baby witching hour

Navigating Baby Witching Hour Fussiness: 7 Soothing Tips

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As the sun dips below the horizon, a familiar scene unfolds: the onset of the witching hour, when my little ones, like countless others, would suddenly be engulfed in inconsolable crying, seemingly without reason.

As a mother of two, I’ve navigated this tumultuous period, where colicky babies and increased fussiness take center stage, leaving parents searching for colic relief tips and a moment of peace. This challenging time, often sparked by an overload of the day’s stimuli, puts our babies’ developing nervous systems to the test, disrupting sleep and causing stress for the entire family.

Through trial and error, I discovered the soothing power of baby massage, the rhythm of cluster feeding, and the importance of helping babies feel secure. These strategies offered relief and reminded me that this phase does have an end.

In the journey that follows, I share insights and soothing strategies to help you and your family navigate the witching hour, transforming it from a period of distress to one of understanding and calm.

Understanding the baby witching hour

The term ‘baby witching hour’ (not to be confused with the folklore definition related to witches and ghosts!) refers to a regular time when very young babies may seem unusually fussy. During this period, which ironically can last several hours, you may notice your baby crying more than usual and exhibiting restlessness. Most babies have a witching period, although the intensity and frequency might differ.

This is a common phase for most babies and typically starts when babies are a few weeks old. Even though dealing with a crying baby can be stressful, parents can learn to recognize the pattern that babies cry in and learn techniques to soothe them.

The witching hour dissipates as your baby grows older, typically seeing improvement by 3 to 4 months. Keep in mind every baby experiences this phase differently, so patience and experimentation with soothing techniques are key.

Causes behind the witching hour

Understanding the causes behind this phenomenon can help you manage it more effectively:

  • One primary factor is overstimulation or exhaustion. Throughout the day, your baby absorbs an array of sensory experiences. By evening, all this information can become overwhelming.

  • Another reason might be cluster feeding, where babies feed more frequently. This could be tied to growth spurts as they require more nutrition during these times. Familiarizing yourself with the patterns of cluster feeding can be helpful.

  • Hunger and tiredness play a significant role. Babies may not have established a feeding or sleeping pattern routine yet, making the latter part of the day particularly rough.

Above all, it’s important to keep a check on your baby’s schedule and look for signs that they’re getting the food and rest they need before they hit the peak of evening fussiness.

Timing of baby’s witching hour

The witching hour usually starts in the late afternoon and can last into the early evening hours, with the peak fussiness and crying often occurring around about the same time daily. This can extend anywhere from 5 p.m. to around 11 p.m., though it’s not exact and can vary from baby to baby.

Common timing pattern:

  1. Begins: Late afternoon

  2. Peaks: Early to mid-evening

  3. Eases: Night approaches

New parents should remember that this is a perfectly normal phase, and while it can be tiring, it’s simply part of your baby’s development. Remember, as every child is unique, your baby may experience the witching hour slightly differently from others.

Survival tips for the witching hour

Navigating the witching hour requires patience and a few strategies that can help soothe your fussy baby. Each child is different, but by trying a variety of comfort measures, you’ll likely find a method that works for both of you.

Dealing with your baby’s fussy times isn’t easy, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to seek help and take a moment for yourself. Practical steps for coping when your baby’s witching hour begins can make a big difference.

1. Calm your baby with a car ride

The gentle motion of a car can have a calming effect on your baby’s crying too. Secure your child in their car seat and take a short drive. The steady rhythm and sound of the engine often help babies to self-soothe and fall asleep.

2. Soothe your baby using a carrier

Babywearing allows you to keep your baby close while providing the comforting movement and rhythm they need. A carrier or sling can mimic the motion they felt in the womb, which can be very soothing. Make sure the carrier is comfortable for both you and your little one. Walk around the house or get some fresh air.

3. Swaddle and cuddle

During the witching hour for babies, gentle rocking or swaddling can be particularly effective.

4. Try increasing breastfeeding and skin-to-skin

Engaging in more frequent breastfeeding sessions during this time can be comforting because of the close contact and non-nutritive sucking. Skin-to-skin contact while nursing or bottle-feeding a crying baby enhances bonding and helps regulate the baby’s heartbeat and temperature.

5. Offer a dummy or pacifier

Giving your baby a pacifier allows him/her to engage in non-nutritive sucking, which is a natural reflex and can be very soothing. Offering a dummy or pacifier can sometimes be the key to helping your baby calm down and stop crying.

