Understanding and Conquering The Witching Hour for Baby!
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Looking back, I’m amazed that it wasn’t until well into the life of my second child before I heard about the horrors of the witching hour baby! During my first pregnancy, I was surround by moms. I worked in an office with round-about 25 women (give or take) and served with a small army of women at church.
Although I’m sure if I searched my memory well enough I could find some moment in time when my mom had said the words witching hours, I can’t recall.
As I scan my time with my first baby, then my second, and knowing the parent that I’ve come to be today, it kinda makes perfect sense that I didn’t hear much about the Witching Hours.
Why were the witching hours not a part of my baby’s life right off the bat? How did I magically escape that inescapable new mommy right of passage? We’ll get into that shortly. But first… let’s get a handle on just exactly what these “witching hours” are!
What is the Witching Hour for Baby?
The Witching Hour is, generally and typically, defined as a time of night associated with supernatural events. Yuck. No wonder I didn’t care to hear about it.
No… but really.
When referring to the witching hours for baby, folks are usually talking about a period of a few hours in the evening when baby is especially fussy, prone to crying, difficult to console, and overall extra-cranky!
While the time of day that the witching hours occur can vary, it’s generally thought to happen between 4/5 pm through 10/11 pm. (<clue #1 regarding the truth about what the witching hours really is)
With more than 24 time zones throughout the world, there can be more than one witching hour time period. For the sake of argument and understanding, we’re going to stick to this one witching hour time frame today. That sometimes crazed portion of the day where the workday is ending for most, people need to eat dinner, nighttime is approaching, and you find yourself running out of daylight. Also known as “EVENING!” (insert duh duh duh sound here)
The Truth About The Witching Hour
Alright, before we dive into these crazy hours, why you are likely noticing your baby is extra fussy during this time, and how to put an end to it, let’s revisit how I escaped the witching hours with my 4 babies!
The Witching Hour baby label (<clue #2 regarding the truth about what the witching hours really is) was created as a result of a bunch of like symptoms. At some point in the history of motherhood, moms were noticing that at roughly the same time every day, their babies would get fussy. Extra fussy. They’d notice baby was harder to console, out-of-what, more difficult to comfort, displayed odd feeding habits, cried more than usual, and was just generally “off.” So they assigned a name to these group of symptoms that reflected the out of sorts way it made them and their babies feel.
A syndrome is also defined as a group of symptoms which consistently occur together. What happens when you pluck away at the layers of a syndrome one symptom at a time? There is no more syndrome.
Likewise, as I worked intentionally from the very beginning to train healthy sleeping, eating, and soothing habits for my babies, there was an absence of symptoms and therefore no syndrome, aka no witching hours for my babies. Read more about raising your baby best here.
The Witching Hours for Baby is essentially a (poorly-named) syndrome that explains a group of symptoms common to many babies as a result of sleep, diet, and behavior habits, that need training.
I trained those habits before I even knew the witching hours were a thing. Consequently… no witching hours for us.
The foundation for my message here on Mama Duck is the significant and extraordinary value of training. The rock-bottom, honest-to-goodness truth about child behavior, beginning in babyhood, is that intentional training solves the vast majority of behavior problems, including many babyhood ailments, such as the witching hours.
Why do babies cry in the evening, wake up during the witching hour, and how do you end the witching hour? Now that you understanding the power you have over this (and other syndromes) let’s dig into how to be proactive about your baby’s witching hour problems!
Why Do Babies Cry in The Evening?
Take a moment and feel the feels of your own day. You got up this morning and jumped into your day. Meal prep, dishes, laundry, read baby a book, snuggled, rocked, housework, more meal prep, more dishes, ran to the store, tidied the house, and quickly found yourself needing to make dinner.
The day went by pretty quickly and here you are starting to get worn out and still having several hours worth of work to do. Your baby feels the feels too. Only her little body is far less equipped to deal with the stress of it all.
She’s worn out, sleepy, hungry, and a little crabby too. Twenty minutes ago, you may have been inclined to slap a label on it and say, “Ah, here comes the witching hour baby again.”
But now, however, you are armed with a new frame of mind. Of course babies cry in in the evening. Evenings are a busy, often chaotic, and overly stimulating time-of-day.
If a baby hasn’t been able to recharge regularly throughout the day with enough restorative sleep, proper diet, the stability of a structured day, and proactive training: excessive crying, fussiness, and irritability are sure to be a part of her evening.
Does The Witching Hour for Toddler Exist?
