As a new parent, figuring out how to console your baby when they are upset and crying can be overwhelming and is a common scenario that parents often find themselves in, especially in the evening. Maybe you’ve spent hours rocking your baby, trying to feed them, or offering the pacifier. But nothing seems to be working, which then causes you to become worked up and frustrated. If this sounds familiar, your baby may be experiencing a peak fussy period, or what we call “the witching hour.”
What is the “witching hour”?
The “witching hour” might sound scary, but it is normal. Almost all newborns experience it at some point. It’s the time in the evening (usually between 6-9 pm) that your baby becomes overly fussy and has difficulty settling, even with your comfort and support. We typically see this between 6-8 weeks of age, but it can occur in babies up to three months. And it is important to know that it is not your fault if your baby is experiencing this.
What causes fussiness in babies?
The actual cause of these peak fussy periods is somewhat of a mystery. But there are certain things that you can do to help prevent them and to help comfort your baby while they are seemingly inconsolable. And the good news is, the older your baby gets, the less likely they will experience them. But until you get to that point, here are a few things that can help during your baby’s witching hour.
How to Help Your Baby Through the Witching Hour
Give your baby a warm bath.
Studies have shown that lukewarm baths can help calm your nervous system.1 For many babies, a bath’s calming effect will help minimize those tears. This is also a great step to incorporate a bath into your nightly routine with your newborn to help them prepare for sleep.
Many parents fear that nursing their fussy newborns will create bad habits. This is simply not true. In the newborn stage, babies rely on their parents and caregivers to help them self-regulate. Nursing is an entirely natural and healthy way to do that.
There are many benefits of being skin-to-skin with your baby, and babywearing can often have an instant calming effect when your baby is upset. Babywearing also promotes a bond with your baby and allows you to have your hands free which is helpful if you have things you need to get done or your arms are tired from holding your baby!
Use the swing.
If you have an infant swing, the swaying motion of a swing can help calm your baby, mainly because they are so used to being in motion all the time in the womb! Make sure your baby doesn’t fall asleep in the swing since it isn’t a safe sleep space. If you don’t have a swing, you can try swaying your baby back and forth in your arms.
Use white noise or shush your baby.
This creates a similar sound to what your baby heard in the womb. It can also help your baby become prepared for sleep.2 If you don’t have a white noise machine, don’t be afraid to get close to your baby’s ear and “shush” over and over.
Go on a walk.
As we enter a season of warmer weather, this is a great option to help your baby (and you) get some fresh air. And if your baby falls asleep in the process, that is okay too. You just want to ensure they are positioned correctly in the stroller/car seat to ensure their airways are open.
Dim the lights.
Newborns can be easily overstimulated by bright environments or too much noise. Even when your baby isn’t fussy, I recommend that you create a low-stimulating environment every night about one hour before bedtime.
Attempt a nap or early bedtime.
Parents often don’t realize that their baby is overly fussy and has a witching hour because they are tired. And for newborns, because they have a later bedtime, an early evening nap is typically okay. In this stage, you are following 60-90 minute wake windows. So do your best to plan naps and bedtime in this range to prevent your baby from becoming overtired.
Take a break and take a deep breath.
Babies can sense when you are overly anxious and on edge. So you want to ensure you take breaks from soothing your baby to calm yourself down. If it is possible to switch off with your partner, we encourage you to do so. But if not, know it is okay to set your baby down in their crib while you collect yourself and take a quick break.
While it can be exhausting and frustrating trying to find ways to help your fussy little one, especially during the witching hour, try to stay calm and remember that this, too, will pass. Creating a calm environment for your little one in the evening can benefit everyone in the family after a long day.