Witching Hour SOS: How to Save Your Evening (and Soul)

Your newborn is one week old. She’s asleep in her bassinet going on three hours now. You’ve checked on her no less than six times, sure, but right now you’re lounging on the couch with your feet propped on your breastfeeding pillow, enjoying a glass of wine with your husband. The house is quiet and peaceful, your guests are gone, and your in-laws have left you with a stunning deli platter fit for a queen. This isn’t so hard! you and your partner say. People make such a fuss.


[cue ominous murder music]

Suddenly, around week three or four your darling little angel “wakes up.” Baby is now more alert and person-y, so that’s good, but also, you’re terrified of her. Why? Because every afternoon she turns into a fussy, inconsolable, wailing beast, and the spell lasts for hours. You bounce her, you plead with her, you offer boob after boob after boob, you pace with her…. to no avail. Relief finally comes at 1am when she falls asleep, exhausted by her own self, and you stumble into bed, elated yet simultaneously devastated since you know that in just a few hours you’ll have to rouse yourself from your delicious, deep sleep for a feeding.

This is The Witching Hour.

It’s real, you guys. And thankfully, it’s temporary, as fussiness peaks around six weeks. But in the meantime this is the daily drill, usually starting in the late afternoon or early evening when baby is overstimulated and tired. Surely all of us can relate to this? After all, even adults have been known to act like hangry jerks at this time of day. And let’s cut baby a little slack here. She’s getting used to BEING A PERSON ON EARTH, which is no small feat.

The storm will pass. But here are some tips to help you weather it in the meantime.

  1. Get outta Dodge – Get outside and take a walk. Have you already taken three walks today? Fine, take another. It doesn’t matter where you go; the change of environment combined with movement is often calming to baby (and you).  If it’s a tundra where you are, driving works, too.
  2. Comfort feed. You’re not spoiling your baby. Take off your shirt — or prep a big ole Gulp-sized bottle — and make it happen.
  3. Livingroom? Try Livingwomb. It can be helpful to think of baby’s first three months as the “fourth trimester.” This is the idea that human babies are not actually developmentally ready to be born after nine months gestation but have to be, since if their brains grew any bigger brains they’d get stuck in the birth canal. So for the first three months of their lives, babies are just trying to adjust to conditions in the outside world, which are basically 100% opposite from what they’ve been used to in the womb (dark, cramped, noisy).  So, to calm a newborn baby, you want to create conditions that mimic the womb. Think: vibrations and movement, shushing white-noise-y sounds, swaddling, swinging. Related to this….
  4. Do good housekeeping. Some parents swear by the calming effects of the sounds of certain home appliances. The white noise of the vacuum and dryer have both been known to mesmerize. (Obvs don’t put baby in the dryer. We know you’re sleep-deprived.) Also…
  5. Barry White the heck out of her. Closeness is soothing to baby, so wear her in a sling or wrap or otherwise cozy newborn-appropriate carrier. If Dad or another man is around, have him wear baby, as the deeper-voiced vibrations of their chests are said to be extra comforting to newborns.
  6. Dust off your workout gear. Try bouncing gently on the exercise ball with baby. Hey, remember when that ball was for abs workouts?
  7. KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid. We’re not calling anyone stupid, it’s just a phrase! But, yes, you’ll want to keep baby’s environment free from any additional stressors or stimulation. Loud music or noise from a TV is just mean. And, like, maybe don’t have friends over for a beer during Witching Hour? (Or do, if your friends are looking for natural birth control.)
  8. Don’t wing it. For a few weeks, The Witching Hour’s arrival will be as reliable as rain, so plan ahead for what you’re going to do at that time each day, since it’s awfully hard to think straight and make decisions when your baby (and perhaps husband?) are whimpering and wailing and your nerves are shot. So hatch a plan beforehand. This afternoon baby and I will take a sunset walk for some ice cream, you might say. Or today we will hop in the car and go explore a new neighborhood. No need to be caught off guard each day when the Witching Hour descends. Plus, being proactive makes you feel less like a victim.

Remind yourself that this, like everything, is a phase, and that the evening fussies don’t mean that anything is wrong; all this madness is perfectly developmentally appropriate. Soon enough you’ll find yourself laughing as you remember this period. Hey, remember when baby used to fuss for five hours in a row every night and we would all have a big Family Cry? Ha ha ha. That was funny, you’ll say. And it will all seem like a distant memory, and maybe even a sweet one.

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Meredith Hoffa is the Managing Editor at WhatsUpMoms.com and lives in L.A. with her husband and two kids. Her work has been published in the NYT, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Boston Globe Magazine and several anthologies, among other places. Send her funny videos of people falling (but not getting hurt!) at meredith@whatsupmoms.com.