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It is not uncommon for baby to be fussy during the evening hours. This evening fussiness is often between 6-10 PM. It might not last that entire time, or might last longer. This time is often referred to as the “Witching Hour.” Not all babies experience the witching hour; Brayden and Kaitlyn didn’t (at least, Brayden didn’t once we started Babywise). McKenna, however, did.
At first, I didn’t know what was going on. She had previously slept so peacefully. It hit her around two months old. She just stopped sleeping in the evenings. It was like she was a different baby. It was quite the shock.
WITCHING HOUR TIMELINE
This fussiness is supposed to start around 2-3 weeks old, peak around 6 weeks old, and end sometime between 3-4 months old. You are supposed to take into account baby’s due date and not just the birth date.
McKenna didn’t follow this timeline exactly. She started at 8 weeks and ended sometime between 3-4 months old.
WITCHING HOUR CAUSES
There is no real known cause of the witching hour. There are, of course, many theories. Theories include low milk supply and an immature nervous system. Both of these theories have flaws; formula fed babies can also experience the witching hour and not all babies experience the witching hour. If it was a nervous system issue, you would think all babies would get it. So the real answer is that no one knows for sure.
WITCHING HOUR FIXES
You can’t make the witching hour go away, but you can minimalize the difficulty of it on you and your baby.
- Cluster feed cluster feeding (blog label)
- Put baby in a sling
- Put baby in a swing or other soothing item (like a bouncer)
- Go outside
Do not try to fix the witching hour by supplementing with formula. Remember, formula fed babies experience this, too. If you supplement with formula you will only hurt your milk supply in the long run.
WITCHING HOUR AND BABYWISE
If your baby is experiencing the witching hour, one of your biggest worries is likely starting a bad habit. Your baby is laying in her crib crying, but you don’t want to get her and reinforce crying in order to get out of bed.
Let me just tell you, don’t worry about it. If your baby is sleeping well for all other naps, you are not going to ruin anything by getting her during the witching hour. You do not want to leave her in her crib during this time to just cry. Cry it out is a process to teach self-soothing; having her cry when she just can’t sleep is not teaching her. It is just causing stress on the entire family.
WITCHING HOUR IN ACTION
I have discussed our witching hour process in my newborn summary posts, but I thought I would summarize it here. Anyone experiencing this doesn’t want to wade through three months of newborn summary posts to get the story 🙂
As I said, it started when McKenna was two months old. My husband and I were out on a date and I thought that it was just her reacting to me leaving the house (she always woke up when I left the house). Four days later, she did it again. I was home this time and found it odd. I didn’t know it was the witching hour at this point.
Since she just never cried (unless I left the house), I went to her room to comfort her. I tried rocking her to sleep. No luck. I tried giving her a pacifier in her bed. No luck. She stayed awake for two hours. At that point, I decided to feed her, confident she would at least fall asleep nursing. No luck. Still wide awake.
My husband took turns with me over the next two hours. Finally, it was time for the dreamfeed and I fed her again. She then peacefully went to sleep in her crib. Happily, she didn’t cry that entire time–only if she was not in the company of someone. Also happily, that was the worst night of our witching hour.
Over the next week, she didn’t have the witching hour every night. Some nights she did, some she didn’t. I could really sense if she was having it or not. If she was, I did what it took to put her to sleep or at least keep her happy. If she wasn’t, I put her to bed. Her witching hour was just after her 6 PM feeding. After the 8 PM feeding, she would sleep in her bed.
Here is a list of my personal solutions to get through the witching hour. These things didn’t negatively affect her other daytime naps:
- Cluster Feeding: Previous to the witching hour, McKenna would not cluster feed. She wouldn’t eat if it was sooner than three hours. Once she started witching hour, I started cluster feeding, and she started sleeping longer stretches at night.
- Errands: Our family would just go out and run errands or visit friends rather than try to put McKenna down for a nap. This was nice because we got to do things over the summer months. McKenna would just fall asleep in her carseat or in my arms for a catnap.
- Rock: Sometimes, if I could, I would rock McKenna to sleep and then put her in her bed.
- Pacifier: She liked to suck on a pacifier at this time.
- Swing: Previous to the witching hour, McKenna would not sleep in her swing. We had purchased a new swing before she was born. One day after the witching hour, I had the thought to try our old swing. It worked! She would fuss a bit in it, but she would go to sleep in it for a short nap. This was helpful since her witching hour was around bedtime for Brayden and Kaitlyn.
As time passed, the witching hour was not every day. Sometime between 3-4 months old, the witching hour ended. She now goes to sleep just fine in her bed each night.
A note, if McKenna were my only child, I wouldn’t have a problem holding her for her short catnap to get her through the witching hour. Having two older (but young) children made it necessary for me to turn to something like the swing so I could still attend to my older children.
WITCHING HOUR ENCOURAGEMENT
If your baby is experiencing the witching hour, don’t stress out. It will not last forever. Also, don’t be afraid to comfort your baby. It does not go against Babywise to do so. Trust me on this; I communicate with the authors 🙂 They do not advocate leaving a baby crying and helpless in bed. A baby experiencing the witching hour is not going to benefit from a cry it out session.
Do what it takes to keep baby happy during this time. Do what it takes to get baby to sleep during this time so she doesn’t get overly tired and overstimulated. It will all be okay 🙂
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