The Witching Hourby Helen Preston
Every night at 5pm, like clockwork, my newborn son went through a fussy period. Some evenings it lasted 20 minutes; other nights it could continue until 7pm or later. He’d cry and whinge and nothing I did seemed to console him for long. Occasionally my efforts seemed to work for a while, sometimes everything I did just seemed to make my son’s crying worse. Often, I felt like crying too.
Desperate and confused, I asked other parents for their advice. When would this end? Was I failing my baby somehow?
A few suggested colic but mostly they nodded sympathetically and murmured that it was just … The Witching Hour.
The Witching Hour? I’d never heard of it. My ante-natal class hadn’t covered it, and the doctors said nothing about it when they sent me home as a scared first-time mum. Surely someone would have warned me?
Over the next few weeks I spoke to more friends and relatives. I asked the midwives, the health visitor, my mum, and my neighbours. A common phenomenon emerged – parents almost everywhere seem to experience the same evening fussiness and irritability in their precious newborn. My own (strictly unscientific) survey showed the pattern to start when the baby is only a few weeks old and usually improve dramatically by the time they are 10 or 12 weeks old.
So I was not alone. I took comfort in knowing that many other emotionally frayed mothers and fathers were also pacing the floor with an upset child.
But, for such a common occurrence, no-one seemed exactly sure why it occurred. Was my son simply trying too hard to mentally process an overstimulating day or was he just hungry, tired and grumpy? Whatever the reason, I tried everything to shorten or prevent the Witching Hour, but even the most seasoned and knowledgeable mothers admit that there is no magic solution. So if you too are going through this and wondering how you can cope, remember that:
1. Try not to panic. It is normal and it WILL end eventually.
2.Listen and learn. Every baby is different so you’ll need to try many things before you find a repertoire of methods that help your child. The top methods that worked for me were ‘cluster breastfeeding’ (i.e., lots and LOTS of frequent small feeds) during the fussy period, any form of repetitive rhythmic cuddling such as swinging or dancing up and down the room, and white noise like the vacuum cleaner or gentle humming. If he was particularly frantic, I’d occasionally walk outside with my son into the cool night air.
3.“Sleep when the baby sleeps.” You’ve heard it before but it really helps. Take the opportunity to rest, recuperate, and eat nutritious food. Conserve your energy and don’t try to do anything stupid like housework or, even worse, exercise.
4.Get help. Let someone else carry the baby for a while during the Witching Hour. If your partner isn’t around and you don’t have a helper or yaya, then bribe friends and relatives to help out or hire a babysitter for an hour so you can have a break. No-one was meant to do this alone.
5.Burp the baby. One theory is that the problem might be caused or exacerbated by gas pains building up over the course of the day so, just in case, wind the baby frequently when feeding and try to keep them as upright as possible. With my son, I found that giving him some time in a bouncy chair and wearing him in a cloth Mobywrap sling seemed to help as a preventative measure.
Ultimately, however, you might need to do what I did and simply my hang in there until your baby gradually outgrows the fussiness.
Looking back through rose-tinted glasses, those times with my baby boy now seem strangely precious. At least they taught me how to console my baby even when I didn’t know why he was upset. When my son is a monosyllabic 6-footer, maybe I’ll even fondly wish for the days when he relied utterly on me to comfort him during the terrible Witching Hour.
May 27, 2011 by Guest Writer