Thursday, July 22, 2010

Part 1: The Phenomenon of Late Afternoon/Early Evening Infant Crying

Picture this: it was 6pm; I hadn’t eaten since lunch time (not necessarily healthy, I know) and my 4-month-old was strapped to my hip in a sling while I tried to prepare something that would pass for dinner. The doorbell rang which made the dog bark. As I tried to reach the sugar that was up in the cupboard the phone started ringing. Startled, I dropped the sugar all over the kitchen floor. Does this juggling act sound familiar? With all the commotion, it’s not surprising that, without fail, my daughter would start fussing and crying around this same time of the day, every day, and it would last for about an hour, sometimes longer. I used to call this “Happy Hour” (sarcastically, of course).

Many parents report that babies seem to have a fussy time between about 4 and 6 pm when other family members are coming home, dinner is being prepared, and the TV or radio is turned on. Again, it’s not surprising that many babies sometimes reach stimulation overload from the myriad of sights and sounds that occur at the end of the day.

Crying Research
If the above story rings true to your experience, you are not alone. For many babies, crying does indeed cluster during the late afternoon and early evening. Studies show that during the peak of infant crying, 6-weeks of age, the largest cluster is in the late afternoon and early evening. It seems that this phenomenon is more biologically driven than temperament driven because research shows that crying patterns in the first 3 months of life are similar in all babies, whether they are labeled as generally “content” or “fussy.” About half of babies will have an evening crying peak, while 21% of babies will have an afternoon crying peak.

Why the late afternoon/early evening?
Dealing with crying during the busier times of the day is a big challenge. At the end of a long day, many parents also feel fussy and irritable! My story was so similar to many moms. My daughter and I were alone together for most of the day and we drifted happily through our daytime routines. At dinner time, I turned on the news, the phone would ring, the dog would bark at the front door as a visitor pulled up in the driveway, my husband came home, the lights came on, and I was preoccupied with trying to make dinner or do other household chores. Many times, I missed some of my daughter’s early disengagement cues.

You and your baby may have the same experience. Remember, your baby is working very hard to learn and take in the new world around him. When a tired sensitive baby has a flood of stimulation at the end of the day, guess what happens? The baby’s behavior (crying or fussing) intensifies until he is given a break, and since caregivers are so busy this time of the day, it can seem nearly impossible to take a break with the baby.

Now that we understand how common it is for crying to cluster in the late afternoon/early evening, we can take a look at how to manage this time of the day and share tips to keep your baby (and you) more comfortable.

Next time: Tips to help you manage late afternoon/early evening crying and ways to keep your baby comfortable so that you can both have a more peaceful afternoon or evening.

Barr R, James-Roberts I, Keefe M. New Evidence on Unexplained Early Infant Crying: Its Origins, Nature and Management. Pediatric roundtable sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, L.L.C. Accessed July 20, 2010.

St James-Roberts I, Halil T. Infant Crying Patterns in the First Year: Normal Community and Clinical Findings. J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. 1991;32:951-968.


  1. If your baby is crying at this time regularly after they are babies and not newborns, I would ask myself, "is my baby getting enough sleep?"

  2. I remember well the witching hours of late afternoon/early evening. Our son was miserable between 4 and 6 pm up until 3 months.

  3. mine started when she as 6 weeks from 4.30pm to 8.30pm was just constant crying no matter how much formula and breatmilk she woud get. Still now (she is 7 months) she cries when it's time to go to bed, nothing seems to comfort her, except for a bottle or too (which is a bad habit). Arghhh. I remember those days I promised myself not to get pregnant again. I changed my mind now ;-)