What about toddlers? Sometimes the witching hour is permitted to persist so long, it turns habitual and is carried into the toddler years. Toddler witching hours are the result of one of two things: bad habits from infancy that were allowed to become well established and not corrected or habits that were created as a result of a slide or decline in training.
They reach a place of regularity, so they feel witching hour-ish. They too are comprised of symptoms. Eliminate the symptoms – eliminate the syndrome.
How to End the Witching Hour
I’m going to give you 8 steps for ending the witching hours for baby. How successful you are, directly correlates with how many of these steps you follow and how completely you follow them through.
A baby who’s been trained in all 8 of the areas below would be very unlikely to experience witching hour evening cycles.
If you HAVE to pick only one… please let it be #7!
1. Put your baby on a predictable and structured daily schedule.
Regardless of how you feel about schedules for yourself and in general, it’s a plain ole’ fact that babies GREATLY benefit from a structured day! I have a really detailed (and kinda cool) graphic in this post here to show you how to simply and effectively structure and schedule your baby’s day.
My example can be tweaked to whatever will fit your needs.
This is less about scheduling and FAR MORE about training. By applying structure and routine, you are training your baby what happens when, how to best go about her day to promote peace and joy, and that her needs will always be met per your best judgment and care. A structured daily schedule will greatly reduce the probability of the witching hours.
My favorite book for baby care is this one. It literally lays out everything you could want to know about the very best care for you baby (and child.)
Note: This site may earn from qualifying purchases through affiliate links at no extra cost to you.
2. Focus on routine to reduce witching hour likelihood.
Routine isn’t boring for baby, it’s a blessing. Feeding baby the same foods, playing the same games, investigating the same places and things, and further repetition, build additional predictability.
Stick with the same routine for several weeks before switching things up. Slowly introduce new foods. Fully introduce one new toy at a time, allowing baby to become familiar with it before moving on to the next. Visit the same park a few times in a row before exploring a new one.
While discovery and exploration are highly important for your baby’s neurodevelopment, so is routine. So show your baby the world in a way that she really learns it! Learn more about baby’s development here.
3. Feed the right baby foods to prevent witching hour tummy upset.
My nutrition research didn’t begin until after I had my second baby. Furthermore, I didn’t make it a large priority until after my third baby! Had I learned beforehand what I have learned since, I would have significantly changed the way I fed my first two infants.
I believe higher quality nutrition is found in breastmilk than formula. Likewise, breastfeeding gives you FAR more control over what nutrients your baby gets, based on what you eat.
If breastfeeding isn’t an option for you, choose a formula with care and intention. There are good options available, but it’s up to you to sort out the “there’s no way that’s going in my baby” from the “ah yes, I have peace about giving this to my precious little baby!”
With regards to solid food, it is my opinion, at this point in history, that conventionally grown grains are not the best first foods to give baby. My preference and suggestion is this: healthy fats (avocado) > vegetables (high nutrient greens) > protein (beans, low allergen equivalents) > fruits (save this for almost last as it will be baby’s first taste of sugar) > grains (organic and high quality.)
This is exactly the process by which I food trained my third and fourth babies.
I’m a pretty reasonable person. I understand that making baby food from scratch or buying all organic isn’t an option for everyone. Heck, it’s not an option for us. What I’ll say is; pick an area to focus your ‘organic(y)-homemade’ efforts on, one at a time. For instance, in our home, the area I’m mostly unwilling to compromise when it comes to organic are the grains. Secondly would be fruits and vegetables.
Alright… woah. Pump the brakes. I feel myself getting swept away onto a nutrition soapbox. We’re not going there.
What I really want you to know is that the foods a baby eats, have a huge impact on the witching hours.
Do some research. Find trusted sources and develop a feeding plan you can feel good about! Your baby will benefit in a big way!
4. Give your baby plenty of focused attention throughout the day.
Eye contact, plenty of physical touch, and engaged play stimulate your baby’s brain as well as fill her love tank. Those two development components make it more likely for baby to sleep. While sleep training is often still necessary (we’ll get to that in a moment,) focused attention takes your baby one step closer to healthy and restorative sleep.
Discover your baby’s love language here.
Additionally, and just as importantly, when you can take a deep breath at the end of the day and know that you were intentional to give your baby the attention she needed from you, you’ll have more peace and confidence to do the more difficult elements of training when necessary.
5. Cluster feed in the evening.
Much like you might get hangry ‘round about dinner time, a baby can have a difficult time filling her belly in the evening. Sometimes the exertion of the day leaves your baby feeling as though she has a void of energy that needs filling.
