The ‘witching hour’: What you need to know about the trickiest time of day

Posted in Newborn.

Historically, the ‘witching hour’ in folklore occurs between 3 and 4 in the morning, when supernatural events are said to take place. But who cares about that?! The baby ‘witching hour’ is way more hardcore. Here’s what you need to know. 

What on earth is ‘witching hour’?

Also going by the totally apt name of ‘arsenic hour,’ the ‘witching hour’ occurs at the end of the day when your baby goes completely and utterly bananas and won’t stop crying for about an hour (or longer if you’re particularly cursed).

The age at which ‘witching hour’ usually occurs is between three and 12 weeks, and it happens at the same time every day anywhere between the hours of about 3pm and 11pm (although around 5pm or 6pm is perhaps most common). It’s markedly different to other times of the day when your baby might be unsettled, because all your usual soothing techniques become defunct. Nothing works! So don’t be surprised if you find yourself tearing your hair out in your relentless efforts to calm them down.


Why does it happen?

Did you do something wrong in a past life? While it might feel like you are being punished, there are a few theories that get tossed about why the ‘witching hour’ really occurs. The main one is plain and simple – your baby is overstimulated from the day’s activities, is overtired and wired, and doesn’t know what she wants.

She most likely needs a good sleep but doesn’t know how to nod off and crying is her only form of communication, so while she wails and whinges for Australia, you’ll most likely want to hide under the doona with a tumbler of wine. Breastfed babies might also be more off the charts during ‘witching hour’ too, because your milk supply drops later in the day, so they’re not getting as much of that rich hind-milk to satisfy their little tummies. 

Why is ‘witching hour’ so tough?

Babies cry, that’s what they do. But ‘witching hour’ is different and so much harder to cope with because their cries can’t be easily soothed. It’s also the end of the day when your energy levels are at their lowest, and there are lots of other chores to be done, like cooking dinner and running baths. Ideally, you want to be winding down for the day and getting ready to ‘clock off’ on your parental duties, but nature has other plans, meaning you have to dig deep and find some non-existent strength to settle your witchy bub instead. 

Can you avoid it?

Nope, not really – sorry. Not all babies go through it, though, so you could be one of the lucky ones who skip this craziness altogether. However, if you suddenly find yourself in this ‘witching hour’ cycle of hell, take comfort in the fact that so many other parents have gone or are going through the same nightmare.


How to deal with ‘witching hour’

A screaming, upset baby is incredibly stressful and draining – especially when it’s happening every night and at a time when your partner might not be home yet, meaning you’re in the trenches alone (or worse yet, with other children to also look after). The best approach for ‘witching hour’ is to hold on tight and get through this painful period however you can, but if you’re looking for some advice that is a little more specific, here are some tips you can try: 

  • Rule out health issues – To stop you from doubting yourself, rule out any medical problems first, like illness, allergies or reflux; plus other factors like hunger and cold.
  • Give a warm bath – Babies love the water and a gentle massage afterwards to help soothe and calm her, so give it a shot.
  • Feed her – Don’t be worried about messing up your baby’s feeding routine. If she’s screaming, give her some milk which can often calm her down.
  • Try a dummy – The sucking sensation often helps relax babies.
  • Strap them on – Most babies love being in a carrier because they’re close to you and dig the motion, so pop her in and walk about the house or outside for some fresh air. 
  • Cuddle, rock, sing, pat – All babies are different, but one of these techniques might do the trick.
  • Be organised – Cook dinners ahead of time, or whatever you need to do, to take the pressure off while you deal with your baby during ‘witching hour’.
  • Put some music on – It might help distract her and will also help with your stress levels by drowning out some of the cries.
  • Get your partner to help – Perhaps they can leave work a little earlier for a week or two to help out at this tough time, so you can take turns bearing the brunt of cries.
  • Bring in back-up – Ask a family member to come over and take the baby for a walk to give you a break, or help with the dinner while you look after bub. If you don’t feel like burdening close ones with your baby’s screaming, you could also hire a nanny or helper to take over during the ‘witching hour’ for a week or two for some respite.

Get professional help – If you aren’t coping and worried about the safety of yourself or your baby, call a helpline such as PANDA.

Don’t forget: It’s not forever

Even though it may feel like it will never end, remember that just like many other phases with babies and children, the ‘witching hour’ WILL pass. Just like some kind of magic, your baby will grow out of this unsettled period pretty quickly. In the meantime. it’s important to look after yourself, so when you do manage to settle your baby at the end of the day, be sure to celebrate with a nice treat. You have definitely deserved it!


Parent School footer dinkusNeed some more baby sleep advice? Our Parent School sleep experts can help. Click to find out more or book a one-on-one session.


Get more babyology straight to your inbox