Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Why is my newborn so fussy in the early evening?

It was January and it was dark and cold. My son was 1 month old, and I was desperate to get him to sleep.  I was sitting on my knees, in front of my son in the baby swing, sshhhing him, on the verge of tears and praying my husband would come home from work soon so I could have a physical break from the exhaustion of hearing my son cry.  Why wouldn’t he sleep??? Why was my newborn so fussy in the early evening? What was I doing wrong? We were in the midst of the “witching hour”.

Newborns experience the “witching hour” which is typically between 6-9 pm at night. They don’t take a break for weekends or for happy hour.  Its one thing when you only have one child to focus on, but the witching hour gets even harder when you have a toddler in the background wanting dinner, bath, and story books!  Yikes.  That is why mother nature created two parents, to divide and conquer.

What causes the witching hour?  There are a number of factors that play into the witching hour.

Clusterfeeding.  Breastfeed babies will have a natural drive to have multiple feeds over the witching hour to prepare them for their longest stretch of sleep which is typically sometime from 9 pm to 1-2 am. Newborns generally don’t sleep more than about 6 hours at a stretch at this age.  Many kids, like mine, wouldn’t go past 3 hours at this age. That’s because I was keeping him up too long!

Gas.  A root-a-toot-toot.  There’s a theory that if a baby has a burp during the day that doesn’t get out, it travels through the intestine and becomes gas by the evening.  I first heard of this through a baby language,  DBL (Dunstan Baby Language).  DBL is a great tool for you to learn to help understand what is really bothering your baby, at any time of day! Practice up on your leg bicycles and efficient burping technique to get those uncomfortable bubbles out.

Fatigue.  By the end of the day your baby is tired!  Its hard to believe considering she lay around sleeping, pooping and feeding all day. Sounds like a life of leisure to me.  But she’s busy growing all those cells and learning how to coordinate those wobbly eyes.  Growth, growth, and more growth going on, tires a gal out.  A newborn call only comfortably be awake for about 1 hour until 2 months, and then up to 1.5 hours by 3 months, and that is at a maximum to be back asleep by!  

Meaning that once those time spans have elapsed, your baby enters the overtired zone and it becomes even more difficult to get her to sleep and to stay asleep.  It is very easy during the witching hour to mistake fatigue for hunger or gas.  Often we use breastfeeding as a way to calm the baby but she’s fussy as soon as she’s done eating, because the real issue is fatigue that is making her fussy.  I was the master and champ at this.  I unknowingly used the boob to soothe my son.  I kept him up too long, didn’t understand his cries and basically was up feeding him every 3 hours round the clock.  But we survived and now I can help you

The witching hour and cluster feeding tends to recede around 10-12 weeks of age.  Burping your baby frequently through the daytime will proactively help alleviate stomach discomfort. Anticipate that a newborn will want to cluster feed frequently between 6 and 9 pm, and naturally have a bedtime somewhere between 9 and 10 pm.  Get your partner home from work early so he can help you, even if just for moral support.  Babies are much easier to put to sleep and take care of in the morning so get your partner off to work early so he can be back for the hardest part of the day.

You can read more about helping your newborn to sleep on my other blog:  Helping Your Baby Sleep from 0-3 months.

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