It's all part of normal newborn life: that period of extra fussy, extra cranky and extra hard-to-soothe babies (which always coincides with when you're at your worst). Behold, the witching hour!
Feeling all sentimental, I recently flicked through the photo albums I made of my son and daughter when they were teeny-tiny, snuggly little freshies. Their chunky, squished-up baby features, their mop of fresh baby hair, their rubber-band wrists. That’s the thing about nostalgia; things get a tad romanticised when we don our retrospective rose-tinted specs. (That’s also the thing about photos – they don’t come with soundbites.) But here’s a fat dose of reality to bring you back down to earth about that seemingly cute newborn phase: the witching hour.
Maybe you’ve blocked it from your memory; maybe you’re in the crux of it now. Read on to find out what it is and how to get through it…
What is the witching hour?
The witching hour is generally the time of day where your normally good-natured offspring supernaturally evolves into an unsettled, fussy, extra-difficult crankypants. Where no amount of rocking, shushing or lullabies on loop seem to make a blind bit of difference. And guess what? It isn’t a set time of the day for everyone – hell, it’s not even limited to 60 minutes (which, when you come to think of it, is false advertising. Someone really needs to be held accountable). Rather, it’s thought to occur from around 4pm onwards and – shock horror – lasts for what feels like an ungodly number of hours.
For me, it was usually from around 4pm until 11pm. Seven. Hours. Of. Hell. Oh, and hanger. Those pesky bubs always seemed to time their witching-hour episodes for dinner time. According to experts, the witching hour often rears its ugly head around weeks 2 and 3, peaks around week 6, then starts to ease off at around the three-month mark. Rest assured, there is an end in sight. Although that end is also likely to soon turn into the start of the whiny toddler stage. Double yay.
Why does the witching hour happen?
You know how exhausting looking after a newborn can be: feeding around the clock, countless diaper changes, constant settling issues… that’s before we even mention your general life admin. (Don’t get us started on the fourth trimester!) Well, turns out it’s also mega exhausting to BE a newborn. That brain is developing at a quickfire rate, they need a perfect amount of restorative sleep and their little tummies need lots of filling. Coupled with the fact your milk supply is also at its lowest and slowest in the late afternoon, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a full-on meltdown.
How do you get through it?
>Like so many things when it comes to parenting: trial and error. All kids are different, and each requires a different approach. “With my daughter, I used to walk up and down the stairs trying to settle her for hours,” said one mum friend. Another said her and her partner would “rock our daughter under the oven rangehood with the sound of its white noise”.
When my son came along, it wasn’t my first witching hour rodeo; I’d been through it all before with my daughter. But what worked for her? Nah, he wasn’t cool with that. Here are some tried-and-tested tips from mums in the know…
There’s a reason why so many health professionals bang on about it: babies love it. Not necessarily when you’re sweaty as hell from all the stress of running around in a tropical climate, but hey. That’s what AC is for. The great news is that this is totally one tip that other members of the family can help with.
My Ergo baby carrier was a godsend! The snugness, the closeness and the movement worked like a charm – and freed up my hands for that sanity-saving cup of tea (who am I kidding? Wine. Always wine.). Plus Dad could wear it, too.
Offer the boob
Dim the lights and sloooow dowwwwn
Babies can lose their cool from all the overstimulation of the day. Help set the scene for soothing by dimming the lights, hushing noisy siblings and turning down the TV volume, or playing some chilled-out music. My two were suckers for white noise.
Go for a walk
Sometimes your baby screaming outside isn’t as soul-destroying as one in your own home. Pop bub in the pram (or the carrier) and pound the pavements for a pram-friendly walk, or head to a pretty park. The fresh air will do you good, and all that movement might even lull them to a more blissed-out state.
Get someone else involved
When you’ve run through your settling repertoire of shush-pat-rock and you’re fresh out of ideas (and getting super stressed in the process), get your partner to take over. Getting some headspace will help YOU out, at the very least. Plus they won’t smell like milk.
Try a bath
“Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles,” says one mum. “A baby bath was my fail-proof go-to. Maybe it was all warm and womb-like, who knows.” Sometimes switching up the environment can work wonders. Sometimes not. But these are desperate times, folks, so give it a shot! Also feel free to run a big bath and get in there with them for some skin-on-skin. Or try feeding them in the bath. Way to tick three things off the list in one go!
Massage bub’s woes away with some calming lavender essential oil (diluted, please!). Work your way up from the feet, using soft, circular motions.
So there you go, handy tips of how to ease yourself through the witching hour. Above all, try and accept that this is merely a phase, and you’re going to come out the other end. Soon. At some point. Definitely in the near future.
Good luck, peeps!
Note: if you’re ever worried about prolonged bouts of crying, always speak to your doctor.