Surviving the Witching Hour with your newborn baby

You gain a hell of a lot when you become a mother, but you also lose a few things too. Your marbles being one of them.

For me, one of the biggest losses that I struggled with was my evenings.

No matter how tough work had been, or how knackered I felt, it was always a comfort to know I could slob out in front of the television with a bag of M&Ms and just do nothing.

Then I had my first baby, and suddenly I realised this was a 24/7 kind of deal. It might seem like you should be able to squeeze a little bit of “you” time in somewhere, because they have to sleep at some point after all, but it turns out that one time a newborn especially does not want to sleep is in the evenings.

I had high hopes for at least a couple of hours every evening after a long day of caring for my baby and fielding visitors. A couple of hours to watch Masterchef or just veg out in front of Cops on Camera with my husband.

My baby daughter had other plans.

From around 5pm onwards my first daughter would scream and scream like we were trying to murder her.

She was utterly inconsolable. A few times we just tried to feed her more milk, as we thought maybe she was just really, really hungry. She promptly threw the excess feed up. Then started crying again.

Her crying would last until around 9pm or even 10pm on a bad night. There was no chance of watching television as we attempted to rock her, because her wailing was so loud I thought my ears would bleed.

I have also found with both my children that when they cry I can think of nothing else but soothing them and making the noise stop.

It was after about a week of this behaviour that I decided it was time to call for divine intervention, or as most people call it, Google.

Fussy evenings seemed to be a common problem, so common in fact that they had a name. The “Witching Hour”.

The only context in which I had ever heard the “Witching Hour” referred to was horror films about ghosts.

But apparently it’s also a reference to the uncontrollable crying that a newborn baby inflicts on their parents from around two weeks. It can last every single evening for the first few months and if you’ve been through it, it is hell.

Luckily my first child settled down all on her own after around eight weeks.

I assumed when her sister came along she wouldn’t be any worse, but maybe just around the same. I was wrong. She took the “Witching Hour” to a whole other level.

Her outraged little pink face would screw up into a grimace and she would yell and yell for hours.

She would nod off for mere minutes while feeding, only to startle awake seconds later crying again. At three months she was still utterly distraught every single evening. The 7pm bedtime was absolutely out of the question.

Some would say this must have been colic or trapped wind? There must have been some kind of reason behind it?

To be honest, and this is a controversial statement, I don’t really believe in “colic”. I know it’s not the same as not believing in fairies or goblins, but it’s just such a vague concept.

Some people say it’s caused by trapped wind or something to do with the digestive system not yet being fully formed, but no one really has a proper explanation of what it actually physically means. Explaining away all crying with the simple word “colic” to me just leaves parents more confused, because it’s as if their child has some kind of mystery illness or condition that they should be doing something about.

There are medications, baby bottles and special formulas specifically for dealing with colic. Even the NHS isn’t really sure how to explain the condition: “Colic is the name for excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy. It’s a common problem that affects up to one in five babies.”

In my opinion many new parents are surprised at quite how much their newborn can cry, and how resistent they can be to being comforted. I believe more than one in five could technically be given the “colic” label.

So why does it have to be called colic? Can we not just call a spade a spade? Newborn babies go through a particularly fussy period of development from about week two to around four months. It’s hard, it’s extremely trying, it’s exhausting, but it’s totally normal.

But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to assume there must be something wrong.

After consulting a GP, trying to cut dairy out of my diet and asking the health visitor, it turned out she was just kind of pissed off in the evenings.

It could have been because she had a long day and was overwhelmed by it all.

It could have been because she didn’t like being outside of the womb.

It could have been because she had growing pains.

Or maybe she was just going through something that every baby goes through. She was doing the only thing she could do to express herself, and all of those emotions, physical changes and the exhaustion of learning everything in her new environment.

These fussy evenings coincide with another difficult phase for newborns, known as the fourth trimester. This is where your baby is totally fine when being held, but screams the second you put them down. Combined, these two issues are exhausting for new parents.

If you are trapped in a relentless cycle of fussy evenings, I am so sorry. It sucks.

Here are my tips for getting through it:

You can’t do anything about it

Accepting the fact that in most cases there is nothing you can do to control this is the first step to feeling better about it.

You could spend an absolute fortune on different kinds of baby bottles and other devices, but at the end of the day there is no cure to the fussy evenings.

They just need to run their course.

Accept help

Get your other half to split the evenings with you so you’re not dealing with the crying on your own all of the time.

Get someone else over to take the baby for half an hour or so while you take a break from the noise.

Don’t try to force the issue

I drove myself mad trying to get my baby to conform to an evening bedtime routine when she was fussy. The truth is it was a completely pointless effort.

I should have just accepted that she wasn’t going to play ball, and sat down with her until it passed.

