All is calm in the house until the clock strikes 4:30 p.m...and suddenly the once quiet space turns into a battlefield of cries and fussiness—welcome to the witching hour!
From the experts
"The witching hour—as it's come to be known—is a period that tends to happen at the same time every day when babies experience acute fussiness and become inconsolable for seemingly no reason."- Jill Wilson, Lactation Counselor
Fear not, dear parents. You've done nothing wrong. This biologically driven calendar appointment, while very frustrating for you and your fussy baby, is perfectly normal.
Why the witching hour happens
- The witching hour is a period towards the end of the day (usually late afternoon or early evening) during which your newborn cries and seems inconsolable.
- Much like morning sickness, the witching “hour” is named improperly (some of us had all day sickness!) and can even last more than three hours
- This phase can begin as early as 2-3 weeks postpartum and typically peaks around 6-8 weeks before (good news!) disappearing altogether.
Researchers and pediatricians do not know exactly what causes the witching hour. Some believe it’s just a normal part of development.
Others believe that at this time of the day babies are extra hungry, over-stimulated, or overtired.
While the exact cause might be a mystery, experts generally agree there are 4 contributing factors to the newborn witching hour.
Causes of the witching hour
Dip in milk flow
As the day wears on, your body's milk-making hormone (prolactin) decreases. This lower milk supply can cause baby to become frustrated, even if she's eating during her normally scheduled routine.
Cluster feeding typically goes hand-in-hand with the witching hour as babies feed up before bedtime.
Adding to the witching-hour madness, if they've had a lot of excitement in the late afternoon, then suddenly get put down for a nap or bedtime in the evening, they may feel restless and unsatisfied—almost like they're missing out on something- queue the baby FOMO!
If your baby is having long wakeful periods throughout the day (more than 45-60 minutes at a time), they may be overtired.
An overtired baby is flooded with stress hormones that cause them to fight sleep (quite literally!).
An episode of colic
If you find your baby’s witching “hour” is lasting all day, or for more than 3-4 hours during the day, your baby may be suffering from colic or other gastrointestinal issues that are causing them to be constantly crying.
Learn the difference between “normal” crying and colic.
5 tips to survive the witching hour
1. Move up bedtime to prevent overstimulation
It might sound counter-intuitive, but it works. Often, you can escape the witching hour if you begin to implement an earlier bedtime.
It may be several hours earlier than you’re used to, but for the most part between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. is typically the sweet spot for newborns.
If an earlier bedtime won’t work, try to put baby down for a nap just before the chaos ensues, and ensure everyone understands quiet rules during this time.
Also aim to put baby down at the same times every day when you can—sticking to a normal sleep schedule can help prevent newborn burn-out.
2. Set a nap routine to avoid an overtired baby
Naps are an essential part of healthy growth for babies.
They tire out easily and need to rejuvenate by resetting their bodies during sleep mode. The goal is to get baby to sleep every 45-60 minutes throughout the day in order to keep her well rested.
However, sometimes babies don’t sleep when we want them to (especially as newborns without circadian rhythms!), so focus on setting a consistent nap routine, rather than a schedule.
The routine will become a signal that it’s time to sleep, and ensure they're ready to receive all the love and affection their family will give them without letting them become an overtired baby.
3. Create a bedtime routine with positive sleep associations
Just like your nap routine, a consistent bedtime routine will signal to baby that it’s time to get some rest.
- Play soothing music during bath time to help baby relax
- Dress them in Zen Sleepwear™ to mimic your soothing touch
- Read a story in their room as they snuggle
- Turn down the lights and use a white noise machine
4. Add a feeding or cluster feeding
Babies tend to be hungrier in the evenings. Adding in a scheduled feeding or cluster feeding a bit before bedtime can help avoid the excessive crying of the witching hour.
If you’re feeding on demand, babies often want to cluster feed during the witching hour. Trying to work it in before the fussiness strikes can help, but it can also be used to provide comfort during the madness. And since milk production is typically lower around this time, you’ll also be making sure baby gets the nutrition they need. And, yes, formula AND breastfed babies may cluster feed!
Witching Hour Feeding Schedule
Here's a potential feeding schedule that you could try implementing to prevent the witching hour crying cycle:
3pm: Feed baby
4pm: Put baby down for a nap
5pm: Feed again
7pm: Feed and put down to bed
9pm: Feed baby again
11pm: A final dream feed
5. Dress baby in Zen Sleepwear™
Don't let the witching hour get the best of you and your baby's comfort. A great addition to your sleep routine, Zen Sleepwear™ helps babies calm easier and sleep longer with it’s gently weighted Cuddle Pads™, providing continuous comfort when baby is at their fussiest. The Zen One swaddle is ideal for babies 0-6 months old with easy to use features that adapt to changing sleep styles.
Put the hi-jinks of the witching hour to bed with Nested Bean's Zen Sleepwear!
While we want to instill healthy habits early, there will be times when you will need to do whatever it takes to soothe your baby.
Don’t worry, this will not set your baby up for failure!
Your baby is just learning about life outside the womb, so comforting your baby by any means necessary is ok - it's just a phase.