Living with a colicky baby can be an intense emotional experience. Your baby is crying and crying and crying…and you can’t seem to do anything to make your precious new baby feel better. You’re worried. Being a parent wasn’t supposed to be this hard! Maybe something is wrong with your baby…there must be! All that crying must be a sign that something is wrong, right?
I’ve been there. So far, we’ve lived through it once, and now we’re living through it a second time (though not nearly as bad as the first). That’s my first piece of advice…take heart, you will live through it, even though it may not seem like it right now! Our first go round was with our oldest child, Bear. We evaded the dreaded colic with three more babies. Now, with the fifth, it seems that we must do it again.
What is colic?
A very young baby (less than 5 months old) that cries a lot, typically for a few hours at a time, and usually at approximately the same time every day is said to have colic. Often, they cry like they’re in pain, and pump their legs up and down and pass gas. They arch their backs and pull away from anyone who tries to hold and soothe them.
Sometimes, your doctor can pinpoint a cause, such as reflux, but often, there is nothing apparently wrong with these babies. Try telling that to a parent who has to endure their precious little baby’s screams all night long without being able to soothe them! Try telling that to big brothers and sisters whose parents are a wreck from having a baby screaming in their ear all evening. Colic affects everyone in the family, not just Mom, Dad, and Baby!
Our first experience with colic
When we first brought Bear home from the hospital, she was so tiny and cute and perfect. I’d had preeclampsia, and had been induced at 37 weeks, so she was definitely on the small side, weighing in at just under 6 pounds. The very first night at home, she slept 5 hours during the night without waking us up! I thought, “Well, well, well! All this talk about never getting any sleep with a newborn is nonsense! I just gave birth to the best baby ever. I’ve got this parenting thing down!”
As my dad used to always tell me, “Pride cometh before a fall!”
By the time Bear was 2 months old, she spent most of her waking hours screaming uncontrollably. I had just gone back to work. Her preferred time of day to be up and angry was from around 6 every evening until about 3 in the morning. Every. Single. Night. None of us were getting any sleep. My job performance tanked (I was sleep deprived, and I desperately wanted time with my baby when she wasn’t screaming). I wanted to be a good mother, but I couldn’t even make my baby feel better! I felt like such a failure.
When I took Bear to the doctor for one of her check-ups, I mentioned that she cried all the time. He asked several questions about it, then told me she had colic. He also thought she might have some issues with reflux, since she did spit up quite a bit. Then, he prescribed some medication for the reflux, and, while sympathetic to my plight, basically told me “good luck” with the colic. It was just a stage, and it would get better.
Our next door neighbor, who ran an in-home daycare, watched Bear every day. It was really nice to have someone so close to our home! She had some great tips for finally getting her to sleep…and they helped some. I don’t know how I would have dealt with the stress if I hadn’t had a couple more rational heads than my own (my husband’s and my neighbor’s) giving me advice.
Eventually, Bear did grow out of it. By the time I left my job to stay at home with her, she was a happy, healthy 6 month old. We finally had lots of quality time together. But, boy, were those first few months tough!
Our newest little one has gone through a similar stage, though it hasn’t lasted as long, or been as severe as Bear’s case! When she first came home, Baby cried every night starting at 7pm…just after my husband gets home from work. Fortunately, she winds down and sleeps well when I put her to bed at around 8:30. So, at least she can be helped! It’s still trying to listen to a baby cry for an hour and a half each night. There are a few things I know this time around that have helped this stage be a little more survivable.
Baby is now just over 3 months old, and does seem to be coming out of it. We’ve been 2 nights in a row now that she hasn’t cried through dinner. When you’re living with an infant, you have to take all the small victories when you can!
So, here we go, here are some tips you can use to help calm a crying baby!
