When we say "It's 5 o' clock somewhere", we are generally speaking about having a glass of wine at the end of the day......kicking up our feet (ok, briefly anyways)....and relaxing a little bit when Daddy comes home after work to help shoulder the parenting load. But your newborn has a different idea, and terrible, scary, idea: to cry or scream NON-STOP......starting in the evening.....all the way until BEDTIME.
Keep that wine bottle opener handy, because you'll need it to get through what is commonly referred to as "THE WITCHING HOUR" during these first few months of life. Let's make your evenings a little less "Witchy" and dive into why it happens, how to avoid the Witching Hour, and when the Witching Hour will finally come to an end.
The good news? They have automatic wine bottle openers these days. Better news? The Witching Hour doesn't last forever, usually ending around the 4 month mark. The bad news? When an Infant is increasingly fussy in the late afternoon/evening, they aren't able to settle easily, causing short or missed naps. These "disaster" naps turn normally calm babies into overtired, overstimulated babies, and with the added stress hormone from lack of age-appropriate sleep, you've got a full meltdown-mode newborn on your hands.
Here's a few reasons WHY most doctors believe the Witching Hour occurs:
Baby is overtired: Depending on the child's age, baby needs anywhere from 4-7 hours per day of napping under 4 months old. If the nap needs aren't met for the day by the early afternoon, or the wake window is too large, your little bundle of joy will take a turn for the worse.
Baby is overstimulated: Gone are the days when baby was a month old and could physically shut down or "habituate" to block out overstimulation when family visits or during a birthday party at a loud restaurant. When babies are no longer able to habituate, baby becomes overstimulated very easily.
Baby has tummy/gas/digestion issues: Dietary and medical issues such as reflux, silent reflux & GERD, especially when undiagnosed, can make baby wail for hours in the evening. Gas bubbles can also cause major discomfort, causing the child to writher & squirm (and cry), so make sure baby is burped after every feeding, and you pay attention to your own diet when breastfeeding to see if there is anything that triggers increased lengths of crying.
Baby wants/needs to cluster feed: If you look at your own body's rhythms, the end of the afternoon is a natural time to have low energy, and babies often look to soothe themselves during these times. Children often feel the most safe or soothed feeding with Mom, or "tanking up."
Here's a few ways to get through the Witching Hour, or at least handle it without cracking an entire case of wine:
Be realistic about having a newborn. You have a baby. You won't be able to come home and lay motionless on the couch anymore until bedtime. You might not even eat your dinner until it's cold for a few months. Remind yourself that this is TEMPORARY, and one day, your hands will be empty. Embrace the crazy, and prepare for the worst to happen every single night until baby is at least 4 months old (so you have some "good days" when baby only cries temporarily).
Allow baby to have a carrier nap. Now listen, I'm all about a consistent nap place, but when you have a newborn it's vital to grab an evening nap before bedtime, and most babies will LOVE a chance to nap close to Mom. Our favorite carrier for both our children was the 360 Degree (front face & back face) Original Ergo carrier (click here for exact one), it sits on your hips perfectly and doesn't kill your back! Plus this carrier can hold children from infant up to 2 years old!
If breastfeeding, review your diet: Lactose? Caffeine? Spicy foods? All have been known to be culprits of upset tummies in breastfed children.
Cluster feed/Comfort Feed: Some babies simply want to be held, and shown that everything is ok in the crazy evening hustle of homework, dinner, laundry & The Bachelor handing out the final rose. Cluster feeding may even get you a few hours of sleep at night!
Protect the nap schedule. Visit our naps post here for a guide on how many hours per day your babe should be napping, and rock/walk/bounce/wear your child to squeeze in any missed time before you attempt bedtime for the night.
Take a walk. With or without baby, some children do best in the evenings when exposed to natural light, fresh air, and the motion of a good walk. I found this method to be most effective in my family (when it wasn't freezing outside) and gave me a chance to catch up on my day with my husband.