What The Heck Is The Baby Witching Hour? Your Questions, Answered

by Lior Zaltzman
Originally Published: 
Witching Hour
Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images

The witching hour is one of those terms you may never hear of, at least in relation to babies, until you have your own. Before you experience it, you might think it sounds charming and attractive in an eerie-fun way, like a plot point in a supernatural show or horror movie. But then you’ll experience this very natural phenomenon in the flesh — and for a new (read: flustered) mom, it’s way more terrifying than any supernatural horror film. The clock could hit 5 pm and, seemingly inexplicably, bring with it fussiness and restlessness from your little one. Oh, did we mention the tsunami of new-mom insecurity that accompanies this whole turn of events?

It’s only natural to express your worries to your friends in parenting, who recount their own horror stories from the witching hour trenches. So, hey, at least you’ll know you aren’t alone. But still, you’ll be plagued by a nagging concern: Am I doing something wrong? And what’s the deal with the witching hour anyway?! To that end, let’s try to get to the bottom of it.

What is the witching hour?

Well, you may have guessed that the witching hour is not exactly a medical term. It’s an idiom generally used to describe a period, later in the day, when your baby is fussy and inconsolable.

When does it take place?

The witching hour typically starts around 5 pm and can go all the way to 11 pm. Some parents have even reported it stretching beyond midnight. Yes, that whole witching “hour” term is definitely a bit of a misnomer! It’s usually much longer than an hour and, honestly, some days it feels like it’s a lifetime. But you will make it through it.

What causes the witching hour?

OK, so we don’t really have one conclusive answer for what causes the witching hour. It’s one of those mysteries you just sort of have to roll with as a parent. However, there are a few plausible possibilities:

  • Your baby might be overtired. It’s really hard to make sure your baby is getting the right amount of sleep in those first few months.
  • Your baby might be overstimulated. The witching hours (we’ve established they are hours, as in plural) tend to be a time in the day when a lot is going on. Some people in your household may be finishing work, homework, or homeschooling. Dinner needs to be made. Basically, there’s a lot of movement and noise that baby might be responding to.

What can I do to help my baby through this?

Now that you know what the witching hour is, you obviously want to know how to get through it, right? Fortunately, there are a few techniques that may prove successful in combatting (or at least lessening) the witching hour woes.

  • Let your baby cluster feed. Just like us, a baby can feed for comfort — and that is totally OK. If they want to nurse or bottle-feed more and for longer than usual during the witching hour, it’s generally fine to let them.
  • Get those burps and gas out.
  • Help them self-soothe with a pacifier or a finger.
  • Make sure your baby gets to rest. It can be tempting to constantly stimulate and play with your baby. But especially in those early weeks, they need a lot of sleep. That includes napping during the daytime hours.
  • Cuddle the heck out of them. Hold them or safely wear them in a carrier. It’s also a good way to get some burps out of the baby and, between your warmth and some up-and-down movement in a carrier, it can help soothe them.
  • Get them moving. Take a walk in a carrier or in the stroller, or put them in a car seat and take a drive around. Some babies are comforted by that movement, and it gives you a chance to get out of the house. The motion from a baby swing could also help.
  • Don’t overlook self-care for you, Mama. If you need to take a break, take that break. It’s OK to let your baby cry for a bit in a crib while you collect yourself, get yourself a drink and a snack, and take a breather.

Is the witching hour the same as colic?

A baby with colic and baby going through the witching hour are not the same, even though they share similar symptoms. However, colic is much more severe. When a baby has colic, they cry for three or more hours a day, multiple times a week. The crying is much more intense; the child is inconsolable, and the baby seems incredibly uncomfortable. Colic can also be medically diagnosed, whereas the effects of the witching hour cannot.

What is a puppy witching hour?

While we’re on the subject of babies, our fur babies can also go through a witching hour. This is when your puppy gets a little nutty, usually between the hours of five and 8 p.m. During this time, your pup will want to chew and bite everything. They may leave scratches everywhere, including on you. One way to deal with your fur baby’s witching hour is to make sure they have a surplus of chew toys to keep them busy.

What is the history of the witching hour?

Before the witching hour became a popular term used to describe a baby’s endless crying, it came from 18th century Christianity. The hour is also known as the Devil’s hour, which starts at 3 a.m. During this time, supernatural activity runs amok and the door to hell is opened, which makes it very dangerous for people who are awake. Much like when your infant is screaming, it is a scary time for everyone.

When does the witching hour end?

So we’ve established that witching hour is that time of day when your baby loses their little mind. Ah, tired mom-friend, let us close with some good news! The witching hour does end. Most sleep experts say your baby will outgrow these moody, forlorn bouts of misery generally around three to four months old. So, go ahead and bask in the light at the end of this tunnel.

When they get older, it could arise in the late afternoon. But it gets better, and it doesn’t last that long.

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