What is witching hour and how long does it last in babies? These are questions most parents want answers to so we’re sharing ten tips to manage witching hour with your baby.
Witching hour is a normal part of navigating the fourth trimester but what is the witching hour?
The witching hour (or sometimes hours) is the name given to the time of day when a usually content infant baby is not so content, in fact it may feel like they turn into a little witch or wizard!
During this time, characteristically your baby will fuss despite you running through the checklist of all the things that make them comfortable. It seems no matter what you do, you’re unable to soothe your baby in the usual way.
What time of day is witching hour?
Witching hour usually falls between 5:00pm and 11:00 pm and typically begins around 2-3 weeks, peaks at 6 weeks and resolves by 3-4 months.
So how do you approach witching hour with your baby?
Here’s ten steps to help ease witching hour
Watch for early signs your baby is overtired
From birth to 12 weeks babies quickly become overtired (especially in the late afternoon and evening). Once overtired two hormones called cortisol and adrenaline release into the bloodstream which sets off your baby’s fight or flight mode.
Fight or flight mode is the bodies’ physiological reaction to a perceived threat in the amygdala and is the body’s protective response to stress, fright or danger. This response makes falling asleep nearly impossible for a baby and so a cycle of crying and unsettled behaviour begins.
Focus on age-appropriate awake times
How do you avoid an overtired baby?
You might be surprised to know you don’t need to focus on a sleep routine at this age. Newborn babies need around 15-16 hours sleep in a 24-hour period however because infants are born without a functioning circadian rhythm, sleep is neurologically disorganised.
Instead of focusing on a dedicated sleep routine, focus on your baby’s awake times to guide your day.
Here is a handy guide for awake times from newborn to 12 weeks:
- Birth to 3 weeks – awake 45 minutes
- 3-6 weeks – awake 1 hour
- 6-9 weeks – awake 1 hour and 15 minutes
- 9-12 weeks – awake 1 hour and 30 minutes
Top 5 tired signs in newborns:
- Redness around the eyebrows
- Jerky body movements
- Can’t hold a gaze
- Grizzling and crying towards the end of awake window
For more details on newborn tired cues and sleep myths find the full blog here
Expert Tip: Newborns often have a much later bedtime and are known for cluster feeding in the evenings.
Head outdoors for fresh air
In the madness of the late afternoon, stepping outside for a top up of fresh air, change of scenery and wide-open space can be just what you and your baby need.
What are the benefits?
- Removing ourselves from the home shifts thoughts – All the ‘to dos’ that need to be tended to can weigh us down emotionally so a quick break from the home allows us to take a moment to create calm for ourselves and our baby.
- As our heart rate calms, our baby will respond to our emotional shift- Next time you’re feeling heightened emotions like overwhelm or stress take a moment to notice your baby’s reactions. They often feed off our mood so when we’re calm, they usually respond by relaxing in our arms.
You don’t have to go on a big adventure, even walking the pavement right outside your house or strolling up and down the driveway for as little as ten minutes can create a shift in mood and connection.
Expert Tip: As an added bonus, exposure to sun in the late afternoon and early evening can help your baby to sleep better at night.
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Minimise the chance of overstimulation
Whilst growing in the womb, your baby became accustomed to an internal world with consistency of no loud voices or bright lights. It was a safe, secure haven and now they’re adjusting to the shock of loud sounds and bright lights. It’s overstimulating …. especially in the later hours of the day.
In the afternoon and early evening, households often have older children arriving home or going off to after school activities. There’s dinner to make and dad arrives home from work. There’s lots going on and it quickly becomes too much for a baby’s immature nervous system. The fact is an overstimulated baby won’t sleep.
What can you do to minimise overstimulating your newborn?
