11 Top Tips to Survive 'Witching Hour'by Lynette Marsden
If you’re reading this, you might have a crying newborn in your arms, so let’s skip the intro and dive straight in.
What is the ‘witching hour’?
The 'witching hour' is a time when a generally happy & content baby has an extremely fussy & unsettled period. To many parents' absolute horror, they discover that it typically lasts for HOURS, usually daily between 5:00-11:00 pm.
Commonly 'witching hour' starts to affect babies around 2-3 weeks old and peaks at 6 weeks.
But don't close your browser just yet, there's GOOD NEWS!
Most parents start seeing huge improvements in their babies' settling from the 12-week mark.
So what can you do to survive in the meantime?
Well, here are some really practical ways to help calm your baby's central nervous system, which is often in overdrive during 'witching hour':
1. PREVENTING YOUR BABY FROM GETTING OVERTIRED
Newborns get overtired very quickly. This is extremely common, especially during late afternoon and evening. When babies get overtired, cortisol and adrenaline are released into their bloodstream, essentially putting them in fight-or-flight mode. This makes falling asleep nearly impossible at a time that babies need it most. Then the never-ending cycle of crying begins.
The simplest way to avoid your baby getting overtired is to look out for those sleep cues like:
- Jerky arms
- Red appearance over eyebrows & under eyes
- Ear or hair pulling
- A “bored” stare
- Some babies become VERY "chatty"
Respond quickly when you notice these signs and settle your baby for a nap or bedtime. (A consistent bedtime routine can also work wonders!)
2. REDUCE STIMULATION
Remember that your baby spent the majority of their life inside your warm & cosy womb, with low lighting, muffled voices & comforting sounds...until 'POP!' Happy Birthday! What an introduction to this new and completely alien world, right?
This new world is incredibly stimulating, especially later in the day when there's often so much more hustle and bustle around. It's A LOT for a brand new baby's immature nervous system to take in and it can easily push it into overdrive. This is where the dreaded cycle of crying usually begins.
So, dim those lights and turn down the noise. Switch off all that tech and try TIP NO. 3...
3. SWADDLE YOUR BABY
It's an essential step to calm & soothe your baby because it imitates the continuous touch of your cosy womb. You've probably heard various opinions on swaddling, including whether it's safe or not... In one word, YES! According to the American Association of Pediatrics, “when done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep.”
Swaddling a newborn is one of the most effective ways to help calm their nervous system and many parents swear by it!
4. USE WHITE NOISE OR SHUSHING
This means a strong shushing sound, which mimics the whooshing of blood rushing through the placenta and uterus. It’s a powerful trigger for the calming reflex.
Remember though...the louder the cry, the louder the shush needs to be for effective soothing. As baby calms, reduce the volume of the shush and remember...never shush directly into your baby's ears.
5. USE MOTION
Before your baby was born they were comfortingly rocked and swayed. Why not try baby-wearing, a swing, or a gentle bouncer to help calm your baby.
Dummy, breast or bottle sucking triggers the calming reflex and milk feeds also relieve hunger AND encourages the release of soothing hormones.
7. GET IN THE BATH TOGETHER
Grab a flannel, strip yourself and your baby, and jump in. The sound of running water is a great way to instantly calm many fussy babies. Put your baby on your tummy/chest and lay a warm flannel on top of your baby’s back. Make sure the water is warm enough for your little squishy. I used to do this with all 4 of my newborns and they all loved it. Having a skin-to-skin soak is a wonderful memory and I'd love you and your baby to try it too!
8. IF YOU CAN'T GET IN THE BATH...
Ok, I get it, it's not always practical to just hop into the bath with your new baby! So if you can't quite manage TIP NO. 7, I have a shortcut for you...
Start by following TIP NO. 3 and swaddle your baby. Walk your wrapped up little snuggle bug over to a sink (leave the plug out) and run the tap to a lovely warm body temperature of around 37 degrees. (Please make sure it's a mixer tap that can keep a consistent temp!) Use your elbow to test the temperature (just as you would in their bath). Then, while supporting your baby's body & head, carefully position your baby so that the water from the tap runs over the top of their hairline…not their face, obvs!
Try this for a few minutes. It works wonders!
9. SET THE TONE
Babies are little sponges and they easily absorb the emotional atmosphere around them. If we're stressed & frustrated, they feel it. If we're calm and in control, you guessed it, they feel that too!
Sometimes just getting out of the house can make a huge difference. So take a moment to regulate your breathing and calm your own stress-overloaded body. Then REPEAT AFTER ME:
"*insert your beautiful baby's name* 's crying is not a reflection of me. (S)he's not mad at me, (s)he ADORES me. I am the BEST mum for this little person. This is just a phase. This WILL pass. This is hard. BUT I can do really hard things!"
10. ASK FOR HELP
I know, I know, it's easier said than done. If that mummy-guilt voice tells you that asking for help is weak and that you're a failure... Well, let me tell you this, from one mum to another: "Nothing could be further from the truth my friend! And you get to tell that lying voice in your head to DO ONE!”
Asking for help DOES NOT make you "weak" "or "useless" or "a rubbish mum". It makes you human and actually shows a lot of strength. In fact, the people who love you would jump at the chance to serve and support you! I realise Covid has thrown a massive, metal spanner at your head, but ASK. If there's any way...just ASK.
So next time your mum, dad, friend or neighbour says, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Respond with this: “Yes please, would you come over at 8 pm tomorrow night and hold my baby while I ______ ?“ (Fill in the blank with something that fills YOUR cup)
11. HAVE AN EXIT PLAN (PS: Every mother needs one!)
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, put your baby down in a safe space, like their cot.
- Now go outside if you can and point to 4 round objects. Stop and become aware of your breathing.
- Now name those 4 round things aloud. “A wheel, a ball, etc.” What else do you see? An apple on your neighbour's apple tree?
Ok, wait! Before you think "this woman is a complete fruit loop & asking me to join her in her insanity", this is why this exercise is so POWERFUL... It jolts you out of autopilot overwhelm. It switches gears in your brain and helps you think clearly & rationally. BUT, we're not quite done yet...
- Now, find 4 different shapes, 4 different types of plants, or 4 different kinds of anything at all.
- Point to them & name them aloud.
As you start to calm. Breathe in deep & exhale slowly. Repeat this process. Repeat it 4 more times.
Are you calm? Now go and get your baby. And try again.
So go and give these effective tips a try and you’ll see that the ‘witching hour’ really doesn’t need to be the makings of a horror story!
Oh and one last thing…
You're amazing AND you're doing an incredible job.
No really, you are!