Surviving the Witching Hour: Tales from a Mom Battling with an Infant and Toddler

Diane Repetz

Diane Repetz

M. Ed, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Date | July 5, 2023 

Buckle up, fellow moms and dads, because the witching hour is like riding a rollercoaster without a seatbelt! You’ve got love and joy on one side, but on the other, you’re facing a tiny boss who’s throwing a tantrum like a drama queen on Bravo! Yes, that dreaded time of the day when your infant seems inconsolable, no matter your desperate attempts at making silly faces or busting out your most humiliating dance moves.  Meanwhile, your toddler is running around like a wild tornado, like they’ve had a triple espresso with extra sugar. In the midst of this chaos, you might even wonder if you accidentally enrolled in a circus school for parents, juggling responsibilities like a pro. Diapers flying, toys zooming past, and you’re desperately trying to keep everything in order. But hey, don’t fret! We’ve all been there and you are NOT alone.  In this blog post, we’ll unlock some survival tips for all of you exhausted parents who are really going through it!

What exactly is the Witching Hour?  The witching hour is most commonly observed in newborns and infants, typically starting around 2 to 3 weeks of age and peaking around 6 to 8 weeks. During this time, babies may experience increased fussiness and crying episodes, often in the late afternoon or early evening.  The witching hour is not a scientifically defined concept, but rather a term used to describe a recurring pattern of unsettled behavior in infants. It is believed to occur due to a combination of factors, including overstimulation, fatigue, hunger, and general discomfort. Some theories suggest that it may also be related to the developmental changes happening in a baby’s brain and body during this time.  Unfortunately, the witching hour typically tends to strike right around dinnertime or late evening, just when you are praying for some peace and quiet. Your infant, for some mysterious reason, decides that sleep is completely overrated, and your toddler, fueled by a never-ending supply of energy, is determined to test the limits of your sanity. It’s like a perfect storm gathering momentum, and you’re stuck right in the middle. But don’t despair, Mama! There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

1. Acceptance and Prioritization
The first step in surviving the witching hour is to accept that this is just a phase that will eventually pass. Remind yourself that you are doing an incredible job as a mom, and this challenging period is temporary. Take a deep breath and prioritize your tasks. Knowing that this period of crankiness tends to occur around dinnertime, it may be beneficial to meal prep for your toddler ahead of time, choosing easier options that can be frozen or reheated quickly.  In our home, we swore by these Gerber meals which could be nuked in 20 seconds and were well loved by both my daughter and son. Worst case, dinner can wait! Give yourself permission to leave the dishes in the sink, and the laundry can just pile up a little more. Your main focus during the witching hour should be to create a calm and nurturing environment for your little ones.

2. Divide and Conquer
Trying to tend to the needs of both an infant and a toddler simultaneously can be overwhelming. But remember, there’s strength in numbers! Enlist the help of your partner, family members, or even a trusted friend to divide and conquer. While you manage the demands of your newborn, someone can engage your toddler in an entertaining activity. This division of attention will not only make your life easier but also give your toddler the much-needed attention and reassurance during this challenging time.  You can even involve your toddler in the care of the baby. Assign them simple tasks such as fetching a diaper, helping with gentle rocking, or singing a lullaby to their sibling. This not only keeps them occupied but also fosters a sense of responsibility and bonding between siblings.

3. A Bag of Tricks
Sometimes, when help is unavailable, us moms need to get a bit crafty! Creating a “witching-hour” survival kit can be a game-changer. Gather an assortment of distractions, toys, and activities that engage your toddler and keep them entertained. Think about puzzles, coloring books, or even a dance party to burn off some energy. For your little one, soothe them with gentle rocking, singing lullabies, or try a white noise machine to establish a calming environment. If it’s your toddlers bath time, which may very well be the case, free up your hands by wearing your baby! The LÍLLÉbaby carrier was a lifesaver for me when my husband was traveling for work.  Your infant can nap or nurse while you shampoo and entertain your tot.  Another easy way to free up your hands is to invest in the BABYBJÖRN bouncer! If there is one baby product I could not have survived without, it’s this one.  While it is a bit pricey, you can find one used on Facebook marketplace or even borrow from a mom friend.  Simple tricks can go a long way in turning the witching hour into a bearable time.

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4. The Power of a Routine
Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can work wonders during the witching hour. Create a calming sequence of activities like a warm bath, a gentle massage, followed by a soothing lullaby. This routine sends signals to your little ones that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. By reinforcing this routine every evening, you will slowly train their internal clocks, making the witching hour less tumultuous each day.

5. Self-Care is Key
Moms often forget to take care of themselves amidst the chaos of the witching hour. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Find small pockets of time to practice self-care, whether it’s indulging in a hot cup of tea, taking a quick shower, or simply closing your eyes for a few minutes. It is essential to recharge and rejuvenate yourself, as this allows you to be the best version of yourself for your children.

Ok, But really… When Can I Expect the Witching Hour to Disappear?

As infants reach the 4- to 6-month mark, they often start to establish more predictable sleep patterns and show improved self-regulation skills, which can contribute to a reduction in the intensity and frequency of fussiness. By 6 months, many babies have developed more mature sleep patterns and are better able to self-soothe, leading to fewer instances of the witching hour.

It’s worth noting that while the witching hour tends to dissipate as infants grow older, there can still be occasional fussy periods due to factors such as teething, growth spurts, or developmental milestones. Each child is unique, and their individual temperament and development will influence when they transition out of the witching hour phase.

The witching hour may feel like a never-ending battle, but remember that you are not alone in this journey. Countless moms and dads have fought and won this battle, and so can you. Embrace the chaos, find humor in the madness, prioritize self-care, and enjoy the little moments. One day, you will look back at these challenging times with a sense of accomplishment and a smile on your face, knowing that you survived the witching hour with grace and strength.

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