I know it’s easy to say, and really really hard to do! Believe me, there have been nights when I’ve walked the floors with one of my babies, and I cry just as much as they do. If you can keep your cool, though, you’re more likely to pass the mood on to your baby. If you tense up, so will your baby. I think one reason Baby’s colicky phase hasn’t lasted as long as Bear’s did is because between my husband and I, one of us was able to stay calm with her crying periods.
If you can’t stay calm, pass the baby to someone who can.
When I would start crying just like the baby, that’s when my husband knew it was time to take over for a little while. I was with Baby (and all 4 of her big brothers and sisters!) all day long, and my patience was already stretched pretty thin by the time he got home from work every day. He would often (like, every night) take her outside to walk while I ate dinner with the other children. By the time we were done, I would be in a better frame of mind to calmly take her and get her settled down to bed. We have sure missed eating together as a whole family, but it was a necessary (and temporary) sacrifice. We know that it is just a stage, and that this too shall pass.
Swaddling saved our sanity when we finally figured out (thanks to our neighbor) that Bear liked it. I knew the nurses in the hospital had done it, but I wasn’t any good at it. So, when we got home, I just stopped. It would seem like torture to an adult, but some babies really need that snugness that swaddling provides. Sometimes, babies fling their arms and legs when they get upset, and they upset themselves even more with this behavior. They make themselves feel like they’re falling. Swaddling keeps those arms and legs under control so they can’t cause trouble.
Baby really needed swaddling during her rough time of night for the first month or so, too. It was the only thing that would calm her down enough to eat and go to sleep each night…until it wasn’t.
Ditch the swaddling
Confused? First I said swaddle, then I said don’t! Yes, that’s what I meant to say…babies are confusing.
At some point, a baby will go from requiring a swaddle to detesting it…usually within 24 hours. Just because it worked last night, doesn’t mean it’s going to work tonight! They like to keep us on our toes.
A few weeks ago, Baby’s swaddling switch flipped. I swaddled her to feed her and put her to bed one night, and she got MAD about it. Now, mind you, the night before, she couldn’t sleep or calm down from her daily crying fit without it. After a couple of reminders from my husband about how all of the other kids had done that at some point too, and some protestations from myself that they hadn’t done it as young as she was, I finally gave in and took the swaddle blanket off. She quit crying, and was perfectly happy to settle down to her pre-bedtime nursing session. I was concerned that she wouldn’t sleep very long without it, but she continued about her regular nighttime pattern without interruption. She has been sleeping unswaddled ever since.
Sing a song…any song. It doesn’t have to be some sweet, pre-planned lullaby you’ve always wanted to sing your baby to sleep with. Trust me, by the 17th time you’ve sung that song in an hour, you’ll be ready for something new. When I can’t think of anything, I start singing hymns that I learned long long ago.
Have a little conversation with your baby. Tell them anything you can think of. Make sure that you’re using a calm, soothing voice. Tell them all about the things you can see. Describe the sky, or the clouds, the grass or the trees. Tell them all about the family members that are still waiting to meet them, or maybe about how much their grandparents enjoyed meeting them the day they were born. Read something to your baby. Your baby likes the sound of your voice! It’s warm and soothing and familiar.
Hold your baby close and take a walk. Gently and quietly take a walk outside. Combine the walk with a little singing and conversation. The fresh air and change in temperature and scenery will do you both good. Plus, you get a little exercise out if it too! It’s a win-win.
Wear your baby
Get a good, secure carrier that’s designed for small babies and get your baby all snuggled up next to you. The snugness right next to you is soothing for a baby. Remember that sometimes your baby may fuss while you’re putting them into the carrier and getting everything settled and secure. All of mine have hated the process of being put into the carrier. But, once they get there, they really like being close and the movement. If they’re having tummy issues, the pressure of your body against their tummy can be really soothing. Plus, your arms can finally have a break!
Check in with your doctor.
Chances are, there is absolutely wrong. However, it’s always a good idea to bring up excessive crying with your doctor. There are a few things that can cause a lot of crying, and if it’s something that the doctor can fix, everyone will feel a whole lot better!