Wondering why your baby is fussy at night? It may be the newborn witching hour. Learn clever tips to survive this stage (and mindset changes to keep you calm until it ends).
At three weeks old, almost overnight, my son started getting fussy around dinner time.
I was used to his crying by then, but this was different: he wouldn’t let up until late into the evening. He cried and fussed, no matter what I did, only to stop abruptly toward the end of the night.
You can imagine how overwhelmed that made me feel as a first-time mom. I felt like I was the only one going through this, that I must have a “fussy type of baby.” That is, until I learned about the newborn witching hour.
Turns out, it’s pretty common for newborn babies to cry for a few hours at the end of the day. It’s the time of day when they don’t seem to know what they want, aren’t easily comforted, and don’t feed or sleep well. When you’re cluster feeding all night with no end in sight.
This stage is said to start when babies are around two to three weeks old, and can last—unfortunately—all the way until they’re three to four months old. They can be happy earlier in the day, but come the early evening, they’re upset and inconsolable.
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Getting through the newborn witching hour
If you’re reading this right in the middle of your baby’s newborn witching hour, rest assured, you’re definitely not alone. Even more comforting, know that this stage passes (often sooner than four months old), and it doesn’t happen every night.
Still, I know these reassurances matter little when you’re right in the thick of it. I know what it’s like to wish there was something you could do to provide comfort. Perhaps the newborn witching hour is even making your evening schedule and bedtime routines with your older kids more hectic.
How do you end the cycle of the baby witching hour?
I found several tactics that can turn this evening fussiness around. Some will outright soothe your baby, while others will be more gradual. These tips will give you an action plan and the reassurance that you’re doing all you can.
Now, you won’t find a magic formula to guarantee he’ll stop crying. Instead, think of these as trial and error efforts and continue to try them when those witching hours hit. Now you have a thorough resource of tips to try that can help the newborn witching hour pass more smoothly:
1. Dedicate this time to wear or hold your baby
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Sometimes holding or wearing your baby is all it takes to calm her down. You may not want to hold her all day, but if you already expect her fussiness at night, dedicate the newborn witching hour to doing so.
For instance, during the day, she could spend most of the time on her tummy, on an infant seat, or in the stroller. Then, come the evening, you could put her in a wrap (I like the Moby Wrap, especially for newborns) or carry her in your arms.
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2. Have an earlier bedtime
Before having kids, my bedtime, at best, was 11pm. Once my baby was born, it was hard for me to imagine a bedtime of anything later than 9pm. Unfortunately, keeping a baby up until the late hours often makes them cranky.
You see, your baby’s fussiness could be a sign that he’s overtired and done for the day. You and I also feel more depleted as the day goes by, from our willpower to our physical energy.
The best way to counter this? Put him to bed earlier, even a ghastly, unthinkable hour, like 6:30pm. Experiment with what bedtime works best and try to stay consistent. I found that my baby did well with a 7pm bedtime.
And put him to sleep before he gets worked up. If the newborn witching hour happens earlier than bedtime, find a window of time when he’s calmed down before trying to put him to bed.
3. Have your baby take a late catnap
Naps can be tricky, especially in the newborn stage. You likely don’t have set times for naps yet, but rather follow your newborn’s sleep cues or base her awake and sleep times on how long she happens to nap. But sometimes this can spell trouble when she’s been awake too long at the end of the day.
For instance, she might be tired in the late afternoon, but it’s still too early to put her down for bed. But keeping her usual bedtime means she’s going to be awake for a long time since the last nap.
The solution? Have her take a late catnap. Generally, the last nap of the day is almost always the shortest one, so take advantage of this quick nap. She’ll be rested enough to last until bedtime (and possibly avoiding the newborn witching hour), but still awake enough to be sleepy by then.
4. Try several soothing techniques
It’s easy to get stuck in our usual rut. You may have gotten used to soothing your baby by bouncing her on a yoga ball, so when she fusses even then, you’re likely to get frustrated. “Why are you still crying even though we’re bouncing on the yoga ball?!” you might say to yourself.