Remember that just because your baby isn’t going to bed at 7pm every night now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t soon. This phase passes very suddenly, without warning.

Try to help them get to sleep

If your baby is going through a very fussy period, it can be tough to get them to go to sleep. Try setting a bedtime routine, and stick with it, even if it’s not working a lot of them time.

You can also try swaddling your baby as this can be a comfort to them.

White noise and lullabies can also help to soothe an inconsolable baby.

Check out my post on troubleshooting baby sleep issues for more ideas.

Consult your health visitor

Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re really worried. As long as your baby is gaining weight, producing dirty nappies and seems well and alert when awake most of the time, then you shouldn’t need to panic.

However if you need reassurance, it’s never going to be a waste of anyone’s time. Always ask if you feel like something more could be wrong.

If you are looking for more help with getting your baby to settle in the evenings, check out these posts:

25 tips for improving baby sleep

Gentle baby sleep training – no cry method

Life with a baby does get easier

The witching hour - how to cope when baby is fussy in the evening
The witching hour - the secrets to surviving fussy evenings

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  • Asking for help is definitely essential for getting through those first few months oh and not getting hung up on routines.

  • OMG I am so glad I haven’t heard of the witching hour!!! We were one of these nightmare parents who had a perfect baby who never really cried… HOWEVER, when he turned 18 months, previously slept through the night, up until he was about 5 he wouldn’t sleep. So he wouldn’t go to bed, and then would wake up pretty much on the hour every hour!! AGGHHHH!

  • I can rattle the nerves. Help is important. My little one has witching hour still but she is abel to advocate for herself. It is usually when she returns home from school. She needs food and some down time! #fortheloveofblog

  • Yes! Just accepting the fact that it’s going to happen is a huge first step. Once I did that, tired didn’t bother me much…I was just going to be tired and my little one needed some extra love. Being a mother teaches you so quickly how to function on zero sleep for multiple days and introduces you to a whole new realm of patience.

  • We have just got to the point now we’re Heidi and Alfie both go to bed at around 7:30 and it’s so nice to have our evening back and have some relaxing time #fortheloveofBLOG

  • I never quite believed in the ‘colic” thing either though I will admit that as she got older we had better luck with some types of formula than others. I think you’re right, just like all of us, babies get tired and cranky after a long day but also don’t want to go to sleep and miss anything. #fortheloveofblog

  • Uh I remember this well. To be honest, we still sometimes have it to an extent (youngest isn11 months). Even now with my older two I still think the time of the day they play up the most is the hour before bedtime! Great tips though! #fortheloveofBLOG

  • This sounds pretty tough going. We’ve crying but usually it caps at a few hours and that was bad enough. I really feel for anyone who has a full evening of it, sounds like you need a medal! #fortheloveofBLOG

  • That sounds so tough. We didn’t really have that. We just had waking up fussing in the night. #ForTheLoveofBlog

  • My daughter screamed for hours every evening for the first 12 weeks of her life and we never figured out why. Like your baby, I think she was just kind of angry in the evening, and then eventually she got over it. My husband and I just supported each other – that’s all you can really do to get through it. #fortheloveofBLOG

  • Oh the witching hour(s!) I had managed to completely block them from memory until I read this. Mn did that time suck. There’s not much you can do to make it any better though. #fortheloveofBLOG

  • I remember that with my first – it seemed like a horrendous lifetime, and then talking about it a few years later I realised it must have only been for about 10 days! Funny that..#ForhteloveofBLOG

  • A great post and one with i can relate too, especially with my first son. My husband would work lates and I was often alone at these times and it was so difficult. I have three children now and the second and third didn’t seem to have this discomfort or seem upset during this time so I was ok! (it was just at other times of the day!!) #fortheloveofblog

  • Is there any more demanding sound in the world? Remember walking round like a zombie for what seemed like years. My first two were not so bad but my third was off the scale with colic which is such a different sort of cry and hard to bear. Us mums deserve medals and ear protectors too! #FortheLoveofBlog

  • I remember this well…both times! There have been many moments when I thought I’d never get my evenings back. It’s only now, at 4.5 and 2.5 that we have a regular 7:30 bedtime for both, and once they are asleep, they mostly stay asleep! Although I tend to wake up sharing my bed with both kids at least twice a week! #fortheloveofBLOG

  • Some great tips here and every new mom needs it as well as second time around moms. My second baby developed colic a month after she was born. It was hell and even as a second time mom I felt helpless and depended on so much help from my husband, mom and mother-in-law. #fortheloveofBLOG

  • I feel sorry for the little ones that go through this and their parents. Fortunately my girls didn’t go through it but I met some people during my baby massage classes with my first that were hoping the massage would help. #fortheloveofBLOG