Clever Solutions for the Witching Hours

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).

Clever Solutions for the Witching Hours

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. 

You can imagine how overwhelmed this 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.

If you’re reading this right in the middle of your baby crying hysterically, rest assured, you’re definitely not alone. I found several tactics that can turn this around. Some will outright soothe your baby while others will be more gradual. These tips can give you an action plan and the reassurance that you’re doing all you can:

Have your baby take a late catnap

You likely don’t have set times for naps yet and instead 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 to 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 but still awake enough to be sleepy by then.

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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 witching hours happen earlier than bedtime, find a window of time when he has calmed down before trying to put him to bed.

Try several soothing techniques

It’s easy to get stuck in our usual rut, especially if your newborn has been awake for hours on end. You may have gotten used to soothing her by bouncing her on a yoga ball, so when she fusses even then, you’re likely to get frustrated. “Why is she still crying even though I’m bouncing on the yoga ball?!” you might say to yourself.

The thing is, not everything works perfectly all the time. Start 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 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 witching hours. 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.

Think outside the box

Along the same lines, think outside the box about what can help during this time. 

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.

Another found luck strapping the baby in a carrier and doing some light vacuuming (the white noise and motion would remind her little one of being in the womb). And still another would step outside with the baby for some fresh air.

What has soothed your baby in the past, however unconventional it may have been?

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 that time to doing so.

For instance, during the day, she could spend most of the time on her tummy, in an infant seat, or 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.

Holding your baby for a long time may not be easy or convenient, but because it’s effective, reserve doing so right when you need it.

Expert tip

Combine carrying your baby with shushing her and offering a pacifier. Being held in a snug position, hearing a shushing sound, and staying in motion mimic the womb environment and can help her calm down. Sucking on a pacifier also provides a natural comfort when she’s fussy.

Avoid overstimulation

Given that the end of the day is already draining for all of us, this isn’t the time to stimulate your baby even more. The opposite is actually true: a calm environment can calm her down or even prevent her from being fussy.

If she’s too stimulated with her surroundings, turn it down a notch. This might mean dimming the lights, turning off the television, or playing calm music. Avoid playing games, talking too much, or trying to distract her with toys galore.

She has already processed so much earlier in the day and needs this time to wind down. By keeping her environment calm and relaxed, she can reserve her energy for settling down and resting.

Stay calm

One of the biggest downsides of the witching hours is how depleted your emotions can be by the end of the night. It’s easy to get frustrated when your overtired baby won’t stop crying or even yell at him in frustration.

That’s why it’s important to focus on being the calm and collected parent he 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.

Frequently asked questions

Why do the witching hours happen in the first place?

It’s pretty common for newborn babies to cry for a few hours at the end of the day. It’s the time when they don’t seem to know what they want, aren’t easily comforted, and don’t feed or sleep well.

At what stage do the witching hours happen?

This stage is said to start when babies are around two to three weeks old and can last—unfortunately—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.

The bottom line

For many of us, we never even knew the newborn witching hour was a “thing.” All we know is that our otherwise content babies are inconsolable. Thankfully, we can do plenty until they outgrow this stage. It may not go away overnight the way it arrived, but with these tips, you now know it won’t last forever, either.

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  1. Hello,
    My daughter is 5 weeks soon to be 6 weeks in 3 days. She hasn’t been a great sleeper during the day but usually slept through the night however I think all the daytime sleep loss is maybe catching up. She is now currently sleeping 3-4 hours for her first nap and then maybe an hour for her second but by the 3rd, 4th and 5th she just won’t stay asleep or go to sleep. Then by about 5 every night it is an all out scream fest till about 10 pm. If I can get her to calm down for sleep and she falls asleep she is up within maybe 10 minutes and we start it all over again. And I can’t get her to stay asleep for an early bed time! I’m about to pull my hair out! She’s miserable and so am I please help!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Jordan! One idea is to wake her up from that first nap so that she can sleep a bit more consistently throughout the day. I’m not a fan of cutting naps short, but in this case, it might be worth a try to see what happens if you wake her up, say, after two hours.

      That said, it’s also normal for babies to get cranky toward the end of the day (and therefore have a harder time sleeping). We all get more tired and depleted as the day goes on. So you’re definitely not alone!

  2. The witching hour started when my son was 3.5 months. Nothing helps. I’ve tried changing his naps, assisting eating times, impending bedtime routines, nothing has helped. He also started only sleeping in 1.5-2hr stretches at night whereas before he was sleeping 3-4hr stretches between feeds. He’s 5 months now and we’re still dealing with the same issues and i’m losing my mind with exhaustion and dreading the two hours of screaming every evening.