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Do you have a fussy baby in the evening hours?
No, dear parent, you are NOT going crazy!
It’s a real thing!
It even has a name because it is so common…
…”The 5 to 9 Whine!”
As the name implies, it is the time of day that babies tend to be the fussiest. 5:00 – 9:00 pm, that is!
Sometimes it is also referred to as the “witching hour”.
No matter what you call it… it’s NO FUN!
But… A HAPPIER BABY IS POSSIBLE!
In this post, I’m going to explain why babies are most fussy during the evening and then give you 3 Great Tips to help prevent this fussy period.
Let’s get started!
Related: Overtired Baby or Colic?
Why You Have a Fussy Baby in the Evening
There are several reasons why you may have a fussy baby in the evening.
Sometimes, your baby is experiencing pain… gas, colic, reflux, or other physical discomfort.
However, in many cases, you may simply have an overtired or overstimulated baby!
Fussy Baby in the Evening Theories
In addition to being overtired or overstimulated, there are other factors that contribute to your baby’s cranky mood!
Here are a few theories as to why breastfed and bottle-fed babies are most fussy during this time…
One such theory (for breastfed babies) is that milk supply in a nursing mother is lower in the evening hours due to hormonal changes later in the day.
This is the most commonly held belief with lactation specialists.
But not all breastfeeding researchers agree, however. One such researcher, Dr. Peter Hartmann, says that this is not the case in the women that he has studied.
One thing that does seem to be true is that milk flow in the evening tends to be slower, which can be frustrating for tired and cranky babies!
Even if milk volume is lower in the evening, the fat content of this milk is usually higher, which means that babies are still getting the calories they need.
Many breastfeeding mothers worry that they are not able to produce enough milk for their breastfed babies and are tempted to supplement.
Cluster Feeding is Normal!
Don’t give in to these temptations unless you have spoken first to a lactation professional or your doctor has serious concerns about your baby’s weight gain.
A fussy baby who cluster feeds continuously in the evening is very normal!
The marathon feeding sessions are necessary to signal your body to ramp up milk production and supplementing will only interfere with this natural process.
Cluster feeding is part of the natural design to establish and increase milk supply for growing babies!
Keep in mind that even bottle-fed babies cluster-feed and have periods of fussiness in the evenings!
Another commonly accepted reason for a fussy baby in the evening is that babies are often over-tired or over-stimulated by this time of day.
In many cases, babies have had poor naps during the day and by evening they simply “crash land.”
If you are missing your baby’s sleep cues, this very well could be the case for you!
In addition, the noise and “bustle” of this time of day can be unsettling to a baby.
It is a time of day with a lot of activity in the home: parents or older siblings coming home, fixing dinner, TV, loud conversations, etc.
When a baby is over-tired or over-stimulated, it is very difficult to settle him. He may even scream hysterically like he’s in pain!
In this state, his body releases cortisol and adrenaline, making it extremely difficult for him to calm himself or get to sleep. Once asleep, an over-tired baby will be more likely to wake up prematurely, as well.
Many babies who have “colic” could actually be dealing with this problem, instead!
See my tips in this post for how to prevent or calm an over-tired or over-stimulated baby!
Gas, Colic or Reflux
Your fussy baby may also be experiencing gas pains, colic or reflux pain.
My personal experience says that it is probably a combination of physical discomfort plus an over-tired/over-stimulated baby who simply cannot cope with these minor discomforts any longer!
That being said, gas, colic and reflux are definitely worth considering as a contributing source of your baby’s fussiness, but in some cases, it may NOT be the main factor.
Check out my tips on helping a baby with reflux here.
I also have a great recipe for homemade gripe water that is inexpensive and very easy to make!
Another consideration worth mentioning is Mom’s diet.
There may be foods that Mom is eating that are bothering your baby.
This is much harder to figure out, so start first by trying to prevent an over-tired or over-stimulated baby.
Meanwhile, consider tracking the foods you are eating to see if there are any patterns emerging.
Common food sensitivities include dairy, nuts, soy, eggs, corn and wheat. Pasteurized dairy is known for being especially problematic.
Many doctors recommend that breastfeeding moms remove dairy from their diets if they have an especially fussy baby.
Keep in mind that it takes 21 days for food irritants to be completely cleared out of the body, so it will take more than just a couple days to determine this.
Real Milk Benefits
I’d like to make a distinction here between pasteurized and unpasteurized (raw) milk.
Farm-fresh unpasteurized milk (I call “real” milk) retains the naturally occurring digestive enzymes and beneficial probiotics, making the milk easier to digest and allowing many mamas to continue drinking milk while breastfeeding.
People who are lactose intolerant, are often able to tolerate this milk!
If you are interested in learning more about buying real milk in your community, you can find information on real milk here.
How to Prevent a Fussy Baby in the Evening… 3 Great Tips!
If you have an excessively fussy baby, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor about your baby’s fussiness.
