Why Is My Baby Always Fussy in the Evenings?

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Your newborn used to do nothing but eat and sleep. Sure, they didn’t sleep that many hours in a row, but you finally felt like you were getting into a good routine with them. You knew how to make them happy, how to settle them down, and how to keep their tummy full.

But now, things have gone kind of haywire. For some reason, every evening at about 4 p.m., your baby gets extremely fussy. They won’t sleep or settle. They whimper and cry. Often, they even refuse to eat. Either that or they won’t stop eating.

They seem fine during the first half of the day, but every evening—like clockwork—they turn into the world’s fussiest baby. What on earth is going on?

If your baby is going through this, you can rest assured that there is likely nothing wrong with your baby. Starting a few weeks after birth, many babies start to have fussy evenings. Often referred to as “the witching hour,” fussy evenings are common and harmless, but can be very stressful for parents.

Let’s discuss why fussy evenings happen, when they start and end, and what you can do to get through them.

What Is the Witching Hour?

According to Michelle Haas, MD, a pediatrician at Austin’s First Steps in Texas, the witching hour is something commonly experienced by babies in their first few months of life, and can seem to come out of nowhere.

“The witching hour is a period of fussiness that usually happens at the same time each day, typically late afternoon or evening,” says Dr. Haas. “Babies are most commonly crying, fussy and slow to console. The fussiness can seem to start (and stop) without a specific trigger.”

When Does It Start and End?

Typically, the witching hour starts when your baby is a few weeks old. Dr. Haas says that most babies start to have evening fussies between 2-3 weeks of age. The fussy period tends to peak at 6 weeks.

The good news is that this fussy period does end…even though it can seem to last for an eternity. Most babies will outgrow this fussy period at 3-4 months, says. Dr. Haas.

Dr. Haas reminds parents of premature babies to make sure to recalculate these estimates. “If your baby was born prematurely, remember to use their adjusted age, which would mean the phase starts 2-3 weeks past your original due date and may last until 3-4 months after the due date,” she says.

What Are the Signs?

Every baby exhibits signs of the witching hour a little differently, and the signs can change from day to day, or even week to week.

As Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., describes it, babies will be generally fussy and difficult to soothe. They may want to be constantly held. Often parents will complain that they can’t put their babies down.

You might find that your baby cries, grunts, and makes faces that look like they are in pain. They may arch their backs and scream, says Dr. Ganjian.

Frequently, babies will change their feeding patterns. Some babies want to be fed more during this fussy period, Dr. Ganjian explains. But other babies seem to want to be fed less. This change in feeding pattern may happen whether your baby is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, Dr. Haas clarifies.

When babies tend to feed endlessly in the evenings, this is usually referred to as cluster feeding. Some parents describe it as having a baby who seems to feed for a few minutes, falls asleep, and then wants more immediately. Sometimes these cluster feeding sessions coincide with growth spurts, but they are also typical for this age and part of the witching hour phenomenon.

Still, other babies will seem to refuse to feed, arching away from the breast and bottle. “Babies may seem hungry during the witching hour but then refuse to eat,” says Dr. Haas. “They are not always sure of the ‘right’ way to settle,” she says.

These symptoms may alarm parents, but as long as they are eating well the rest of the day, this is usually not a problem, Dr. Haas assures.

Why Are Babies Fussy in the Evenings?

Having a fussy period during the late afternoon or evening is very common. Parents often feel blindsided by what is happening and may call their doctor, thinking something is physically wrong with their baby. They may feel like a “bad” parent, because they aren’t able to soothe their baby.

Usually, however, there is nothing physically wrong with your baby. And you can rest assured that fussy evenings aren’t attributable to anything you are doing wrong as a parent. 

Developmental Changes

For the most part, the witching hour is attributable to the enormous developmental changes that are happening with your baby during these first few weeks and months of life.

Think about it: in the period between birth and 3-4 months, your baby goes from being a little human who barely opens their eyes, to a tiny little person who begins to become aware of their surroundings, can react to the sound of your voice, and who is learning to communicate their needs.

This heightened awareness is because of rapid changes in your baby’s brain and nervous system, says Dr. Haas. They are developing a different kind of self-awareness and sensory awareness than they had before, she says, and this can make them fussy.

Your baby is also becoming more aware of their feelings and needs, says Dr. Haas. Yet your baby doesn’t have a way to express this to you yet, which often results in fussiness and crying.

“It is a challenging time because your baby is aware they don't feel happy, but they also don't know how to fix it,” Dr. Hass explains. “And the only way they know how to ask for help is by crying.”

Overstimulation and Changes in Sleep Patterns

Christina Johns, MD, a pediatrician and senior medical advisor at PM Pediatrics, says that these developmental changes can cause your baby to feel overstimulated, which can lead to fussiness. Not only that, but this overstimulation can cause babies to sleep and nap less, which can also contribute to the evening fussies.

