In folklore, the term “witching hour” is used to signify the time of day when witches, demons, spirits etc come out to haunt…
So what? My baby is a demon haunting me? No not exactly… although it may feel like it during witching hour.
In parenting, the term “witching hour” (so aptly coined), is used to describe a period in the day (usually between 4pm and 11pm) where your baby cries more, fusses more and refuses to accept any of your usual settling tricks.
Signs of the witching hour(s) in babies
- Your usually settled and contented baby cries and fusses for no discernible reason
- This unsettled behaviour usually occurs between the hours of 4pm & 11pm
- Cries escalate and are sometimes uncontrollable
- Your baby will not settle to sleep despite using all of your usual settling techniques (feeding, patting, rocking, dummy etc)
- Your baby appears to be cluster feeding but is not contented by these feeds
If your baby is showing some or all of these behaviours you likely have a witching hour on your hands.
The witching hour unfortunately isn’t limited to one hour of the day. Rather the witching hour can go for hours on end. This can become extremely stressful to many parents. If you are experiencing this challenging time, and struggling with it, just know you are not alone.
While well meaning friends and relatives may tell you that this is completely normal newborn behaviour, that you need to wait out. The reality is that it can be prevented or at least helped. You don’t have to endure hours and hours of unsettled misery every night.
So, what causes the witching hour(s)
There are many theories around why the witching hour happens:
- Biological need to feed more in the evening
- Low milk supply
True colic is thought to be caused by gut issues. Maybe your baby has an intolerance to something in your diet and is unable to digest their milk, maybe they suffer from reflux. True colic causes genuine discomfort and if you think your baby may be dealing with this, you should seek assistance from your GP/ Paediatrician to confirm it or rule it out.
Biological need to feed more in the evening
It is thought that babies are biologically programmed to cluster feed in the evening to fill their tanks so that they can achieve longer stretches through the night. While this is true of many babies, the fact is that many babies who battle through a witching hour still wake frequently through the night for feeds.
Low breast-milk supply
If your milk supply is low, your baby may cluster feed to try and bring on more milk and keep your supply up. In the first few weeks of life, it is extremely important to allow your baby to cluster feed in order to establish a good supply. If you are struggling with your supply, please reach out to your GP or a local lactation consultant.
Little babies have spent so long in the womb, that it is no wonder that when they come into this bright, noisy world they can become very overwhelmed. Many parents will tell me that their baby sleeps best in noisy bright places during the day. But actually, what is happening is your baby is going into hibernation mode to block out the sensory overload.
While I encourage you to get out of the house and do things, it is important that your baby has a quiet, dark and relaxing sleep environment to restore during their naps. See here for my tips around baby sleep environment.
It is also important to not overwhelm your little baby with too many sensory experiences. TV, loud sounds, too many bright colours in one go can be too much for your baby and can become really stressful to them.
Now this one is really important! If you have ruled out true colic/ other health issues and low milk supply you may need to have a really good look at your baby’s routine.
Young babies do not cope well with too long awake periods. They depend heavily on their sleep during the day to rest and restore. If they are not achieving appropriate nap times and lengths (see catnapping baby), they are at risk of becoming devastatingly overtired which can cause a vicious cycle of poor napping followed by increasing periods of fussiness, culminating in the witching hour(s). Try to ensure your little one is having 3 good naps a day and is offered an early bedtime. Putting your baby to bed later will not result in longer night sleep.
What can I do to help my baby?
There are a number of things that you can do to help overcome the witching hour:
- Rule out any medical/ health issues (true colic, reflux, intolerances, low supple etc)
- Avoid overstimulation by reducing sensory experiences
- Provide your baby with a beautiful calm sleep environment
- Feed your baby if they are hungry (hangry). A baby will settle much easier with a nice full belly.
- Follow an age appropriate routine for your baby (it is never too early to start adhering to healthy awake periods). This will help to improve nap quality and reduce overtiredness.
- Follow Harvey Karps 5 S’s (Swaddling, side stomach, shushing, swinging and sucking) to turn on your babies calming reflex. This method is absolutely wonderful for newborn babies and I recommend it to all of my littlest clients.
- If you feel that your baby’s cries are sending you into your own sensory overload the best thing for you to do is put your baby down somewhere safe, get yourself a cool drink and take some deep breaths. Remember that happy mum= happy baby. Look after yourself too.
Please note that leaving a baby to “Cry it Out” or using cry-based sleep training methods are not recommended before 16weeks. Though the witching hour can be very challenging, it is important that you provide your baby with everything that they need to get them through it.
Remember, the witching hour, like most parenting challenges is temporary. It may feel like the end of the world right now, but you will get through it. If you are needing some support to help your baby to get more sleep, Dream to Grow is here to help you.
You’re doing great