this challenging evening phase.

What is the witching hour for babies? Insights, Causes, and Coping Strategies
What is the witching hour for babies? Insights, Causes, and Coping Strategies

What exactly is the witching hour for babies?

Before we delve into my top tips for surviving the witching hour, let’s discuss what it entails. The witching hour usually kicks in during the late afternoon and lingers into the early evening, spanning from 5:00 to 11:00 PM. It’s when your newborn begins to fuss, which escalates into crying, and eventually evolves into full-blown screaming. This can persist for hours—yes, I said hours—and while some infants can be comforted by feeding or being held, others may seem inconsolable.

The witching hour typically emerges around 2 to 3 weeks after your baby’s due date, reaches its peak at 6 weeks, and usually subsides by 3 to 4 months. Some parents interchangeably use the terms “colic” and “the witching hour.” Colic is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, on more than three days a week, continuously for three weeks. The witching hour can be an intensified case of colic, so some of the tips in this article may be helpful for colicky babies as well. If you’ve tried these suggestions and still can’t soothe your child, suspecting they may have colic, it’s advisable to consult further with your pediatrician.

When does the witching hour begin and end?

The witching hour typically starts in the late afternoon or early evening, usually around 5 PM. However, contrary to its name, it doesn’t last for just one hour.

You may notice your newborn entering “fussy periods” during which they become difficult to calm or console, and your usual techniques like rocking or baby-wearing may not provide relief.

These regular fussy periods typically begin around 2 to 3 weeks of age. The intensity of the witching hour peaks at around 6 weeks and generally resolves by 12 weeks in most cases.

Why does the witching hour occur?

To gain a better understanding of the witching hour, it’s helpful to know why it happens in the first place. Here are five potential causes:

– Overstimulation: If your baby has been exposed to excessive stimulation throughout the day, it can lead to fussiness and irritability. Newborns have a limited capacity to handle stimulation, so too much noise or light can worsen the witching hour.

– Overtiredness: An overtired baby is often an unhappy baby. By the end of the day, your little one may be completely exhausted from the day’s activities. If your baby has missed one or two naps in the previous days, it can result in fatigue, which quickly manifests as fussiness during the evening.

– Stomach Discomfort: Gas or acid reflux can contribute to the witching hour, especially in very young babies with immature digestive systems.

– Cluster Feeding: Newborns tend to engage in cluster feeding during the night as a way to prepare for longer stretches of sleep. Your baby may become fussy in the evening when they demand frequent feeds one after another. Remember, although this phase can be frustrating, it is temporary.

– Busy Evening Routine: Evening routines often become hectic. Older kids return home from school, both parents are present, and dinner needs to be prepared. With so much going on, your baby may feel the need to seek more attention from mom or dad, resulting in fussy behavior during the evening.

What are the differences between colic and the witching hour?

Colic has a more specific definition. Babies with colic cry for more than 3 hours a day, on more than 3 days a week, and this persists for more than 3 weeks in a row. On the other hand, the baby’s witching hour involves periods of fussiness that come and go throughout the evenings. While it can be intense and feel like it will never end, it doesn’t meet the criteria for colic.

Although colic and the witching hour share similarities and both can be incredibly stressful for parents, if you’re uncertain or suspect there might be more going on than general evening fussiness, it’s advisable to discuss it with your pediatrician.

Here are 8 tips on how to manage the witching hour

Tips 1: Change Up Your Routine

Spending a bit more time with your baby can prevent them from seeking attention. Adjusting your routine, even by a few minutes, and involving others to interact with your baby during the day can keep them occupied and tantrum-free. Establishing a bedtime routine with activities like bathing, reading a story, and using gentle skincare products can contribute to a peaceful transition to sleep.

Tips 3: Consider Their Diet And Yours

Pay attention to your own caffeine intake, as it can affect breast milk and potentially upset your baby’s stomach. Ensuring that your baby’s diet isn’t causing stomach discomfort is crucial for their happiness and well-being. Cluster feeding may be necessary if your baby seems increasingly hungry.

Tips 3: Create A Calm Environment

A loud or stressful environment can upset your baby. Minimize background noise and spend time in a relaxed outdoor setting to change the atmosphere and reassure your baby that everything is okay. Massaging your baby using a calming balm can also contribute to a peaceful environment.

Tips 4: Prioritize Naptime

Babies require ample sleep, and if they’re not getting enough, they’ll let you know. Despite busy schedules, try to ensure they have their scheduled naps by using techniques like rocking them to sleep with a baby wrap or carrier.

Tips 5: Be Sure To Burp

Sometimes, the witching hour is simply caused by gas that needs to be released. Burping your baby after each feeding can help alleviate gas and prevent a bloated belly. Keep gentle cleansing products and organic wipes on hand for any messes that may occur during burping.