Thing is, not everything works perfectly all the time. Start off with your usual go-to moves, but if you find that they’re not working, try other techniques as well. Here are a few ideas to calm her down and get longer stretches of sleep:
- Give her a baby massage
- Walk around the house with her in your arms
- Put her in a swaddle
- Pat her gently on the back (and maybe even get a burp out)
- Put her down unswaddled so she can stretch out any gas she might have
- Give her gas drops
- Clear her nose in case she’s having trouble breathing
- Offer a pacifier
- Place her in a swing
- Turn on a fan or white noise machine
Collect several ideas to try and run through your list during the newborn witching hour. Give it a few minutes, and if it doesn’t work, move on to the next one. At least you’re not doing the same thing over and over with no results.
5. Think outside the box
Along the same lines, you can also think outside the box of what can help during the newborn witching hour.
For instance, a friend of mine would put a rocking chair in her walk-in closet, shut the door, and rock her baby to sleep. Another friend found that going to the bathroom and turning on the vent helped stop his baby from crying.
Others have found luck strapping the baby in a baby carrier and doing some light vacuuming (the white noise and motion would remind the baby of being in the womb). And still others would step outside with the baby for some fresh air.
What has soothed your baby in the past, however unconventional it may have been?
6. Try the “5 S’s”
Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, explains the 5 S’s that can help soothe newborns:
- Side or stomach (meaning, hold your baby on his side or stomach)
At my most desperate times, I relied on these 5 S’s to soothe my fussy baby. Keep in mind though that your baby might grow to rely on these methods so much that it can be difficult for him to self-soothe when he’s older. But for now, they just might do the trick!
7. Avoid overstimulation
The right environment can calm your baby during the newborn witching hour. If she’s too stimulated with her surroundings, turn it down a notch, especially at the end of the day.
This might mean dimming the lights, turning off the television, or playing calm music. You might even avoid taking her out of the house at the end of the day and instead keep her in familiar settings.
8. Take a break
If you have another adult with you, make it a point to give each other breaks during the newborn witching hour. The two of you might be tempted to tackle your baby’s cries together, but this only leaves both of you frustrated and exhausted.
Instead, take turns. You could handle one night while he does the next. Or you could leave the room (even put on earphones!) or run an errand while they stay with the baby. Make sure you both get the rest you need.
9. Stay calm
One of the biggest downsides with the newborn witching hour is how depleted our emotions can be by the end of the night. We get frustrated when the baby won’t stop crying, or even yell at him in frustration.
Be the calm and collected parent your baby needs you to be. He’ll pick up on your stress and anxiety, making it harder for him to calm down and eventually sleep.
How can you stay calm? Show empathy toward him. Remind yourself that he’s likely as miserable—if not more so—than you are at this moment. He’s not so much inconveniencing you as he is trying to get through his discomfort.
Another way to stay calm is to simply focus on comforting him, even as he cries. Hold him and let him cry in your arms, just as you would let a toddler cry after he fell and scraped his knee. Talk to him, caress his head, and be the comfort he needs right now.
Don’t make it about stopping his cries so much as reassuring him that you’re here.
For many of us, we never even knew the newborn witching hour was a “thing.” All we know is that our otherwise content baby is inconsolable.
Thankfully, we can do plenty until our babies outgrow this stage. Dedicate this time to wear or hold your baby. Have an earlier bedtime, or have him take a late catnap. Try several soothing techniques so you don’t feel stuck, even thinking outside the box for unusual but effective tricks.
Try the “5 S’s” to calm him down, and avoid over-stimulation at the end of the day. Remember to take a break and take turns with other adults, and most important, stay calm and compassionate.
The newborn witching hour may not go away overnight the way it arrived, but with these tips, you now know it won’t last forever, either.
Get more tips:
- 4 Ways to Help Your Child Handle a Baby Crying
- How to Get Used to Life with a Baby
- How to Survive the First Few Weeks with a Newborn and Toddler
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