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5 Simple Steps to Handling Your Baby's End Of The Day Fussies

babies blog newborn preschooler schedules toddler witching hour
fussy baby with mom

Your baby is a happy camper for most of the day and then evening rolls around and that happy baby becomes fussy and hard to soothe. Does this sound familiar? 

If so, your baby is dealing with a case of the end of the day fussies, also known as the witching hour. While mostly associated with newborns, it can persist in lesser forms through toddlerhood and into preschool.

For newborns, the end of the day fussies is a period of fussiness and irritability that starts anywhere from late afternoon to early evening and can last until around midnight. It typically starts at 2-3 weeks old, peaks at 6-8 weeks old, and ends around 3-4 months old. 

With my oldest child, her end of the day fussies were very intense. I was completely unprepared, caught of guard, and wondered if this would last forever (spoiler alert: it didn't).  She not only was going through the fussy hour, but colic as well. My younger child had a much more tame case. His could have been called the fussy half-hour. 

To start, we will talk about simple strategies for dealing with the newborn fussy hour as it is typically the most intense. We'll wrap up with a few strategies for older babies, toddlers, and preschoolers as well! 

Why Do Newborns Have A Fussy Hour?

We don't know for certain, but there are a couple of theories. One is that the baby (if breastfed) is frustrated that mom's milk comes a bit more slowly. Prolactin is the primary hormone responsible for milk production and prolactin levels dip in the evening. This is very normal and does not mean that a mom has an overall low supply. It simply means that mom's supply is lower in the evenings than other times during the day. The thought is that babies get frustrated by the temporary dip in supply and thus are fussy and want to feed often. 

Another theory is that the fussy hour occurs because babies are overtired and overstimulated. When babies, especially newborns, are overtired they become very fussy, irritable, and difficult to soothe. This is because of two hormones that are surging: cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones keep the baby awake and make it very difficult for the baby to soothe and calm down. 

Newborns are also easily overstimulated and since they do not yet know how to self-settle, become very fussy as a result.

Here are some common symptoms of the fussy hour:

  • The normal things that work to soothe baby stop working
  • Baby wants to cluster feed but doesn't seem satisfied
  • Baby fusses more and longer than usual
  • Is between 5:00 PM - 12:00 AM

So, the fussy hour is the same thing as colic?

Similar, but not exactly the same. The traditional definition of colic is when a baby cries for 3 hours or more, 3 days in a week or more, for 3 weeks or more. Like the fussy hour, we also do not know for certain what causes colic. 

Overtiredness and overstimulation can certainly mimic colic. Colic also begins around weeks 2-3, peaks around weeks 6-8, and fades around 3-4 months. 

When a baby is experiencing a traditional fussy hour type fussiness, it is generally possible to soothe the baby though it may be difficult and the crying may be intense. Babies often appear uncomfortable - arching, twisting, and pulling up their legs. 

With colic, the crying is even more intense and the baby is almost impossible to soothe. Think of colic as the fussy hour on steroids. 

Colicky symptoms can be brought on by an oversupply of breastmilk, a forceful letdown, a tongue/lip tie, sensitivity to food in mom's diet, or GERD. If you suspect colic, I recommend consulting with an IBCLC to rule out any breastfeeding culprits.

How Do I Soothe Baby During The Fussy Hour?

There are several ways you can try to soothe your baby!

First, cluster feed. Breastfed babies in particular may be perfectly happy to go 2-3 hours between feedings the rest of the day, but suddenly want to nurse, and nurse, and nurse some more. This is very normal and okay. You may feel like you are glued to the couch, and it is important to keep reminding yourself that this phase is temporary and really will pass. 

Second, offer naps often during the day. During the newborn period, most babies can only remain happily awake about 45-70 minutes before needing a nap. Some naps will be short and other naps will be long, but keep offering your baby frequent naps during the day to keep overtiredness at bay. (Click here to read more about wake windows).

Third, reduce stimulation. During the witching hour, try taking your baby into a dim room with white noise going and seeing if the reduction in stimulation helps her to calm. 

Fourth, try a change of scenery. Stepping outside for a few minutes is incredibly calming to most babies. Fresh air is also helpful for you! Take a few deep breaths to help yourself calm and relax. Your baby feels your emotions, and will feed off of your tension and anxiety but also feels you calm and relax. 

Lastly, keep baby close. Most likely, your baby won't let you put her down during the witching hour. A baby carrier can be very helpful if you need to be up and around the house. 

Also, don't be afraid to ask for help! Even if there is no one who can come and physically help you with your newborn, your home, or your other children, it is still helpful to have friends encouraging you via text or phone. Don't be afraid to reach out to your OB also if you start to feel overwhelmed. They can point you to the appropriate resources. 

Older Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers & The Fussy Hour

While not as intense as the newborn fussy hour, it is very common for older infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to also have fussy periods at the end of the day. 

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense: even as adults, the end of the day is typically when we are most tired, cranky, and just want to be done. 

The strategies for navigating the older child witching hour are similar to those for newborns. 

First, make sure they are getting enough sleep! Overtired children either meltdown and become fussy or become hyper and wired. Until they reach elementary school age, most children do best with 11-12 hours of sleep a night. 

Second, offer infants who eat solids, toddlers and preschoolers a snack after afternoon nap or quiet time. This can be a game changer! 

Third, get outside and play. The fresh air will do everyone good! Bonus points: physical activity helps sleep and afternoon sunlight helps keep the brain's internal clock on track. 

Fourth, give toddlers and preschoolers control via choices when possible. Also, let older toddlers and preschoolers help you with your tasks when appropriate. Even though it make take a little longer, they love feeling helpful.

Fifth, give everyone an extra dose of grace and patience - yourself included. The end of the day can be tough on everyone. Stick to your rules and boundaries, but also look past the behavior and see if you can find the root cause. Knowing the cause of the late afternoon/early evening fussies can be very helpful for deciding how to handle them and prevent them to the degree possible.

Let's recap

The fussy hour is not fun! Not at all. During the newborn period, you may find yourself dreading the late afternoon/early evening. On the tough days remind yourself that while each day can feel very long, the newborn fussy hour really is temporary and will soon be in the rearview mirror.

To help soothe your baby and minimize the fussy hour fussies:

  • Offer frequent naps to keep baby rested and prevent overtiredness
  • Cluster feed
  • Try a dim room to reduce stimulation
  • Step outside
  • Wear baby
  • Ask for help

Take it one day at a time. Your baby is adjusting to this world and you are adjusting to your baby. You've got this!

If you are reading this and have an older baby, toddler, or preschooler, also remember to take it one day at a time. No two days are alike. Offer plenty of sleep, a snack after nap, and get outside weather and schedule permitting. 

Happy sleeping!

Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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