- Turn down the house by dimming lights
- Switch off digital screens like TVs, iPads, computers and phones which are a source of blue light and background noise
- Take your baby to a quieter place within the home, away from the family living space for some solitude and calm
- Baby wearing can be a great way to provide the close proximity they’re craving
Let motion work its magic
Your newborn has never known a time without motion. They enjoyed nine months of being carried by the rhythm and sway of your movements throughout the day. It’s a familiar and soothing sensation for your baby.
To replicate the rhythm of the womb you can try babywearing using a carrier, placing your little one in a bouncer or a swing designed for infants. The familiar motion they love might be the winning ingredient to get you and your baby through witching hour.
Feed on demand
If you’ve become accustomed to your baby nursing every 2.5-3 hours, you may feel a little confused when late afternoon hits and they suddenly embark on a feeding frenzy and feed frequently throughout the course of the evening. This is known as cluster feeding.
Expert Tip: Your let down and flow can be slower in the later hours of the day so try your best to stay relaxed and allow your body to do what it naturally knows to do. Please know cluster feeding shouldn’t alarm you and is not an indicator of milk supply shortage.
Water and wellbeing
As a parent, water will become a trusted method of creating calm for your baby right through to childhood and beyond.
During witching hour jump in the shower or bath with your baby on your stomach or chest and enjoy the relaxing sensation water provides as well as a moment to reconnect in a different environment. You will want to place a warm washcloth on top of your baby’s back and ensure the water reaches your baby to keep them warm throughout.
Expert Tip: For some babies the sound of running water has an instant calming effect.
Get comfortable asking for help
Many parents feel uncomfortable asking for help. Until you became a parent you probably enjoyed being self-sufficient and living independently without relying on others.
The idea of asking for help may bring up difficult feelings or make you worry you’re being too vulnerable, weak or lacking independence. Maybe you don’t enjoy delegating or find it difficult to switch off and take a break from parenting. You’re not alone and many parents wrestle with emotions around asking for help.
I can assure you your loved ones want to help and you’re not asking too much of them by putting your hand up. Caring for newborns is a round the clock job and you need a break (a break your loved one’s get when they’re at their own homes).
When a loved one steps into your newborn bubble they bring so much. Not just a set of arms to hold a fussing baby (Note- they won’t find your baby’s cries triggering in the way you do). They also bring a change in routine, new conversation, and just shake things up in a way that can lift the mood of the home.
The saying it takes a village to raise a child couldn’t be truer. The sooner us mums and dads allow the people who love us to become a trusted network, the more mum, dad and baby will thrive.
Plan for big emotions
If you ever find yourself overwhelmed with feelings of anger, aggravation or irritation, pop your baby down in their bassinet or cot (even if they’re crying, they’re safe in their bassinet or cot) then step out of the room for a moment.
Once baby is down, get some fresh air in the backyard, on the verandah or simply move to another space within the home and regroup by taking some nice slow breaths. Then begin a mindfulness exercise such as the grounding technique where you look for and acknowledge:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Do this as many times as you need and once you are feeling calm congratulate yourself on grounding yourself and shifting your mindset to a calmer, regulated state which will allow you to return to your baby and respond and soothe them in the way they need.
Encourage and affirm yourself
Feed your mind with nourishing words of kindness and grace. Say an affirmation out loud that resonates with you.
Some examples are:
- I am the best parent for my baby
- I am an incredible mum
- I am a loving parent to my baby
- I nurture my baby with the love they need
An unsettled baby who is fussing, crying and unable to be soothed is not a reflection of your ability to care for or parent your baby. You are their world and witching hour is a normal stage on the journey of babyhood.
I promise you are not alone on the baby journey; this stage will fade away and become a distant memory.
A note about babies with colic: Colic is defined as, “episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for three weeks in an otherwise healthy child. If your baby’s health concerns you speak to your GP or trusted health adviser.
We have several fourth trimester resources. Check out 5 quick and easy ways to calm a newborn
Find out more about awake times and gentle sleep foundations with sleep routines from 6 weeks through to 4 years in my comprehensive Nap Routine Guide. Download Nap Routines.