Baby pouting

Surviving the Witching Hour

14 tips to try

By Emma Biggar.

Last updated 4th of September 2019

The witching hour, arsenic hour, "colic" (or whatever you want to call it) can be a time of great stress and frustration in many households. It appears to commonly to occur in the evening, beginning around 5pm but this can vary greatly from home to home. Our once calm, happy, placid infant or child appears to transform right before our eyes. It can seem like there's nothing we can do to help or that it's never going to end.

We don't know the exact cause and there are many theories. It can be particularly distressing when we feel stuck and unsure pf what to do. No one wants to feel helpless when it comes to looking after our precious babies. Here are some things that have helped many other families that you can try:

1. Surrender and Accept:

You may begin to notice that this period of being unsettled occurs roughly at the same time each day. If you begin from a place of acceptance that this is going to happen and surrendering yourself to just going with the flow it can be a lot easier to get on with cuddling them and feeding them until it passes. If we stop fighting what we think "shouldn't" be happening and just embrace the moment it feels a whole lot less frustrating. It will pass but for now you are needed.

2. Prepare to have no other commitments during this time

One of the most frustrating parts of this period is that it often occurs just when we need to be doing something else. We might need to tend to other children, get dinner started or complete paperwork. We don't have to surrender at the expense of being able to get these things done. You might find it helpful to cook meals in advance so you can spend the time being attentive to your baby or schedule time outside this period to complete the paperwork.

3. Cluster feed

It's very common for babies of all ages, particularly young babies to have periods of time everyday where they may request a feed every 20 or 30 minutes. This can last for an hour or even several. This is very common and in the majority of cases completely normal. Sometimes some of the stress can be alleviated for all if you just roll with it and offer the breast on demand. This can be particularly beneficial if you are struggling with supply as removing more milk from the breast helps to increase milk supply. If you begin to experience oversupply you can manage this by using block feeding so that your baby can continue having unrestricted access to the breast.

4. Bath

Your baby might feel a little more chilled out in a nice relaxing bath. Or perhaps you might like to have a bath together and spend some time skin-to-skin. You can continue feeding in the bath as an added bonus. Or if the bath isn't your thing you might enjoy a shower. Those snuggles into your neck while the warm water washes over both of you can be just divine.

5. Change of scenery

Have you and your baby been looking at the same four walls all day? Sometimes just going into another room or the backyard can provide a little distraction and a break from the crying. The garage, laundry or a spare room that's not frequently visited might prove to be interesting to your infant.

6. Turn the TV off

Perhaps part of the problem is overstimulation. All the bright lights and noises can become too much for out little ones and limiting them can be helpful. Sometimes even just turning the sound off and switching to subtitles can be helpful enough.

7. Dim the lights

Sometimes just turning the TV off isn't enough. Turning the lights down to a minimum, if not off, can assist your baby to downregulate if they are feeling overstimulated.

8. Massage

Who doesn't love a good massage? Our babies can often find bliss at the end of our fingertips when caressed in a gentle and loving manner. Be guided by your baby's reaction as not all babies enjoy the same things just in the same way adults vary in preference. Feeling unsure about where to begin? There are many classes and tutorials available to help guide you.

9. Use a carrier, wrap or sling

Are you finding your arms, back or neck getting tired from constantly holding your little one? Or are you really struggling with not being able to let go of other responsibilities? Try using a carrier, wrap or sling to free up your hands in order to attend to other things. There are some wonderful groups around that can provide education around the use of wraps and slings or assist you with getting your carrier adjusted to your body shape for optimal comfort such as South Eastern Babywearing Group.

10. Go for a walk around the garden or block

Perhaps you have tried visiting other rooms within your house without much success. Sometimes a stroll to the mailbox or around the block can do the trick. You both get a chance to get out of the house and into the fresh air. Your pet dog might be grateful for the extra walk. You can use your carrier or pram as you explore your neighbourhood. You might find a patch of gravel that provides just the sensation to help your baby nod off to sleep. Or perhaps a smooth surface is more their preference. Experiment and watch your child to discover their their own unique little personalities.

10. Make a bumpy surface for the pram

There are mats you can purchase to roll the pram over which are intended to make just the right bumpiness to sooth your child. Or you can DIY style, perhaps by rolling over an old flat shoe or skipping rope.

11. Ask your partner or another support person to take the baby

Sometimes we just need another pair of fresh hands to help out while we tend to our own needs. It's okay to need a break. Their sad little faces melt us and the crying can feel like it cuts to our very soul. When it feels like none of our efforts are working and there's no end in sight we can start to feel a little burnt out. It's okay to ask for help. Looking after yourself really is looking after your baby too as it allows you to come back and give the best of yourself to your baby to meet their needs.

12. Try holding your baby in different positions

Many babies seem to enjoy being held with the head in your palm and bellies on your forearm or some variation of this. Add in a little swing or rock and this hold can be magical.

13. Get help with the other kids

Perhaps you are managing with your baby but it's your older kids that are needing some help or attention. Perhaps you can negotiate with your partner about who takes on what responsibility during these unsettled periods. So often food still needs to be prepared, homework still needs to get done, teeth still need to be brushed and so on, even if the baby is crying. Sometimes a united approach to divide and concur is necessary to meet everyone's needs.

14. Remind yourself that this too shall pass

The cluster feeding, the endless nights, the unsettledness all come to an end eventually. It can feel like it's never going to end when you're right in the thick of it. But like all things, this too shall pass and before you know it you'll be on to the next stage of parenting and all the joys and delights that it brings.

Click here to return to blog homepage

Emma Biggar is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Registered Nurse and mother of three. Emma provides in-home breastfeeding and early parenting support to families in the Eastern and South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Click here to read more about the types of services available or here to visit the online booking page. Contact Emma by email here or visit her website or Facebook page.