If your baby tends to get fussy every evening at about the same time, you may be wondering what's going on. When your baby was first born, they slept almost constantly. Just a few weeks later, they might be screaming for hours at a time. This fussy period is often called the witching hour, even though it can last for up to 3 hours.
Crying is normal for all babies. Most average about 2.2 hours daily. Some babies, however, cry much more. Colicky babies may cry continuously for 2 to 3 hours at a time for no apparent reason. Their crying spells usually happen around the same time every day, often in the evening.
The good news is that most babies outgrow this excessive crying by around 3 months of age. It may last a little longer for some infants.
What Causes the Baby Witching Hour?
No one knows what causes these fussy periods in babies. Around 20% of babies develop colic, usually when they are 2 to 4 weeks old. Your baby may just be sensitive to stimulation and not be able to self-soothe yet. Though it's stressful for you, colic won't cause any long-term harm or medical problems for your baby.
How Can I Calm My Baby?
Every baby is different. Over time, you will learn what works best to soothe your baby. Here are some techniques you can try to calm your baby:
Swaddle your baby. Wrapping your baby in a thin blanket may help them feel secure. Your baby's nurse or doctor can teach you to swaddle if you need help.
Turn on white noise. You can try a white noise machine, a fan, or a recording of a heartbeat. These sounds remind your baby of being in the womb and may calm them down.
Hold your baby in your arms on their left side or stomach. This might help with your baby's digestion or help their stomach feel better. Remember to put your baby on their back in their crib if they fall asleep.
Put your baby in a sling and walk or rock them. This reminds your baby of being in the womb. It may comfort them.
Give your baby a pacifier or your finger to suck on. If it's not time to eat, let your baby suck on your clean finger or a pacifier. Most babies are calmed by sucking.
Don't overfeed your baby. Try to wait at least 2 to 2.5 hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next. Being too full can make your baby uncomfortable.
Check for food sensitivity. If you're breastfeeding, check with your pediatrician to see whether eliminating milk or caffeine from your diet will make a difference. Some babies show signs of milk protein intolerance that a doctor can identify. If you're formula feeding, you can also ask your pediatrician about changing your baby's formula.
Keep a diary. Write down when your baby's schedule. This includes when they eat, sleep, wake, and cry. You may find a pattern that you can discuss with your baby's doctor.
Limit naps. Don't let your baby nap for more than 3 hours at a time during the day. Keep the lights dim and the room quiet when you feed and change your baby at night.
Check your baby's needs. Sometimes there's no apparent reason your baby is crying. Check to see if they are:
- Hungry. Keep track of when your baby eats and watch for early hunger signs such as sucking on fists.
- Cold or hot. Your baby should be dressed in about the same amount of layers that you are wearing.
- Soiled or wet. Check your baby's diaper to see whether it needs to be changed.
- Spitting up a lot. Some babies have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that may be causing their fussiness.
- Overstimulated. Try turning down the noise and lights.
- Sick. Take your baby's temperature. Make sure they don't have any other signs of illness. Call your pediatrician immediately if your baby is under 2 months old and has a fever of 100.4 degrees.
- Bored. Sing or hum to your baby. Go for a walk to stimulate them.
Take care of yourself. Taking care of a crying baby is very stressful. If you're feeling overwhelmed, call a friend or relative to take care of your baby while you take a break. If no one is available to help, then put the baby in their crib, close the door, and take a 10-minute break. Try to do something relaxing during that 10 minutes.
When Should I See a Pediatrician?
Crying in babies isn't generally a medical problem. You should still rule out any medical reasons for your baby's crying. Contact your pediatrician if your baby has any of the following symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
- Not as alert and active as usual
- Losing weight or not gaining weight
- Loose or bloody stools
- Is not eating
- Is not sucking well
- Won't calm down, no matter what you do