By Jill Wilson, IBCLC
It’s 6 p.m. and your sweet, happy baby has been a fussy mess for the past hour. No matter what you do, nothing helps to make him or her happy. Sounds like the witching hour has arrived.
The witching hour can be described as a fussy period that almost all babies go through. It tends to happen around the same time every day and most frequently occurs in the late afternoon and evening hours (5 p.m.- 12 a.m.). The witching hour often begins between weeks 2 and 3. It will peak around week 6, and then decline around the 3-month mark. During this time, your baby might be fussier than normal and difficult to soothe. He or she might want to cluster feed or might not want breast at all. Your baby may seem tired, but won’t sleep. Often it seems like baby doesn’t know what he or she wants. While this behavior can be challenging to manage, it is important to remember that it is normal.
While our babies can’t tell us why they are in meltdown mode, there are some reasons for this behavior. This could be contributed to a natural dip in mom’s prolactin levels (your body’s milk making hormone) as the day progresses, resulting in a slower flow. As the milk flow is slower, the baby may grow frustrated, and as the milk volume is lower, the baby may want tofeed more often. Rest assured, this is a normal occurrence in breastfeeding. Feeding your baby often during these times ensures that you will have a good milk supply.
Overstimulation can be another factor contributing to your baby’s grumpy mood. Your baby isn’t able to self soothe at this age. So by the end of the day he or she may feel cranky and disorganized. Once baby reaches this point it might be hard for him or her to calm down. It’s also often the busiest time of day in a lot of households, when partners are returning home from work, older siblings are returning from school and mom is trying to multitask. All of this can make it difficult to meet everyone’s needs.
So what can you do to help cope with the witching hour? The first thing to do is to offer the breast frequently. Consider having older children do their homework nearby and have your partner make dinner for the family. Since cluster feeding seems to go hand in hand with the witching hour, it makes sense to feed baby as they want or need. Nursing is comforting to babies. It allows babies to relax and reorganize. Babywearing might help to soothe your little one during this time. Using a carrier allows baby to still be close to you, but frees up your hands to do other tasks. Dimming lights, slowing down the hustle and bustle of household activities, and switching to a low-key routine can often help those babies who are easily over stimulated.
Skin to skin with your baby is also a great way to help calm and regulate their little system. Doing skin to skin is like a baby reboot! Skin to skin isn’t just for moms, dads can do it as well. Remember to lean on your partner, family members, or social network for support.
If your baby is inconsolable during this time and you are concerned about prolonged periods of crying, contact your pediatrician. While the witching hour can be difficult or frustrating to manage, it is important to remember that it is completely normal and eventually will pass. If you can adapt to this temporary change, the witching hour doesn’t have to leave you spellbound.