Coping With Colic
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
It's midnight on a warm summers eve. August 2019. The streets are quiet and calm. Perhaps some late night walkers are reveling in the serene stillness. A lone vehicle turns onto a vacant street. The passenger heading home from a late shift at work, hearing the call of a long hot shower and then bed. For most, the night brings rest. But for a couple living in a certain bi-level on one of these quiet suburban streets, the night is filled with the deafening cries of a newborn. The inconsolable baby has been wailing for 3 hours straight. The husband is taking his turn bouncing Little Noisemaker while rubbing the back of his wife who is also sniffling and sobbing in a fetal position on the bed.
This is my memory from one of many tearful nights during the newborn phase. My son would become inconsolable for hours every single day. There was often nothing we could do other than survive until we reached the end of the daily torment.
"What is going on? Are all babies like this? What am I doing wrong?" These thoughts plagued me to the point where I thought I was going mad. After some Google searching and a trip to the doc, we were told what was going on: Colic.
What is Colic in Babies?
The causes of colic are unclear. Studies seem to suggest it can be related to abdominal issues but it is still uncertain. No one knows why some babies seem to struggle in this area whereas some don't. This behavioral syndrome is diagnosed in a baby if they cry for a total of 3 hours a day for at least 3 days a week. All babies cry. But colicky babies excessively cry and are essentially inconsolable, especially in the late evening before bedtime. Right when you're nice and exhausted and longing for sleep! Yay…
Colic springs up out of nowhere between 2-4 weeks of age and then spontaneously diminishes around 3-4 months. Does that sound like it's forever? Yeah. It feels like it. BUT you can know that this bout of terribleness does end, and before you know it, those days of endless crying are done.
How to Help Your Baby With Colic
Bring baby into a quiet dark/dim environment. Babies are easily overstimulated and can become fussy if there's lots going on. They may need some peace and quiet to decompress (sounds a lot like me to be honest). Some very sensitive babies may even feel overstimulated just by wearing clothes or being bounced and rocked too much.
Try the colic hold. Place the baby across your forearm with your hand supporting their tummy. With your other hand you can pat and massage their back or use that free hand to wiggle their hips. This helps if there is gas build up and can move things along.
Swaddle. Not all babies like to be swaddled but this can help you're little one feel secure and warm just as they were in your womb.
Talk or sing in low soothing tones.
Wear baby in a carrier and walk around.
Try a pacifier. Not all babies take a soother but it can be a life saver for the parents if they do!
Lay them down. Sometimes the bouncing, rocking, and swaying we naturally revert to during bouts of crying can actually be doing the opposite of soothing for the sensitive colicky baby. Try laying them down in a quiet room and give them a minute. See if that calms them down.
A warm bath. If you are willing and able, I recommend bringing your newborn into the bath with you. This worked like a charm with my daughter (also a colicky one).
Hold skin to skin. With baby just in a diaper, place them on your bare chest. You can have them wear a hat or drape a blanket on for extra warmth if you need. This can have a huge calming effect and is very bonding for both you and baby.
Take Care of Yourself
Most of the time with a colicky baby, you try and try everything you can but absolutely nothing can calm them down. This has a huge emotional impact especially for us mothers who have the natural urge to fix it. We are wired to jump to our little one's aid when they sound the vocal alarm. But when you've exhausted all options and that little babe you love so dearly seems to be in great distress, it is incredibly hard emotionally and physically. And as I mentioned before, these colic episodes seem to occur right at night when you're tired and most likely sleep deprived. It is vital during this time to make sure you are taking care of yourself. If you have a partner with you, take turns with the baby while the other leaves the room. If you need to wear earplugs or go for a quick drive so you can take a break from the crying, do it. I recall one particularly horrible night where I was completely done. I handed my son to my husband, bolted to the garage, sat in the car, and I just screamed. I wailed, wept, and released all the tensions and emotions that were building up. I probably looked insane. Maybe I was.
But don't wait until you're completely spent and have an emotional break down like me. Take preemptive measures to ensure you can keep your calm and perhaps some sanity as well. Have a game plan. Know that the evening will most likely be long. Mentally prepare and know that you are a good mom. When the fussiness and crying begins, go through the basic checklist: Is my baby fed? Is their diaper dry? Are they a comfortable temperature? Have they released any gas or burps?
If you have no help, give yourself permission to take a little break. If you know baby is healthy, safe, and has their needs met, it is ok to put them down and walk away for a few minutes. I know it's hard… VERY hard to leave your baby crying alone. But if you feel you're reaching a dangerous point of losing control, put baby down somewhere safe and go take a breather. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes or whatever you're comfortable with (I personally would never leave a baby crying longer than 10 minutes), put some earplugs in, and have a cup of tea. Breathe. Then go back and continue soothing your little one.
You Will Get Through This
I'm writing this as my daughter, my second, is just over 3 months old. To my great disappointment she was/is colicky just like my son was (though he was worse). I still have days of incredible overwhelm and exhaustion but I try and remind myself that colic does end. I have the great benefit of seeing my now 2 year old son, who used to cry as a newborn so long and so hard, as a happy, energetic, and thriving little boy. To you, my fellow mama, I hope to encourage you. As long as you are taking care of your baby and meeting all their needs, you are doing good. Colic is hard. But once you breakthrough that tough stage, you will get to enjoy the giggles and budding personality of your sweet little baby.