You may know it well: early evening is approaching, and your baby starts to fuss. The ‘witching hour’ is a period—usually between 5 and 11 p.m.—when many babies get cranky and irritable, and may be difficult, if not impossible, to soothe.
Evening fussiness typically resolves on its own between 4 and 6 months. At that point, your baby will likely respond well to a consistent bedtime and stay awake for longer stretches during the day.
What’s behind the witching hour?
If your baby gets fussy in the late afternoon and won’t settle for hours, there may be a few reasons:
They’re overtired. Your baby’s circadian rhythm—their internal clock—is still developing, and they’re just beginning to regulate the sleep hormone melatonin. So they may struggle to get enough sleep.
They’re overstimulated. By the time early evening rolls around, your baby may have taken in all the sensory information they can handle for the day.
Things are busy. Evenings can be busy times, with people returning from work and school, dinner being made, bathtime, and other routines. The hustle and bustle of evenings can be overwhelming for your baby and a hard time for you to devote your full attention to them.
They’re growing. If your baby’s fussiness seems unpredictable, they may be going through one of the many growth spurts that newborns experience in the first few months of life. Growth spurts tend to make babies cranky and uncomfortable.
They want to feed more frequently. Prolactin is a protein that helps make milk, and levels vary throughout the day. If you breastfeed your baby, your milk supply may be highest in the early morning lower in the afternoon and evening, prompting your baby to want to feed more often.
They could have colic. To find out if this is more than just the witching hour, apply the rule of 3s. If your baby cries for 3 or more hours a day for 3 or more days a week for 3 or more weeks in a row, then they may have colic and you should consider consulting their pediatrician.
What to do if your baby gets fussy in the evening
Try these tips to make this time easier on yourself and your baby:
Introduce an earlier bedtime. Generally around 8 weeks, babies are ready to sleep for a longer stretch—6 or so hours—at the start of the night. The time may vary from day to day, but whenever your baby falls asleep between 7 and 8:30 p.m., their night is starting. Make sure they’re in a dark, quiet room, and when they wake, treat it like a middle-of-the-night waking and keep engagement to a minimum. You can also turn on some white noise.
Go for a walk. If it’s before 7 p.m., try to take them on a short walk outside—the fresh air and sounds of the world around them can be very soothing. If the weather isn’t favorable, you can walk them around your house, keeping the lights low and noise to a minimum.
Cluster feed. Some breastfed babies start wanting to cluster feed in the evenings. This may be your baby’s way of preparing to sleep for longer stretches of time.
Give them some skin-on-skin time. Skin-to-skin time is often a great strategy during the witching hour, as it can soothe both you and your baby, aid in milk supply and digestion, and help regulate your baby’s developing internal clock.
Give yourself a break. The witching hour can feel overwhelming and exhausting. You aren’t alone. If you’re struggling, it’s okay to put your baby down in a safe place, set a timer for 5 minutes, then try again to soothe them. If this is becoming a pattern, try to plan ahead and ask your spouse, partner, friend, or family member for help at this time of day. Friends and family are often looking for ways to assist—lean in and be specific. While this can be an extraordinarily difficult phase, remind yourself that it will likely pass soon ❤️
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