“As babies grow, they become more aware of their environment and of their own bodies, so being overtired/missing naps or being overstimulated can contribute to a tough evening,” Dr. Johns explains.

Digestive Changes

During this time, your baby still has a developing digestive system, and may be more prone to gassiness, says Dr. Haas. “Gas is a very normal symptom for a baby,” she says. Experts have theorized that gassiness can contribute to this fussy period, Dr. Haas explains.

Babies who have upset tummies might arch their back and cry, they might spit up frequently, and may have changes in their stool patterns. If you think your baby’s upset stomach may be contributing to their evening fussiness, you should contact your pediatrician.

Growth Spurts

The period of highest fussiness is also a period where your baby is doing a whole lot of growing. Infants tend to have growth spurts at around two weeks, two months, four months, and then six months.

Growth spurts usually last a week or so. In addition to wanting to feed more frequently than usual, your baby may be extra fussy during these times. If you are breastfeeding, you may notice that your baby gets frustrated at the breast, and wants to feed again almost as soon as they’ve finished. This is your baby’s way of driving up your milk supply to meet their demands, and if you follow your baby’s cue, your milk supply will increase and they will settle.

Fussy Evenings vs. Colic

Parents who have fussy babies often wonder if their babies have colic. Although it’s very common for babies to have fussy periods in the evening, colic is less common.

Dr. Johns explains that colic is defined as a baby who cries for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, and for three consecutive weeks. The evening fussies tend to last for a shorter amount of time each day and don't involve hours in a row of intense crying.

When Is It Something to Worry About?

If your baby has a cranky period in the evening hours, but is otherwise growing well, is healthy, and doesn’t have any concerning physical symptoms, there is likely nothing to worry about. You can take a “this too shall pass” approach to the whole thing.

Sometimes your baby may be fussy for more serious reasons, and you should always take these concerns seriously. Dr. Ganjian recommends taking your baby to the pediatrician if they have a fever or aren’t wetting their diapers. You should also speak to your pediatrician if your baby is crying for more than 3 hours in a 24 hour time period, he says.

Dr. Johns recommends a pediatrician visit if your baby is sick with a fever, vomiting, or is having trouble breathing. “If any baby is truly inconsolable then it’s reasonable to have a conversation with a baby’s pediatrician,” she recommends.

Techniques for Getting Through This Time

For the most part, getting through the witching hour with your baby is about finding ways to soothe your baby, and also figuring out how you as a parent can cope with the fussiness.

The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends soothing techniques such as swaddling, rocking and walking your baby in your arms or in a baby carrier, and using calming sounds, such as white noise machines. Babies are soothed by sucking, too, so offering a pacifier, allowing your baby to suck on their fingers, or offering the breast, can be helpful, too.

If you think an upset tummy might be contributing to your baby’s fussiness, you might consider talking to your pediatrician about changing the type of formula you are feeding your baby, as some babies are sensitive to formula made with cow’s milk or soy. If you are breastfeeding, you might consider eliminating ingredients like cow milk, soy, egg whites, and any processed foods, that could be triggering sensitivities in your infant.

You’ve got to take care of yourself, too. Caring for a fussy baby can take its toll on your mental health. Try to stay as calm as possible, Dr. Haas reminds. Sometimes babies can pick up on your stress and become even more fussy, she explains.

If your baby’s crying or fussiness is taking its toll and you need a minute to yourself, it’s okay to leave your baby in a safe place, like a bassinet or crib, and walk away for a few minutes, says Dr. Hass. “It sounds harsh but it really is OK to separate and let them cry while you take a short break,” she says.

Whenever possible, get help caring for your baby. Parenting is not something we are meant to do alone, and when you are dealing with a fussy baby, having another parent or caretaker to take over sometimes can be immensely helpful.

“If you have a supportive partner or friend who can help you take a break during the difficult hours, your patience will last longer,” Dr. Johns advises. She also recommends getting outside when possible, because the change of scenery can help with your mood.

Deep breathing can help too, and it’s also important to keep what is happening in perspective, Dr. Johns says.“Take a deep breath and go with the flow, understanding that this tricky period won’t last forever,” Dr. Johns says.

A Word from Verywell

One of the hardest things about the witching hour is that parents often feel confused and bewildered about what is happening. They are often quick to blame themselves. They may feel like an inadequate parent because they can’t stop their baby from fussing, and they may wonder if something is physically wrong with their baby.

Remember, the witching hour is usually just a developmental phase for your baby and will pass within a few weeks. That said, if you are finding that it’s having a profound effect on your mental health, talk to your doctor, or connect with a therapist or counselor. If your baby is experiencing any concerning physical symptoms, or if your gut tells you something might be wrong, don’t hesitate to reach out to your baby's pediatrician.

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3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Florida Health website. Timing of breastfeeding. Updated October 5, 2020.

  2. Healthy Children website. How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers. Updated July 18, 2016.

  3. Healthy Children website. How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers. Updated July 18, 2016.

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