Witching Hour vs Colic

Colic is a word that is often used for a baby who cries for any length of time, but did you know that it’s normal for babies to have a fussy period every day, often called the witching hour?  While it’s distressing for any parent to hear her baby cry, sometimes understanding that the behavior is a normal part of infant development can be helpful.  However, there are times when the behavior may be caused by something else, and even though the cause isn’t always immediately understood, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the symptoms of colic.


What is the “Witching Hour”?

The witching hour is described as normal fussy periods that almost all babies go through.  It happens around the same time every day and most frequently occurs in the late afternoon and evening hours.  It will often begin between weeks 2 and 3, peak around week 6, and then fade around 3 months.  During this time, your baby will likely want to cluster feed, which again, is a normal behavior for babies. A baby who may go 2 hours or more between feedings will suddenly want to eat constantly.  He/she may be fussier than normal and more difficult to soothe.  Often it seems like the baby doesn’t know what he/she wants!  The baby will want to feed for a few minutes, then fall asleep, only to wake 10 minutes later wanting to feed again.  Some babies will fuss at the breast, giving hunger cues, but then pull off and cry.  All of this is normal behavior.


What Causes the Witching Hour?

While our babies can’t tell us why they’re so cranky during these seemingly endless hours, we have some theories on what causes it.  As it happens often towards the evening hours, it could be because mom’s milk supply is lower than it was earlier in the day.  What is so important for moms to realize is that her supply is not TOO low, but lower, which is a normal fluctuation that all women experience.  As the milk flow is slower, the baby may grow frustrated, and as the milk volume is lower, the baby may want to feed more often.  Again, this is not a sign that mom doesn’t have enough milk, but a common occurrence in breastfeeding.  Another cause could be overstimulation.  Your baby isn’t able to self soothe, or shut him/herself down at this age.  So by the end of the day he/she may feel cranky and overstimulated and have a hard time calming down.  It’s also often the busiest time of day in a lot of households, when partners are returning home from work, older siblings from school, and mom is trying to juggle activities like making dinner, or helping another child with homework.


What Can I Do to Help My Baby During the Witching Hour?

While you may not be able to 100% prevent the fussy period, there are lots of things you can do to help calm your baby and make your own life a little easier.  The best thing you can do is to offer your breast often.  Wearing your baby and learning to breastfeed in the carrier can be an absolute lifesaver!  Wearing your baby will also help to keep him/her soothed and your hands free, so you can attend to other children or activities that need to be done.  Another idea is to prep dinner earlier in the day so that you don’t feel the stress of having to do that during your baby’s fussy period.  Take a walk with your baby in the carrier, as the fresh air will benefit you both.  As much as you can, don’t plan events during this time.  And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help!  A baby’s cry is incredibly stressful for mom and sometimes you may need a break.  Ask your partner to step in for a while to soothe baby while you take a bath, go for a drive or walk, or just sit in a quiet room.


What is Colic?

Colic is different than the normal witching hour and is defined as a baby who cries for 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, for 3 or more weeks at a time.  Colic can begin in the early weeks and often fades by month 3 or 4.  The behavior of a colickly baby is markedly different than that of a baby experiencing normal witching hour.  The crying is often more intense and the baby is unable to be soothed.  The crying may be accompanied by behavior that indicates the baby is physically uncomfortable - he/she will arch his/her back, or seem to want to change positions, or tense his/her legs up near the abdomen.  


What Causes Colic?

Like the witching hour, there is no hard and fast evidence about what causes colickly behavior in a baby.  There are however, some things that you can definitely rule out if you suspect your baby is colicky.  One common cause for colic is too much milk.  Mom with an oversupply of milk may find her baby exhibiting the symptoms described above.  If mom has a very forceful letdown and fast flowing milk, the baby can take in too much air while feeding which can cause lots of gas and periods of great discomfort.  Sometimes an oversupply can cause a baby to have a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.  This also means discomfort for the baby as he/she is getting more of the diluted foremilk and not enough of the fattier hindmilk.  The foremilk doesn’t have enough fat in it to help balance the lactose, which can cause it to be difficult for the baby to digest.  

A tongue-tie or lip tie can also cause this type of behavior, even when mom doesn’t have an oversupply of milk.  A baby with a restricted tongue or upper lip may not be able to create a seal while feeding at the breast, which again, like the oversupply, causes baby to take in too much air while feeding.  

A sensitivity to something in mom’s diet can also be a culprit in causing this colicky behavior.  


What Can I Do to Help my Colicky Baby?

Change up your breastfeeding position.  If you feel like you may have a forceful letdown, try using the laid-back position.  This can help slow down your flow, making it more manageable for your baby.

If you suspect that something in your diet may be causing your baby discomfort, try keeping a food journal for 48 hours.  Record everything you eat, the time you ate it, along with the times your baby is exhibiting the colicky behavior.  If you start to notice a trend of discomfort following a certain type of food, you can eliminate that food from your diet for a few weeks to see if the behavior improves.  The foods most likely to cause sensitivities are dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, and nuts.  

Most importantly, seek the help of an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) as she can help you identify oversupply, forceful letdown, tongue/lip tie, as well as a food intolerance/sensitivity.  Lastly, contact your pediatrician to rule out any serious conditions.  

And most of all, remind yourself that this will pass!