The real reason behind the witching hour

Witching hour or “arsenic hour” is that time, at the end of the day, when a younger baby is unsettled, feeding frequently and crying a lot (often for more than an hour!). It is not generally understood why babies do this. Parents may assume hunger, gas, overstimulation or other “present moment” needs. Breastfeeding mothers may start to doubt their milk supply, believing that baby needs a bottle of milk in the evening. While it can be a good idea to seek IBCLC support to rule out issues like low supply or food intolerances, my experiences as a craniosacral therapist have shown me that witching hour is actually a period of time when a baby is expressing earlier difficult events or experiences. “Memory crying” rather than expressing a ”present moment” need. Witching hour tends to disappear once baby has resolved these cycling sensations or emotions and cranio is an ideal way to support babies to do that.

My children are teenagers now, but I wish I knew then what I know now. I remember a particularly difficult evening with my first baby who was inconsolable for hours. I had tried everything I could think of to settle him but had exhausted all options. By the time my partner came home he found us both in tears. I felt like I was a bad mother …I didn’t know what I was doing… I wasn’t coping – all the negative thoughts that can run through your head as a parent. But its not a reflection of us, it’s a reflection of a story the baby is trying to tell us about what has happened to them. Back then, I didn’t realise this or consider that instead, I could simply listen with compassion to what was being expressed rather than continuously try to stop the crying.

Holding space doesn’t look like much but its everything! It goes against our instincts as mothers. We might feel we are ignoring our babies cues. We are often, understandably, triggered by the crying, finding it hard to stay grounded and present. There may be unresolved issues from our own past that get activated. Extra support in the form of a baby cranio session can provide a safe space to integrate your baby’s deepest difficulties.  

Babies cry because they have limited means of expressing themselves. Our society underestimates the consciousness of babies, not understanding that they are sentient beings who experience a wide range of emotions. When memory crying arises in a cranio session, parents are often surprised, and sometimes overwhelmed at the level of expression. Babies will express rage, anger, sadness, frustration and we can do our best to honour that emotion in them, while exploring what might be the story behind these strong feelings:

  • Perhaps they were stuck in the birth canal?
  • Or has to undergo invasive medical interventions?
  • Were they exposed to excessive stress hormones during pregnancy?
  • Perhaps there was a strong desire for baby to be a particular sex and parents are processing disappointment or grief around not having a son or daughter? Or mixed feelings in general about having another child?

See this article on infant stress for more examples.

These kinds of situations do, in fact, impact the baby’s psyche. It may look like babies grow out of the witching hour phase but as with many of our difficult life experiences it leaves an imprint. The body remembers. The good news is healing is possible (at any age) but ideally babies have the opportunity to resolve these issues while they are still babies.

What can parents do?

  • Awareness is key – recognising that babies are crying to express their emotions goes a long way – babies know if they feel understood. Babies, just like adults, have a need to be understood and to have a good cry to someone willing to listen.
  • Sometimes naming the emotion may help – “I can see you are feeling angry right now” or empathising “Were you uncomfortable in the womb?”, “Was it a shock to be born that way?”.
  • Try to stay grounded and open to whatever arises. Notice your body sensations and any response to the crying in a non-judgemental way.
  • Try to minimise shooshing, though follow your instincts and offer comfort when you feel a strong need. This can be through words, touch, cuddles or a feed.
  • Remember this too will pass, the crying will usually reach an apex and then the baby will often have a nice integrative sleep.
  • It can be hard to allow the crying so reach out for support if you need it.

Babies appreciate the chance to have their feelings acknowledged in a cranio treatment. They feel seen and heard and feel a sense of relief afterwards. There is no longer an unmet emotional need cycling in their system. Parents consistently report that afterwards their babies feed and sleep better. And cry less! Witching hour becomes a thing of the past! Hooray for more peaceful evenings!