You may have heard of or experienced “The Witching Hour.” It’s the pre-bedtime period when your baby may be upset or fussier for no apparent reason. It’s completely natural and normal and, thankfully, temporary. And, yes, there are ways to manage it without losing your cool.
Here we’ll answer your questions about the witching hour in babies, including what causes the witching hour, how long does the witching hour go on, and how to minimize the witching hour in babies.
For additional sleep support and helpful insights to reduce pre-bedtime rebellion, check out the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. Co-created with baby sleep experts and parents, it’s packed with everything you ever wanted to know about your baby’s sleep development and how to help them learn to love sleep for years to come.
What is the Baby Witching Hour?
The Baby Witching Hour is a time in the evening when babies become fussy and difficult to console. It usually starts around 6 p.m. and can last for a few hours. The exact reason behind this phenomenon is not fully understood, but it could be due to overstimulation, tiredness, hunger, or discomfort.
When Does the Witching Hour Happen?
The witching hour can start shortly after birth, but most often “strikes” around the three-week mark, peaks around 6-8 weeks, and tapers off by 4-6 months. That may seem like a long time, but there are ways to manage and minimize the witching hour in babies.
Why Does the Witching Hour Happen?
While no one knows for sure what causes the witching hour, there are a few reasons your baby may rebel or protest during this period:
- Your Baby’s Over-Tired: Being overtired can cause your baby to become fussier. If you’re baby shows the signs of being overtired – they’re fussy or struggle to fall asleep – you can “reset” them by nap transitioning (age-dependent) or sleep training to create a healthier sleep schedule.
- Your Baby’s Over-Stimulated: The witching hour can start around 5pm, which is right around the time parents or caretakers return from or log-off from work. This sudden shift in mood and activity can be exciting for children – their parents are home and all theirs! - which can contribute to witching hour fussiness.
- Slower Milk Flow: If you’re breastfeeding, your milk flow may be slower in the evening or night. This means your baby works harder to get the same amount of milk, which can be frustrating to them, leading to irritability or protests.
- Your Baby Has Gas: Sometimes gas or indigestion can contribute to witching hour upsets, so be sure to burp your baby after their evening meal.
- Your Baby is Having a Growth Spurt: Your baby is growing all the time, and very fast, but there are periods when they’re growing even faster. These are growth spurts and typically occur around 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months. This super-fast growth can be uncomfortable for your baby, resulting in extra sensitivity.
- Your Baby Has Reflux: This is a common problem that babies have. It's when some of the content from your baby’s stomach moves upwards, causing fussiness and irritability, especially when you lay them down to sleep. But no worries. Contrary to reflux in adults which often requires medicine, this problem gets better over time in babies without medicine.
How to Reduce Witching Hour Fussiness
We spoke to parents and sleep experts to compile 5 tips on how to cope with – and thrive through – the witching hour:
1. Get Close:
Sometimes simply carrying your baby in a carrier or wrapping them skin-to-skin can settle them during the witching hour.
As parent Naomi P. says, “Baby wearing in a wrap works wonders ---just in the house or for a walk around the neighborhood!”
2. Go Outside:
Rochelle R. agrees with Naomi P on wearing your baby to reduce witching hour fussiness, but she also suggests going outside to change the scenery helped alleviate your baby’s witching hour witchery.
Aryn H. agrees on that front, too, telling us fresh air and activity outside can relax your baby or help them work off excess energy before settling down for bed.
And that was Britney S’s experience, too. We asked her how she dealt with the witching hour, and she replied: “Anything outside worked: The park or playground. A hike, or just the backyard. Rain or shine, it always seems to help in some way.”
We found that to be true ourselves – also, going outside teaches your baby about the world and all that excitement can help them sleep better at night.
3. Dance Party!
While pre-bedtime routines should be tranquil and calm, it’s totally cool - and advisable - to work out witching hour energy with an afternoon dance party at home. “Turning on Music-works 100% of the time. Sometimes we have dance parties.” Says Autumn W. “And art works great too!” The goal with this method is to distract your baby and re-channel their energy into something positive and fun for the whole family!
4. A Warm Bath:
A warm bath may already be part of your bedtime routine, but if it’s not, many parents tell us that a rub-a-dub in a warm tub has relaxed and calmed their baby during the witching hour. And parent Madison K. said she adds some bubbles and coloring to the water to the witching hour bath to make it more unique and distracting.
5. White Noise or Soothing Noises:
Another bedtime routine staple, noise machines create a tranquil, placid environment that can help calm your baby during the witching hour.
There are also many other “colorful” noises other than “white noise” that can help soothe your baby. For example, “red” noise is a soft rumble that some say can help babies sleep better at night.
Minimizing the Witching Hour is About Redirection
You may have noticed a theme – minimizing the witching hour is all about refocusing your baby’s energies something creative, energetic, or tranquil. Fighting the witching hour is an uphill battle.
As frustrating as the witching hour may be, it’s a natural part of your baby’s development and, yes, it will pass. Until then, we believe in you! Seriously. The fact that you’re here speaks volumes about your commitment and caring nature. You’ve got this 100%.
And if you want or need any additional support settling your baby before bed – or any other time – download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. We worked with other pediatric sleep experts to create an app that can help any parent help any baby learn to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer – a skill that lays the foundation for a healthy tomorrow for your baby, and for you!
What Are Sleep Regressions?
As you’ve read or talked about the Witching Hour, you may have heard about baby sleep regressions.
Sleep regressions are sudden night wakeups that occur periodically as your baby grows. They’re kind of like the witching hour, but a bit more predictable – and very more explainable: sleep regressions coincide with your baby’s developmental milestones.
Therefore, sleep regressions should be celebrated and be embraced – that’s why we like to call sleep regressions “sleep progressions.”
Some of the milestones that may lead to sleep regressions include your baby sitting up by themselves (around 6 months or later), separation anxiety (after 9 months) and standing (12 months). Luckily, sleep regressions are easily minimized by maintaining your bedtime routine, revisiting your sleep coaching methods, and nap transitions, among other ways to minimize sleep regressions.
Is the Witching Hour the Same as Separation Anxiety?
No, the witching hour and separation anxiety are not the same.
While the witching hour may be caused by many different factors, separation anxiety in babies happens when they understand object permanence: the concept that people and objects still exist even when out of sight.
Like sleep regressions, separation anxiety in babies should be celebrated as a milestone – and then minimized. But, as with sleep regressions, there are ways to help your baby with separation anxiety. LINK TK
If you haven’t started sleep coaching, there’s still plenty of time, though the sooner you start, the sooner your baby – and you – will be sleeping better. Just download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™, enter some simple information about your baby, and this easy-to-use app will walk you through the sleep coaching journey step-by-step, from A to Zzzz!
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
“Newborn Sleep: Patterns, Interventions, and Outcomes,” Pediatrics.
“Preventing and Treating Colic,” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology.
“Witching Hour is the Worst – Here’s What You Can Do About It,” Healthline.