Newborn Sleep 101: Surviving Baby's Witching Hour

According to Mainstreet Pediatrics, baby’s witching hour“ is a time when...

You know the drill. The clock strikes 5pm and everyone (and everything) in your house is out of sorts. Dinner needs to be cooked, your toddler is upset that iPad time is done for the day, and your newborn WON’T STOP CRYING. Since you may be Googling with a crying baby in your arms, let’s jump right into baby’s witching hour.

Not sure what to do during baby’s witching hour? These tips can help.

Baby’s Witching Hour – What is It?

According to Mainstreet Pediatrics, baby’s witching hour “is a time when an otherwise content baby is extremely fussy. It typically occurs daily between 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm.”

The reason it feels like the witching hour never ends in your house is because those 6 hours make up 25% of your day!

The other thing about witching hour is it can start as early as 2 or 3 weeks and last through 3 to 4 months of age, peaking at 6 weeks! This means you’ve likely been hearing tons of crying for the past few weeks…YIKES.

3 Reasons for Baby’s Witching Hour

Before we dive into how to survive baby’s witching hour, we need to understand why it happens.

1: Overtiredness

One of the biggest misconceptions for parents of newborns is that a baby will only sleep when they are “tired enough”. In fact, going from okay to overtired happens quickly in newborns and often results in LOTS of crying!

Overtiredness in newborns accumulates throughout the day which leads to more crying as the evening approaches.

When your baby is overtired, cortisol and adrenaline levels increase in the body. It then becomes difficult to soothe your baby when these hormones are heightened.

Newborn babies need roughly 4-6 hours of sleep during the day. If your little one is struggling to get enough sleep, overtiredness is likely contributing to your baby’s evening protest.

For parents interested in setting healthy sleep habits early on, our Foundations of Newborn Sleep Guide is for you. By putting into practice the information in the guide, you will sleep better earlier and set your child up with good sleep habits for life.

2: Overstimulation

Overstimulation is common for newborns and is often a cause of baby’s witching hour. Their brains and bodies are taking in a lot during the first few weeks and months of life! The hustle and bustle of life can simply be too much for your little one.

Overstimulation can look like thrashing the head from side to side, clenching fists, lifting legs to belly, and squirming. These movements are ways for a newborn to try to get away from stimuli, most often light or sound.

If your little one has been getting enough sleep, the excess crying may be a sign that your baby simply needs some peace and quiet. Dim the lights in your house and reduce noise. Turn off the TV, set down your phone, and consider hanging out with your baby in a back bedroom for a few minutes so you both have a chance to relax.

3: Gas

If your little one has an upset stomach due to gas, they will likely be more vocal about their discomfort.

Consider holding baby upright after a feed, rather than allowing them to fall asleep while feeding to allow for better digestion. 10-15 minutes of keeping baby upright is enough to make a difference.

5 Tips for Surviving Your Baby’s Witching Hour

We suggest the following 5 tips to help you survive the stressful witching hour period.

1. Get fresh air

Stepping outside or even opening a window helps with stress reduction and relaxation for both babies and parents!

“Scientists have discovered physiological evidence that suggests spending time in nature reduces stress, such as observed lowered heart rates and less time spent thinking about problems and/or insecurities” — Advanced Neurotherapy

Consider having dinner outside or taking an early evening family walk, when possible. Exposure to daylight in the late afternoon and early evening can also help your baby to sleep better at night.

2. Be mindful of baby’s wake window

Through 6 weeks, newborns should only be awake for about 45 minutes before needing another nap. This wake window increases to 1 hour by 8 weeks, 1 hour 15 minutes by 10 weeks, and 1 hour 30 minutes by 12 weeks.

In all cases, the first wake period of the day is the shortest and the last period of the day is the longest. These wake windows (which include the feed, change, snuggles and cuddles) pass very quickly! One tip for managing the passing time is to set an alarm or timer on your phone to alert you it’s time to try for another nap.

For more information on wake windows as a child grows, check out our wake window resource here.

3. Use motion

Inside the womb, your baby was rocked and swayed often as you moved throughout the day.

If the day has been one with short or nonexistent naps, use motion from the swing, baby wearing, a walk or a drive to help get your baby to sleep. This will help to break the overtiredness cycle and to prevent baby’s witching hour from continuing into the night.

It’s important to remember products like this are not intended for unaccompanied sleep. You should monitor your baby to watch for safe sleep unless they are in a bassinet or crib with no extras.

4. Keep calm and use a mantra

During times of distress, infants rely on their caregivers to provide a calm and soothing presence. If you are upset because of the excess crying, your baby is likely to mirror your emotional state.

When you’ve tried the previous tips and your baby continues to cry, it can be helpful to repeat a mantra out loud for yourself.

We’ve listed a few mantras below. Choose one that feels good for you:

“This moment is tough, and I am doing the best I can”

“My baby loves me, even if she’s upset right now”

“No matter how hard this is, I am the best mom for my baby”

5. Ask for help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your baby’s crying, don’t hesitate to ask for help! Give yourself a break by stepping away, taking some deep breaths, and consider a walk or some time to soothe yourself. And don’t underestimate how much our loved ones want to help! Besides, your baby’s cry is more distressing to you than to others (by design).

So next time your mom, friend, or neighbor asks if there is anything they can do to help, respond with this: “Yes, would you come over at 5pm tomorrow night and hold my baby while I ______ ?“ Fill in the blank with anything you wish you had a break to do.

And remember, if you are reading this and feeling like your baby’s crying is outside the norm, call your pediatrician or nurse. They will be able to determine if your baby is suffering from reflux or another medical condition.

If Your Newborn is Struggling with Sleep, We Can Help

At the Sleeper Teachers, we love supporting families during the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life because it allows us to be proactive in our approach. Rather than “fixing” sleep once baby is older, we start early on by promoting safe and healthy sleep habits.

If 1-on-1 guidance with customized sleep support is something that you could benefit from, schedule a free sleep introductory call with one of our consultants. During the call we chat about sleep expectations for a newborn, and how we can help you proactively teach sleep at this age.

Finally, if you prefer a DIY approach to instilling good sleep habits early on, check out our Newborn Sleep Guide. The guide will help parents proactively lay a solid sleep foundation for their little one, as well as educate parents on the best practices for newborn sleep (or babies on the way) in the first 12 weeks of life.

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