Trust me, I knew having a baby wouldn't be easy, and I certainly was aware that a good amount of a baby's crying would be my new soundtrack when my daughter was born. I read up on all I could about what to expect from my newborn baby, including the dreaded colic, and I just hoped that I would get off easy. What can I say? I'm soft. So after a couple weeks of my baby being earth-side, she was blessedly chill — she cried, sure, but there was always a problem and a solution. Dirty nappy? Change it. Hungry? Feed her. I even learned babies can get too tired and cry about that. Who knew?!
So imagine my surprise (and horror) when at about four weeks old, my little easygoing babe started losing it at about the same time each day. Worse, none of our previous simple solutions worked. I thought it might be gas, but none of the classic remedies for that worked. The trusty boob didn't work, as she seemed to be too upset to feed. I worried it was colic and consulted the Holy Grail for calming down a fussy baby from all the parents I knew: The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, MD. Dr. Karp's book — and a lot of other books and blogs I read prior to my baby's birth — warned of colic, a scary word I'd heard over and over again. But Dr. Karp defines a baby with colic as "a baby who cries for more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, and consistently for longer than 3 weeks." Although my baby seemed to cry in a window of about three or four hours, she didn't cry for the whole period. The classic ways to soothe colic also had little effect on her.
Obviously, my husband and I were going crazy, and we were trying everything to get her to stop crying (more on that later), but only in a specific window of about 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Before then, she was a sweet, mostly quiet angel, and after then, she slept pretty normally. But in between, she was inconsolable.
Like any normal first-time mom, I started googling the crap out of my baby's superannoying affliction (mostly at 2 or 4 in the morning, while feeding the little monster). And I found out that what she "had" had a name: the witching hour. Now here's where I felt betrayed. Every time I mentioned this creepy-sounding name to another parent, every person knew exactly what I was talking about. It happened to all of them, it seemed, and they each had little fixes they remembered trying. And yet, no one had told me this was coming. And it wasn't in any of the books I had read like I was cramming for the most intense midterm of my life. WTH?
So what is it anyway? The witching hour is basically just a window of a few hours (or like the name implies for the luckier ones, just one hour) where your newborn baby is fussy for no good reason. You can quiet them, sure, but you can't fix the issue because there's no issue to be fixed. I talked to my pediatrician about it, waiting for some time-worn advice, and she just gave me sympathy eyes.
Doctor or parent, every person also seemed to offer this final piece of advice: that it would end . . . eventually. I heard everything from eight or nine weeks to three or four months. Their tone always sounded like they were telling me something to relieve me, but I wasn't relieved. We'd have to deal with this for at least several more weeks?! Or months?! Cool. Cool cool cool. Sanity is overrated!
But if this is you right now, I have to report better news than I heard or googled: my baby's witching hour lasted only for three weeks. Or it's totally possible that we just figured out a way to deal with it. To be totally honest, I don't know for sure if we solved the problem or it just went away, but I hope that what we tried can help someone else in this crappy phase.
First, here's everything we tried that gave us some blessed breaks in crying, on the advice of people who had lived through it:
- Bounce on a yoga ball — Remember that yoga ball you got for the last few weeks of pregnancy? It comes in handy again! Try holding your crying baby while bouncing rhythmically.
- Put baby in a baby carrier — Wear that baby. It gives your arms a rest since you know baby can't be put down right now, and you can probably get baby to go to sleep for a little while if you walk or bounce around.
- Go outside and take a walk — For my baby, being outside calmed her down, at least for a little while. It's also a great breather for you.
- Give baby a bath — Not every baby will chill out with a bath, but it seemed to relax our little one.
- Switch off — If you're not alone, pass the baby off to someone else before you feel like you can't take it anymore. Use your partner or a family member or a friend you can beg to come over and help. (Bribe them if you have to. It's worth it.)
Ultimately, my husband and I subscribed to the theory that our baby was simply overstimulated by the end of the day, and we did everything we could to tone down her environment. That meant turning down the lights, turning off the TV, talking more quietly, and putting on some soft music. Basically, we avoided anything that might stimulate the baby further, even if it was stuff that normally didn't bother her during the day.
So hear this: the witching hour will end. But it's a real witch.