Once your doctor determines that there is nothing serious causing your baby’s evening fussiness, I would recommend starting with the assumption that the underlying cause of her fussiness may simply be that she is over-tired and/or over-stimulated.
Pro-Tip: This is especially true when you see a happy or calm baby other times of the day!
1. Focus on Naps
The best way to help your baby avoid this state is to make sure that she gets regular naps during the day.
Contrary to (once) popular belief, your baby needs to nap a lot in order to sleep well at night. Many babies simply do not get enough sleep!
Parents often worry that they are sleeping too much during the day so they wake them or don’t allow them to nap in the late afternoon.
This is a huge mistake!
As long as they are being fed enough throughout the day, (every 2-3 hours) they can sleep and nap to their heart’s content.
A great way to help your baby sleep better during the day is to wear your baby!
Don’t worry about spoiling your baby if this is the only way he will nap, for now.
There are so many great benefits to baby-wearing!
He will sleep better at night and be less likely to have a fussy time in the evening, if he naps well!
He will also feel more safe and secure. This will go a long way in helping him to be a better adjusted and peaceful baby!
2. Watch for Sleep Cues!
If you have a baby that doesn’t nap well, try being extra attentive to watching for his “sleep cues”. It may be the case that you are missing those cues and your baby becomes over-tired very easily.
A fussy baby may also be hyper-sensitive to stimulus and you may need to take her into a quiet, dark room for naps or feedings.
A good general rule of thumb is what I call the 60-90 minute rule.
This simply means that once your baby has been awake for 60 minutes (up to 90 for slightly older babies) they are ready for a nap again.
This time frame varies but learn to watch for your baby’s “sleep cues” and begin their nap time routine ASAP!
If you wait too long, your baby will enter quickly into an over-tired state. Try to figure out their ideal wake window.
Keep in mind that the younger the baby, the shorter his wake window will be.
A newborn, for example, will need to nap again 30-45 minutes after waking!
By 6-9 months, it can be up to 90 minutes.
Catching your baby’s sleep cues can be a “game changer” for some parents!
I have written a post on sleep cues that goes more into detail and gives you a great list of common baby sleep cues here.
3. Earlier Bedtime!
I have worked with a lot of families and babies.
Something that I have noticed time and time again is that the babies that nap better during the day PLUS have an earlier bedtime, do SO much better with night sleep as well!
Sleep experts agree that it is very important to establish early bedtimes for young babies (and children).
Newborns generally have later bedtimes.
For example, most newborns have a bedtime of approximately 9 pm at first, but parents should gradually work towards a bedtime of 6-8 pm by 2 months of age.
If your baby has been awake for a while (see the recommended “wake window” section above) then it is time for baby to go to bed.
Watch for those sleep cues and be ready to get them quickly to bed when you see them!
The Total Game Plan!
If you commit yourself to focusing on these three things, I am quite sure that you will see dramatic improvements!
A baby that sleeps better will be much happier in the evening hours.
Even if your baby struggles with mild gas or reflux, it may not seem so distressing to him if he is well-rested!
*Disclaimer – The information in the post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice. Please make sure that you talk with your baby’s doctor if she seems to be crying excessively. Always check with your health care practitioner before giving your baby supplements, medications or remedies.
10 Common New Parent Sleep Mistakes and How to Fix Them!
The 3 tips shared above are common new parent sleep mistakes.
There are other common mistakes that new parents often make which hurt your baby’s sleep.
Are you making these other common new parent mistakes, too?
If you want to learn more about how to help your baby sleep better, check out this great post here.
You can also check out this post to read more reasons that babies cry and quick solutions for helping them to settle.
More Sleep Resources for You!
Have you found this post to be helpful?
I have MORE great new parent resources to help with sleep!
Having a newborn is hard!
The greatest challenge for most new parents is loss of sleep.
How can you get more sleep with your newborn?
It is possible! My new eBook shows you how.
This is NOT your average book on baby sleep, but an easy step-by-step, hands-on survival guide for new parents!
I teach new parents how to maximize their sleep during the postpartum period.
I have compiled all my favorite doula tips into a very practical and useful book on sleep for new parents.
It’s called 30 Sleep Hacks for New Parents: A Sleep Survival Guide for Parents of Newborns.
This quick read is a very affordable eBook that will be a game changer for your family!
While it is too early to begin sleep training with a newborn, it is not too early to help your baby develop some good sleep associations and habits!
Learn how to start good sleep routines and sleep associations NOW!
Professional Sleep Coaching!
If you have an older baby (6 months or older) it’s a great time to help him (and you!) develop some good sleep habits.
This is not a “cry-it-out” program, but rather a gentle approach that uses behavior modification techniques to gradually teach your baby to self-sooth, fall asleep and stay asleep.
Gentle Sleep Solutions is an online program that focuses on helping new parents establish good sleep habits and paves the way for future sleep training efforts.
Check out this online program here.
What About You?
Have you discovered ways to help your fussy baby during the evening hours?
Share your tips with us!