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Why Do Babies Freak Out at Night?

I’m totally exhausted in the evenings and at night, and this is the time baby goes nuts! What gives?

Re:

I’m totally exhausted in the evenings and at night, and this is the time baby goes nuts! What gives?

The Bump Expert

Ever heard of “the witching hour?” Between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., some babies who’ve been pretty content all day become super-cranky or want to nurse constantly. The worst part: It’s that same window of time when you and your partner are ready to have dinner, wind down and maybe catch an episode of Game of Thrones before getting your own shut-eye.

That me-time showdown is a parenthood rite of passage and usually begins at around six weeks. It’s not forever though -- it usually tapers off by three months, says Preeti Parikh, MD, FAAP, a New York City pediatrician. Here are some things that can bring it on:

Baby is “overtired”
Just like you get cranky when you’re tired, so does baby. But babies aren’t so good at calming themselves down, and instead of just going to sleep like you would, they lose it. To prevent overtiredness, baby needs to sleep a lot during the day -- she should have a nap every two to two-and-a-half hours. (You don’t have to time the nap -- let baby wake up when she feels fully rested.) “Resist the urge to wake a sleeping baby to feed or play with her,” Parikh says. And don’t be afraid that letting baby nap often during the day will mess with her nighttime sleep; the opposite is actually true -- an overtired baby has a harder time falling asleep than one who’s gotten all the naps she needs. To encourage sleep, keep an evening routine, and make it as calm and quiet as possible. We like a bath, a calming book and a lullaby with dimmed lights.

Baby needs to nurse -- a lot
Some breastfed babies seem to want to feed constantly in the evenings (which is completely exhausting for mom!). This is called “cluster feeding,” which babies do if mom’s milk supply is slightly lower at night. And yes, it’s okay to nurse baby in what seems like back-to-back-to-back sessions; breastfed babies are virtually impossible to overfeed. The same can’t be said for formula feeding, so if you’ve just fed baby a bottle, don’t try to “top him up” to prevent him from fussing. For bottle-fed babies, check into a possible milk-protein intolerance or other problems, like gas, that could be making him fussy.

Baby is hypersensitive
Here’s the main reason for the witching hour: Baby is hypersensitive to noises, sensations and activities going on around him. Life outside the uterus is still new for baby. He’s not used to… well, anything yet, really, and this is an adjustment period. By the end of the day, he’s completely overwhelmed. The fussiness may just be his way of “asking” for more physical closeness, in the form of snuggling and swaddling to replicate that cocooned, warm, cozy feeling of the womb. Don’t worry about spoiling baby; at this age, there’s no such thing. Put him in a sling or carrier and dance around the room, or just hold him to help calm him down. Some babies are soothed by the motion of a swing or bouncy chair too.

The best news about the witching hour? It’ll pass. Babies usually outgrow it around three months -- the same time they settle into a daily routine. In the meantime, don’t let it stress you out. It’s okay to get frustrated, but if you feel like you could lose it, hand baby to your partner, call a friend to babysit or put him someplace safe, then decompress in another room for 15 minutes.

Plus, More from The Bump:

10 Hardest Things About Being a New Mom

Craziest Things Tired Moms Did

Tool: Sleep Tracker

Denise Schipani

Why Do Babies Freak Out at Night?

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