For breastfed babies, this means it might be necessary to feed a few times in a row. A structured feeding schedule is important, however, it’s good to note that breastmilk is metabolized at a quicker rate than formula. Therefore if you have a breastfed baby that is getting cranky in the late afternoon, she may need 2-4 feedings 15-30 minutes apart in the evening.
I wouldn’t recommend this for formula fed babies.
Doing this does not contradict your baby’s schedule and routine, it becomes a part of it. You can be intentional to include evening cluster feeds in your daily structure and routine to reduce the chances of the witching hour for baby!
6. Give a warm bath!
Warm water is relaxing and soothing for a baby. Even babies who start out disliking their bath time, typically end up enjoy it after only a few weeks. Adding a bath to the early evening can be a welcome addition to your baby’s evening routine and schedule.
Though you may be used to giving your baby a bath right before bed to prepare them for a good night’s sleep, you may find an earlier bath even more beneficial for the sake of calming baby in anticipation of the witching hour. When bedtime rolls around, and your baby has already had a relaxing warm bath earlier in the evening, it will likely work just as well this way!
7. Sleep is the key
The single most important step you can take to end the witching hour for baby is to train baby to get the sleep she needs!
The vast majority of the population is sleep deprived. The vast majority of babies are sleep deprived. There is no such thing as a baby (or human) who simply “doesn’t need as much sleep.”
You’ll hear this phrase thrown around a lot. I don’t believe it. And I beg you not to believe it either. I’ve read too much research to support the contrary. As human beings, we all NEED a certain amount of sleep.
Your baby’s brain develops during non-active sleep. This is when energy is restored and tissue growth and repair happens.
Not enough sleep = less energy and less brain development. Period.
This isn’t my opinion. It just is what it is. Truth, based on centuries of research, accompanied by scriptural support (Psalm 127:2.)
Learning the truth about the importance of sleep and the long-term negative effects lack of sleep would have on my baby was what ultimately led me to overcome any fear I had about sleep training.
Don’t allow unproven fears to stop you from what is proven to be best for your baby.
A healthy and restorative sleep schedule is the very best and most effective step you can take to eliminate witching hours.
I feel so strongly about this, I created a sleep training guide for you. This guide is based on the exact steps I took to sleep train all 4 of my babies. To this day (13 years later) all of them have GREAT sleeping habits and are still getting the benefits of the effort I put into sleep schedules and routines, years ago!
Proper brain development was not an area of parenting I was willing to compromise on. Since sleep was one of the most crucial elements of that brain development, I, likewise, wouldn’t compromise with sleep. I have never regretted my sleep training decision.
Read more about the negative effects of sleep deprivation for children here.
8. Evaluate your role in the witching hour for baby!
Rushing to pick up a fussy baby is both natural and counterproductive. As Mama’s, we are programmed to be extra sensitive and in-tune with the needs of our baby. The downfall to this is that if you are not equally in-tune with the needs of the family as a whole (and yourself,) the baby can quickly start running the show.
Instead of being “ready-to-run” to a demanding baby in the evening. Be prepared with the knowledge that evenings are difficult for everyone and that baby just might have to wait.
Every time you pick up your crying baby, you are training her. You’re training her that you will be there for her when she needs you. However, you are ALSO training her that crying is the way to get your attention.
Ask yourself if you have helped train your baby to be fussy in the evenings by solidifying her cranky evening behavior.
Evaluate the actions you are doing that are likely making the witching hours for baby worse, and/or manifesting their existence!
When you do the same things on demand every single evening at the same time, in expectation of witching hour problems, you are actually training the witching hours into her life!
The truth is, every single thing you do with your baby on any given day is a form of training. It’s happening whether you’re aware of it or not. Read more about this here and how to intentionally train your baby well here.
Final Thoughts on The Witching Hour Baby
The witching hour baby isn’t a real thing. It’s a name (and a poorly chosen one at that) attached to a baby who displays a group of symptoms. When you pluck away the symptoms one at a time, you are left with a quite happy, cheerful, and healthy baby.
I always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, except in parenting when an ounce of prevention is worth a crap-ton of cure! Sophisticated, I know, but it’s the rock-solid truth.
For every obstacle you’ll face with your baby, there is a positive step (or 10) you can take towards a resolution or betterment of the situation.
With regards to ending (or preventing) the witching hour; structure, routine, nutrition, attention, preparation, and SLEEP will very likely do the job!
Prepare for the witching hour ahead of time. You’ve taken a great step in the right direction by arming yourself with knowledge here. The next great step is implementation. Get your free copy of the 5 Steps to Raising a Well-Behaved Child here.