What is The Witching Hour & What Can I Do About It?
It’s just after supper … and your normally happy, serene baby is fussy, crying nonstop, and will NOT calm down. You’ve tried everything but even the stuff that usually settles them isn’t working. Trust me, I know this feeling. It’s frustrating, discouraging, and disheartening all at the same time.
While not every baby or parent experiences the witching hour (LUCKY), let’s break it down for the ones who are going through the witching hour motions.
What is the witching hour?
This is one of those things that you’ll understand once you experience it. And just like everything when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and taking care of baby, education is key. As a parent myself, I’ve experienced it and know how helpless you can feel.
The witching hour, also referred to as the Period of Purple Crying, happens around the same time every day – anywhere between 5 pm to 12 am. Your usual calming methods that work great during the day, leave you feeling like you have no idea how to care for your child. Beginning around 2-3 weeks old and resolving by 3-4 months, you may notice that it peaks when they are around 6 weeks.
Babies will cry and cry and cry. That’s it. You start to feel frazzled, angry, or like you are at your wit’s end. This is where knowing ahead of time that this could be something that happens can help you prepare for it.
What causes the witching hour?
No one has any definitive theories but I can assure you, it’s very real. Here are a few potential causes:
Baby is tired. When your baby is overtired, cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream. When these hormones, released into the bloodstream when we wake up, are flowing through the bloodstream, it’s much harder to calm baby down. Those every 2-hour naps are really essential.
Overstimulation. Around late afternoon or evening, things pick up around the house. Kids or partners are coming home or you need to prepare dinner or you are still catching up on work from the day. There is a lot going on, which can be a lot for babies. The start of the witching hour can be a sign that baby needs some peace and quiet.
Low levels of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone that helps moms produce milk. Prolactin levels are usually lower by the end of the day, which means your milk supply may not be as plentiful. This does NOT mean you are not meeting baby’s needs for milk or that baby needs food from somewhere else. (We will talk about this more below)
Growth spurts. Over the first year, your baby goes through multiple growth spurts. These come around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months old. Your baby might be fussier or want to eat more because of them and you may notice their cluster feeding increases about a week before they start.
What can you do about it?
This is going to be a trial and error process. There is no one-size-fits-all. Check out this post on Instagram for more details about these 6 things you can do to tackle the witching hour.
- Frequent Naps: babies around this age sleep 8+ hours a day and usually follow a cycle of awake for 1-2hour and asleep for 1-2hours. Making sure your baby is getting enough rest can really help to reduce the crying associated with The Witching Hour.
- Baby-Wear: wearing or carrying a baby in a sling, wrap, or structured carrier can be a lifesaver. Not only is your baby just wanted to stay on you where it is safe and warm but when you babywear, you can actually get some things done with the use of both of your hands!
Decrease Stimulation: try to keep the house calm around, dark, and quiet around this time. Babies can sense the energy around them and a calm household can help baby relax the stress hormones in their brain.
- Motion: Many babies love the car seat (not mine) and do really well with a drive in the car to sleep during this time. Although not ideal, it can really help to pull this out if you are getting desperate – stick on your favourite music or podcast and enjoy the drive. Other things like swinging chairs, a stroller walk, or vibration can help too.
- Cluster feed: If you are breastfeeding, sit down, get comfy, and pop on your favourite binge-able series. Allowing baby to cluster feed during this time can take the stress off for both you and them. They are so comfortable – and although likely not drinking much, are usually very happy when at the breast.
- Get Help: This is not a joke. You may have a baby that just does not want to settle. You will need some help if this is the case. Whether someone comes to hold baby while you shower or take them out for a walk in the stroller around the block while you have a tea… Do not underestimate the importance of having your support system in place.
Can it be something else?
Could the crying be something more? If your baby is crying more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for three weeks or more, this might be Colic. Watch to see if baby is arching their back or pulling up their legs towards the belly. Colic may start around six weeks and goes away around month three or four. If you reach out to your healthcare provider or Lactation Consultant, they will do a physical examination and take a look at baby’s medical history to see if this could be an issue or if something else may be at the root of it.
Another cause for irritability and crying can be reflux. This happens when stomach acid is brought up into the esophagus – like baby heartburn. One way to identify reflux is noticing baby frequently spiting up and seems unhappy about it.
If you are concerned about your baby, trust your gut, reach out to your healthcare provider.
They may run some tests to rule out problems like:
- Milk or formula sensitivity
- Eye pressure
- Uneven muscles
- Digestive Issues
As with everything in life, the witching hour will pass. It’s a difficult time but you will get through it.
If there is one point to take away from this: Make a plan before and ensure that you get enough breaks. This can be exhausting and extremely difficult – have someone else able to care for baby while you have some time away.