If you’ve landed on this page, you might just have a crying baby in your arms, so let’s skip the intro and dive right in to talk about colic and the witching hour for newborns.
What is the witching hour?
The witching hour(s) is a time when an otherwise content baby has an extremely fussy period, often occurring daily between the hours of 5:00 and 11:00 pm. Calming methods that work during other parts of the day don’t seem to help as much during this time.
We typically see this fussiness beginning around 2-3 weeks, peaking at 6 weeks, and resolving by 3-4 months.
Special note about 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 you suspect that your baby may not be otherwise healthy, please know this is not colic. Be sure to talk to your doctor about physical concerns like weight gain or reflux.)
This blog is going to give you the answers for babies with colic too. In fact, what some doctors diagnose as “colic,” others will simply call “an intense case of the witching hour.”
So how do you help the witching hour for babies?
1. Watch this video!
It will show you one of my favorite techniques for soothing a frustrated baby during the witching hour. It’s so calming for baby AND for you!
2. Prevent baby from being overtired.
Newborns from birth to 12 weeks get overtired so quickly. This is extremely common, especially in the late afternoon/evening. When babies get overtired, cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, essentially putting a baby in fight-or-flight mode. This makes falling asleep nearly impossible when babies need it most, and then the never-ending cycle of crying begins.
How do you prevent an overtired baby?
You need the Taking Cara Babies newborn class. (This class can help you prevent the witching hour for your baby!)
My goal is to help you prevent an overtired baby. This class will help you learn to read sleepy cues, understand wake windows, calm a fussy baby, and lay a strong sleep foundation. All of these tools will help you prevent that overtired baby. It doesn’t involve cry-it-out or allowing your baby to cry.
Here are messages from just a few parents of babies who appeared to have colic or an intense case of the witching hour before taking this class:
3. Go outside.
Babies feed off the emotions of their caregivers. If we are stressed and frazzled, they feel it. If we are calm, they often relax into our arms.
In the hectic evening hours, sometimes just going outside can make a huge difference. It can help take the focus off of responsibilities inside the home and allow you to just breathe. That calmness that fills you when you get outside can calm your baby as well. Your slower heartbeat, deep breaths, and a clear head can directly impact your baby as he mimics your emotional state.
As an added benefit, exposure to daylight in the late afternoon and early evening can also help your baby to sleep better at night.
4. Decrease the stimulation.
For the last 38-40 weeks, your baby was inside a womb: no faces to see, lights were dimmed, and voices were muffled. Now, he has entered our world, and this world is extremely overstimulating …. especially in the later hours of the day. Think about what’s happening in your home during this time: Older kids are coming home from activities, daddy is coming home from work, there’s dinner to prepare and lunch to pack. The hustle and bustle can simply be too much for your little one. This kind of overstimulation sends a newborn’s immature nervous system into overdrive, and the crying cycle of the newborn witching hour begins.
What can you do? Dim the lights and reduce the noise. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and even consider hanging out with your baby in a back bedroom for a few minutes.
5. Use motion.
Inside the womb, your baby was rocked and swayed anytime you were walking. This was so soothing to your little one! Try babywearing, using a swing, or placing your little one in a mamaroo. That motion may be exactly what she needs to get through the witching hour. (Be sure to buckle her in as directed.)
6. Cluster feed.
Babies who normally nurse every 2.5-3 hours all day long may want to eat more frequently during the evening. That’s okay! This doesn’t mean you have a milk supply issue. Your flow can be slower during this time of day, so give everyone some grace! Try your best to stay relaxed, and the milk will let down.
7. Get in the bath together.
Grab a washcloth, strip yourself and your baby, and hop in the tub. The sound of running water can instantly calm some fussy babies. Place your baby on your tummy/chest and lay a warm washcloth on top of the baby’s back. Make sure the water is high enough to keep him warm.
This is a trick I used all the time, sometimes a few times in one evening to handle the witching hour with my babies. I could feel myself AND my baby relax. Try it. You both may love it.
8. Ask for help.
People WANT to help you.
It’s difficult to imagine that someone may want to come hold your fussy baby during the witching hour. After all, this is YOUR baby, and you may not even want to do it sometimes. Why would someone else want to come help you in this way? Isn’t this too much to ask?
Oh mama, no. It’s not. Your loved ones WANT to help you. And honestly, the cry of your baby is uniquely distressing to you. For an outsider to come in, this simply does not feel so overwhelming. Not only did that outsider get a good night’s sleep last night, she is also going to leave after helping you and go home to a quiet house.
Asking for help does not make you “too much” or “too needy.” It makes you human. And the people who love you would love the chance to serve you in this way.
So next time your dad, friend, aunt, or neighbor asks, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Respond with this: “Yes, would you come over at 8pm tomorrow night and hold my baby while I ______ ?“ (Fill in the blank with something that sounds heavenly for you to do.)
9. Have a plan if you’re overwhelmed.
If you’re feeling frustrated or angry, set your baby down in the crib and step onto your balcony, walk out on the front porch, or stand on the back patio.
Ok, now point to four round objects. Stop and breathe. Look for four round things. Name them aloud. “A tire, a rock.” What else do you see? A round wreath on your door?
Why do this? It switches gears in your brain and helps you think clearly.
Now, find four green things, four different colored cars, four different types of trees, or four different “anythings.” Point to them. Say them aloud.
This works. Your brain is calming. Breathe in deep. Exhale slowly. Do it again. Now again. Four more times.
Are you calm? Now go in and get your baby. (Right after you read #10.)
10. Repeat this aloud: “There is no better parent on the planet for this baby than me. No one could do it better. No one!”
Your baby crying is not a reflection of you. She doesn’t hate you; she ADORES you. He doesn’t wish for a better parent; you ARE the best in the world for him.
This is just a phase. That nervous system is immature. This newborn witching hour stage WILL pass.
You got this!
Before you go, I have to ask you: does it seem your baby is NEVER happy? Rarely content? Constantly crying? Showing signs of reflux? This is NOT what witching hour looks like for babies. This is NOT just colic. If you’ve taken the newborn class and everything still feels hard because your baby cannot be settled, this is your baby’s way of saying, “Mama/Daddy, let’s go talk to my doctor. Something needs to be addressed.”