6. Help your baby to release gas

Sometimes babies are fussy due to digestive discomfort. Gently flexing their legs towards their belly and holding can help to release trapped gas. This technique should be done with care and can be combined with a soothing back rub.

7. Introduce white noise

Some parents find success with playing white noise. Studies show that it aids in inducing sleep and calmness, which might just be just what your baby needs to get through the witching hour. The impact of white noise on sleep induction has specifically been noted in young neonates.

When do babies outgrow the witching hour?

Most babies outgrow the extremely fussy newborn witching hour period by the time they hit 3 to 4 months of age.

You might find yourself wondering when the calm will return to your evenings. Here’s what you can expect:

  • 6 to 8 weeks of age: This is often when crying peaks. Your little one might be especially fussy, despite your comforting.

  • 3 to 4 months old: Good news! Around this age, many babies start to settle. The witching hour will gradually fade, and you’ll see longer periods of contentment.

Remember, older children don’t typically experience the witching hour. So, this is very much a phase that is specific to the early stages of infancy. Here are some milestones to watch for:

  • Smiling and interaction: As your baby starts interacting more and gives you those heart-melting smiles, it’s a clue they’re maturing and might soon outgrow these fussy spells.

  • Settled sleep patterns: When you notice your baby developing a more predictable sleep routine, it’s a sign that the witching hour may be nearing its end.

Each baby is unique, and so is their timeline for getting through the witching hour. Some may breeze through it faster than others.

Knowing when to consult a doctor

It’s essential to know when fussy periods are normal and when they might indicate a larger issue that requires a pediatrician’s attention.

When to be concerned:

  • If your baby’s crying becomes a consistent pattern of intense crying for more than three hours daily and is difficult to soothe.

  • When there are changes in your baby’s health, like a fever, rash, or loose or bloody stools in your baby’s diaper.

  • If your baby’s temperature seems abnormally high or they display signs of illness.

You will want to contact your baby’s doctor or visit the pediatrician immediately:

  • If your baby has trouble breathing during these crying spells or turns blue.

  • Should you notice an unusual forcefulness or pitch in the cry that isn’t typical for purple crying periods.

  • When nothing you do can settle your baby, and your parental intuition tells you something isn’t right.

Crying for extended periods can be distressing, and it’s perfectly okay to seek support when needed. Your pediatrician can reassure you or provide guidance for any potential health issues. If the excessive crying leaves you feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to check in with a professional.

Always trust your instincts; if something feels off, it’s worth a call to your doctor. They’re there to support your baby’s health and your peace of mind.

Getting through the witching hour

As we wrap up our discussion on the witching hour, keep in mind that the intense periods of your baby’s cries and the seemingly endless efforts to soothe them do eventually lead to a calmer phase.

Having navigated this phase twice, I’ve seen firsthand how understanding our babies’ cues can turn challenging evenings into opportunities for growth and bonding. The witching hour, while daunting, is a temporary stage that tests and ultimately strengthens the nervous system of babies.

Remember, the stress and sleepless nights are not endless. They’re signposts on your journey through early parenthood, pointing toward moments of tranquility and deeper connection. The witching hour doesn’t last forever, and on the other side, you’ll find a stronger bond and a sense of accomplishment that you made it through together.

Babys witching hour FAQs

To stop your baby’s witching hour, ensure they get enough sleep during the day to avoid overstimulation, engage in soothing activities like gentle rocking or baby massage, and watch for signs of hunger to prevent stress hormones from peaking. Creating a calm evening routine can also signal to your wee one that it’s time to wind down.

The difference between colic and the witching hour lies mainly in duration and intensity. Colic is characterized by at least three hours of crying for at least three days a week, without an apparent reason, while the witching hour is a predictable period of fussiness that occurs in the late afternoon and evening, often due to overstimulation or the need for cluster feeding.

Witching hour can be due to gas, among other reasons. Babies might swallow air while feeding or crying, leading to discomfort. While gas can contribute to the witching hour, it’s not the sole cause. Overstimulation, a developing nervous system, and the need for more sleep are also key factors.

Yes, you should consider feeding your baby during the witching hour if they show signs of hunger or the need to suck for comfort. Cluster feeding is common during this time and can help soothe your baby. However, be mindful of other signs of distress that might not be solved by feeding alone, such as the need for sleep or relief from gas.

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