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What Is The Witching Hours For Babies?

newborn baby in a boppy pillow on a counter during the witching hour for babies
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

You may be thinking, “Why the heck is she sharing this dark picture with a half-eaten dinner?” I’m going to sum it up in 5 words: Witching Hour For My Babies.

Let me tell you a little story!

When my twin boys were around 4 weeks old, we were in the thick of it X2! My Mom and Mother-in-Law are both angels on Earth! They were with me *a lot* during the first year because 2-on-2 is a lot easier than 2-on-1!

The hardest part of each day was between 4:00-11:00 pm.

The day this picture was taken was especially bad. When you look at this picture you see a baby in a boppy pillow with a half-eaten dinner in the background. What you don’t see is what had been happening before this pic was snapped.

The boys were fussy, for hours.

I tried feeding, holding, swaddling, and distraction. Nothing helped.

I went to my BFF, Google, to try to figure out how to fix this.

One thing I hadn’t tried was the vacuum! So I turned our Dyson on and voila, the boys calmed down. Now this picture was snapped hours later. And yup, the vacuum had been on all that time. I looked at my Mom and we busted out laughing. I was IRL 😂! Perhaps maybe even some snort laughing. It was that good.

I *had* to snap a picture. I’m glad I did because this story is so helpful for parents that are in the thick of it with their newborns…

I didn’t know back then that the boys were going through leap 1 which happens right around the 4/5-week mark. You can read more about it here. They were also in a time period called the Witching Hours.

What Is The Witching Hour For Babies?

Most babies go through a period in the late afternoon/early evening when they are CRANKY! It usually starts around 2 weeks of age.

It’s a normal period of infant development (aka period of purple crying) and nothing to worry about, but it is stressful for parents, especially first-time parents that have no idea WTF is going on!

When Do Babies Outgrow The Witching Hour?

Most families begin to see improve by around 12 weeks for most babies. For a smaller number of babies, it can last as long as 4-5 months.

What Happens During The Witching Hours / Period of Purple Crying?

The period of purple crying doesn’t mean that your baby turns purple! It is an acronym and each letter stands for a characteristic of this normal period of infant crying. 

  • P = Peak. This is the peak of babies crying pattern since birth. Peaking in the second month and decreasing thereafter.
  • = Unexpected. The crying starts unexpectedly with no clear reason or cause. 
  • = Resists Soothing. The crying may not stop no matter what you do to try to soothe baby.
  • P = Pain. Your baby will look like they are in pain, but they are not.
  • = Long. These episodes can last for hours.
  • = Evening. Usually, these periods of crying happen in the later afternoon or early evening. 

And the word “period” means that the crying has a beginning and an end. The crying will stop. The normal timeframe for the end of this period is in between 3-4 months.

While your baby may resist soothing, there are things that you can try during the Witching Hours…

Calming Your Baby During The Witching Hours

If you are currently experiencing the Witching Hours and want some strategies to try to calm your little one down, here is what I recommend to parents during our newborn sleep consultations.

Prevention

There may not be anything you can do to prevent the Witching Hours, but keeping awake windows short during the day, can help during this time period, so your little one isn’t overtired.

Your baby can only be awake for around 45-60 minutes at this age. As a result, getting your baby down before they are overtired (when possible), will help to keep your baby better rested overall. Better-rested babies tend to be less fussy and easier to settle.

Rule Out Needs

First, we want to rule out that your baby has an actual need. Assess the following and work on fixing what you can.

  • Hunger
  • Gas
  • Wet or Dirty Diaper
  • Overstimulation
  • Overtired
  • Teething
  • Sickness

Cluster Feeding

If you’ve been trying to keep your little one to an eating schedule during the day, once you hit the witching hours, you may want to stay flexible, especially during the Witching Hours.

Many babies like to eat frequently, sometimes as much as hourly, during this time period. This is known as cluster feeding and it can be a wonderful way of:

  • Calming your baby
  • Helping your little one meet their daytime nutrition needs so they can sleep longer periods at night between feeds. A cool fast fact is that breastmilk in the late afternoon and early evening hours has more melatonin in it, making it easier for babies to fall asleep!

Change of Scenery

Weather permitting, get outside with your little one during this time frame. Sometimes a change of scenery can be a great distraction for babies, during this challenging time frame.

Warm Bath

You could also try doing a warm bath if your baby likes the water. The warm water is really soothing and the different sensations can distract babies that are upset. To help ease the transition out of the tub, pop your little one’s towel in the dryer so it is nice and warm when you dry your baby off.

Follow the bath with a soothing massage with calming lotion. The Honest Company’s Lavender Lotion is a personal fav! Check out our friend Shari’s baby massage techniques!

The 5S’s / The Happiest Baby On The Block

Before I was a sleep consultant, I worked at Dell as a marketing manager. At my work baby shower, my colleagues made me Dell onesies for the boys. I took them into the office for their first visit, wearing their onesies, and one of my colleagues asked how things were going. I said there were *really* rough periods.

He asked me “have you read The Happiest Baby on the Block”?

This was a game changer for us. He dropped the book off to me and I dove in, trying to learn more about these magical soothing techniques, known as the 5 S’s!

The book is helpful, but I recommend parents watch the video because it is helpful to see the 5 S’s soothing techniques in action.

The 5 S’s are:

  1. Swaddle – your baby doesn’t hate it! Keep using the other soothing techniques and your baby should stop fighting the swaddle.
  2. Side or stomach position – while awake – back for sleep!
  3. Shush / White noise – turns on one of our baby’s innate calming reflexes and it is incredibly helpful for calming babies down. Here’s the thing though…it has to be louder than they are crying.
  4. Swing – gentle bobble head motion back and forth
  5. Suck – pacifier, clean finger or breast

Take A Break

You may try ALL. THE. THINGS. and your baby is still inconsolable. You aren’t doing anything wrong – this is normal and it will pass. That being said, always follow your instincts – no harm in putting a call into your pediatrician to get their insight.

And give yourself permission to take a quick break during the time frame. It’s ok to put your baby down in a safe space and take a break, even if they are crying. Once you take some deep breaths and have a minute, you’ll have the strength and patience to support your baby through this trying time.

Now that you know about the Witching Hour for babies and tips to help calm your newborn, you’ve got a game plan! If you’ve still got a million questions about your newborn’s sleep and you want to devise a plan to develop healthy sleep habits from the start, schedule a newborn sleep consultation. Or schedule a discovery call to chat first about what’s happening and how we can help!

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