baby crying witching hour

The curse of the newborn Witching Hour!  And how to break it

By Leanne Trevor, Mother In Touch Baby Sleep Consultant

It is 5pm and it starts… Your newborn baby is fussing and cranky and nothing you do seems to help them settle. Sounds like the Witching Hour has arrived again!

The Witching Hour can be described as a fussy period that almost all babies go through. It tends to happen around the same time every day and most frequently occurs in the late afternoon and evening hours (5 p.m.- 12 a.m.). The Witching Hour often begins between weeks 2 and 3. It will peak around week 6, and then decline around the 3-month mark. The worst thing is that the term “Witching Hour” is misleading (like ‘morning’ sickness!)… this period often lasts 3-4 hours or more at a time!

This is a perfectly normal phenomenon newborn babies experience, however it can be a brutal and testing time that leaves many parents feeling helpless and on the edge. The good news is that there are things you can do to overcome it.

What causes the Witching Hour?

Colic and reflux is often the blame for this period of the day. However, as it’s experienced by almost all babies, it may well be extreme overtiredness.

Many parents feel sure, and may be told by healthcare professionals, family or friends that the baby must have ‘wind’ or painful ‘colic’ when they cry inconsolably. The accepted definition of colic is over 60 years old and applies to a healthy baby aged under 3-months who:

  • Cries inconsolably for more than 3 hours
  • 3 days out of every seven and for
  • More than 3 weeks.

Colic is sometimes applied to any unexplained, persistent crying, usually assumed to be gut-related. There is, however, no scientific evidence that colic exists as a physical problem, or that wind is painful. The idea that babies cry for a long time because the wind is ‘trapped’ is not well supported by the research or physiology. The baby who gets rid of wind (one end or the other) and then stops crying may have taken in the wind by crying rather than wind causing the crying.

So if the Witching Hour is not caused by colic or reflux, what is it?  Possible causes for this fussiness include:

Overtiredness: Babies sometimes have a hard time developing a good sleep pattern, and over time that sleep debt will build up until they’re actually pretty miserable.

Overstimulation: Babies can easily become overstimulated due to all of the sights and sounds around them. While your baby isn’t necessarily taking part in all of the action, it still has an effect on her, which in turn can cause fussiness.

Prolactin levels drop: A natural dip in mum’s prolactin levels (your body’s milk making hormone) as the day progresses, resulting in a slower flow, could be a contributing factor. As the milk flow is slower, the baby may become frustrated, and as the milk volume is lower, the baby may want to feed more often. Be assured, this is a normal occurrence in breastfeeding. Feeding your baby often during these times ensures that you will have a good milk supply.

Tips to break the ‘curse’

  1. Reduce overtiredness by ensuring their wake time between naps is age appropriate to reduce that sleep debt from building up.
  2. This is the time of day to offer frequent feeds or cluster feeding, as it offers comfort and allows them to relax and calm down.
  3. Skin to skin with your baby is also a great way to help calm and regulate their little system. Doing skin to skin is like a baby reboot! Skin to skin isn’t just for mums, dads can do it as well.
  4. Bath time is often done around this time as it is calming and relaxing. Most newborns love being in the water, it is familiar to them, as they were surrounded by water in the womb.
  5. Start with a regular feeding and nap schedule which is age appropriate. This will allow you to stop second guessing and reassure you that your baby is getting the sleep they need and they are not hungry but it is just a fussy period which is entirely normal.
  6. Take up the offer of help from family and friends
  7. See what my colleague, Marie-France, dietitian form Fussy Eater Solutions says about Colic
  8. Most importantly, don’t blame yourself! This time does pass and research suggests babies become calmer with less crying after 6 weeks, and that crying reduces significantly once they are 3 months of age.

About the author

Leanne Trevor is the founder and CEO of Mother In Touch Baby Sleep Consultancy, a Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant, a Midwife and Registered Nurse, with over 25 years experience in the medical field.

She has developed an approach that combines scientific research with a compassionate understanding of children’s needs. She works with families in Australia and worldwide and offers a range of online and in-home services to parents for children from newborns to 6 years of age, guiding then through the helpful steps to ensure they develop healthy sleep habits.

As a mother of 2 children she understands the desire to want what’s best for your children, and how hard it can be to achieve this when sleep deprived and exhausted. She also understands the effects of a non-sleeping baby and how this issue can lead to wider implications for the entire family. She feels the utmost privilege to work with families and make a positive difference in their lives. Turning a very challenging time into the most rewarding experience.

She co-hosts mums supported, a free Facebook group, which is focused on raising great sleepers and confident eaters.

To find out more about her programs and blog check out her website: www.motherintouch.com.au

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