Tips 6: Use Soothing Sounds:

Soft, steady noises can have a soothing effect on your baby’s sleep and mood. Experiment with relaxing music and white noise to determine which works best in preventing the witching hour fits. Some white noise machines even have settings that imitate a heartbeat, reminding your baby of the womb and aiding in calming them to sleep.

Tips 7: Wait For It To Pass

If you’ve tried everything on the list to prevent the witching hour but your baby still has a crying fit at the same time each day, sometimes the best option is to wait it out. The witching hour is common in babies and typically lasts only a few months. By the time you’ve tried multiple strategies, your baby is likely nearing the natural end of this stage.

Tips 8: Surviving The Witching Hour

While the timing and intensity of the witching hour may vary for each baby, it generally ends around three or four months of age. As you do everything to help your baby through this phase, remember to take care of yourself as well. Reducing stress for yourself can also contribute to ending the witching hour. When you’re stressed, your baby is likely to sense that frustration, so find time to unwind, relax, meditate, and prioritize your peace of mind.

When to talk to your pediatrician

If your child’s crying appears to be associated with pain or illness, it’s important to reach out to your pediatrician. Monitor for other signs of sickness, which may include:

– Fever

– Vomiting

– Diarrhea (including loose or bloody stools)

– Refusal to eat

– Decreased alertness compared to their usual state

These symptoms can indicate a need for medical attention, and your pediatrician can provide guidance and appropriate care for your child’s well-being.

Witching hour FAQ

Q: Why do babies have witching hours?

The exact cause of the witching hour in babies is not fully understood. However, there are several potential factors that contribute to this phenomenon. These may include overstimulation, fatigue, stomach discomfort, cluster feeding, and the busy evening routine. Each baby is unique, and the witching hour can vary in intensity and duration among different infants.

Q: How do I know when my baby is having a witching hour?

You can identify the witching hour in your baby by observing periods of increased fussiness, crying, and irritability that typically occur in the late afternoon or early evening. These episodes may last for several hours and can be challenging to console. It’s important to note that the witching hour is a temporary phase that tends to emerge around 2-3 weeks of age, peak at 6 weeks, and typically resolve by 3-4 months.

Q: How can I stop my baby’s witching hour?

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate the witching hour, there are strategies that can help manage it and provide comfort to your baby. Some tips include adjusting your routine, spending quality time with your little one, ensuring a calm environment, prioritizing naptime, burping your baby after feeds to release gas, using soothing sounds or white noise, and waiting it out as the phase naturally resolves. It’s important to find what works best for your baby through trial and error.

Q: Do all babies have a witching hour?

Not all babies have a distinct witching hour, and the intensity and duration can vary among infants. Some babies may experience periods of increased fussiness in the late afternoon or evening, while others may not exhibit a specific witching hour pattern. It’s essential to remember that every baby is unique, and their behavior may differ. If you’re concerned about your baby’s fussiness or if it extends beyond the typical witching hour, it’s advisable to consult with your pediatrician for further evaluation and guidance.

Q: How can I help my baby sleep during the witching hour?

Finding ways to soothe and reduce fussiness during the witching hour can help your baby sleep better. It’s important to try different strategies to see what works best for your baby. Some techniques you can try include swaddling, baby-wearing, gentle massage, creating a calm environment, using white noise or soothing sounds, and establishing a consistent bedtime routine.

Q: Do all babies experience a witching hour?

Not all babies experience a witching hour. Some babies may have periods of increased fussiness or crying in the evenings, while others may not exhibit a distinct witching hour pattern. It varies from baby to baby. Typically, the witching hour may begin around 2-3 weeks of age and peak around 6 weeks, but it tends to resolve by 12 weeks.

Q: Why do children become cranky in the evening?

Children, both babies and older ones, can become cranky in the evening due to fatigue and overstimulation throughout the day. Overtiredness can lead to increased irritability and fussiness as the day comes to a close.

Q: At what age does the witching hour usually start?

The witching hour typically starts around 2-3 weeks of age in most babies. This is when you may begin to notice periods of increased fussiness and crying in the late afternoon or early evening.

Q: When does the witching hour end?

The intensity of the witching hour tends to peak around 6 weeks and gradually lessen afterward. By around 12 weeks, most babies outgrow the witching hour, and evenings become calmer and more settled.

Q: Why do children become hyperactive after dinner and before bed?

Overtiredness can cause some children to become hyperactive after dinner and before bed. When children are exhausted, their bodies can release hormones that give them a temporary burst of energy, leading to hyperactive behavior. It’s important to establish a soothing bedtime routine to help them wind down and promote better sleep.

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