No mother thinks her baby will be colicky, yet 1 out of 5 babies are. 1 in 5!
In preparation for being a new mother I read many books like, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy, Baby Wise and many more, plus lots of articles . Yet I didn’t read a single significant item about colic.
They didn’t tell me in Baby Wise, for example, that if I ended up with a colicky baby I should just shut the book, stop reading, and forget about it. All planning of any kind is a joke, a pure waste of your time. That should have been page one. I thought I was prepared. (I was so cute!)
No one talked to me about it. Not a nurse, a midwife, a doctor or my doula, and yet it was the single most difficult thing about my new baby, and when I say difficult, I mean screaming and crying constantly. And that was just me.
Here are 6 things I wish I’d known before bringing my baby home:
#1 How likely I was to have a colicky baby, therefore, I needed a plan
20% of babies are colicky. There are absolutely no predictors for it, as just as many first babies are colicky as 5th babies, just as many boys as girls, just as many preemies as full-term babies. It begins about a week after birth, so you don’t know in the hospital. You go home blissfully unprepared for the crazytown your home is about to become. Colic is probably not gas, nor temperament, nor parenting. Colic is thought to be some kind of underdeveloped nervous system problem that results in cramping pain. It’s not well understood at all, but put away your Gripe Water and stop changing your baby’s milk. It most likely won’t help.
Because it is so common and so debilitating, every expecting family should have a colic plan ready. If it does happen to you, you will not be able to think straight and solve problems while it lasts, typically three months. If you live that long.
What is the definition of colic? Colic is when your baby is born with the ability to shine bright lights in your face, play really loud heavy metal music non-stop day in and day out, with a few water-boarding techniques thrown in. Oh wait, that’s Guantanamo Bay torture. My mistake…they’re so similar!
Here’s a real, official definition:
“Your baby is considered colicky if he’s younger than 5 months old and cries for more than three hours in a row on three or more days a week for at least three weeks.” –BabyCenter
This is the minimum criterion for colic. I’ve heard of babies who screamed all day, every day. My baby was somewhere in the middle. When colicky babies are not screaming they are typically difficult to put down without triggering a crying fit. It’s called crying, but I had heard babies cry before and this was much worse. The colicky cry is more like screaming, and did I mention flailing? Lots of flailing. It appears your baby is in horrible, racking pain and it’s almost impossible to soothe them.
So, just imagine that for a moment. You have a newborn baby whom you cannot put down all day, sometimes not even for a minute, and in the evenings she begins to scream bloody murder for hours and you can’t get her to stop until maybe midnight, when she finally falls asleep. Then you’re supposed to get up 2.5 hours later and feed her, and then again in 2.5 hours, and then you’re up and the day starts over again. Holy sleeplessness and stress!!!!
Just try thinking or doing anything but crying and watching HBO on-demand when you’re in the midst of that! I wasn’t even capable of reading an article to help me at that point. So, hopefully you’re reading this BEFORE you have a baby, and you can prepare for it. If you don’t need it, great, but if you do, you will thank me that you were ready.
#2 The Five S’s
Dr. Harvey Karp developed these techniques for soothing a baby. His aim was to emulate the womb and trigger what he believes is a “calming reflex” that all babies have. The idea is that because babies can’t go crazy moving a lot inside a woman without doing damage, something stops them. Some reflex. And we can trigger that reflex on the outside to help our babies.
Here are the “Five S’s.”
You might need 3 or all of 5 employed at once to soothe your baby. I needed 4. But the ability to soothe your screaming baby is a godsend when normal techniques don’t work. My doula brought over The Happiest Baby on The Block DVD and it was a lifesaver. Even if your baby is not colicky it is very helpful to know these techniques. All babies need soothing, some more aggressively and constantly than others.
Being able to successfully soothe your colicky baby with these techniques, while critical to your mental health, still requires a lot of physical work. I call it “aggressive” soothing for a reason. A human body can only hold, swing, jiggle, and bounce for so many hours before it collapses into a heap of goo, especially one who is being deprived of sleep. Therefore, you still need…
#3 Night Nurses
Some nurses hire themselves out to sleep over at your house and feed your baby during the night so you can get a full night’s sleep once in a while. Or maybe you have a trusted babysitter or aunt or doula or your mother. Just get someone to do this for you once a week, at least. Gurl, you’re gonna need your sleep! Then you can think and solve problems and be there for your baby and your other kids.
I didn’t get a full night’s sleep until my baby was 6 month’s old. I went away for two days to accomplish it, and I came back a new woman full of optimism and capable of rational thought. It took 6 months because I was breastfeeding and I never hired a night nurse. I should have.
#4 Breastfeeding, Maybe Stop
Today if you don’t breastfeed you are going to get a lot of flack from hippy busybodies masquerading as nurses, doctors, friends, acquaintances, and that woman at the farmer’s market selling eggs. Breastfeeding is great and of course it is most likely the best nutritional choice for your baby. After all, it was created just for him. But, besides a slight decrease in immune sufficiency, and I mean slight, there is absolutely no evidence of any other problems associated with formula feeding. Plenty of kids are fed exclusively with formula and they grow up healthy and smart. Do what’s right for your family, guilt free.
I breastfed for six months and stopped when I had to take some medicine that I didn’t want to pass along to my child. If I hadn’t taken the medicine the likelihood is that I would have been hospitalized. Some great mother I would have been from the hospital, half dead, and oh by the way, certainly not breastfeeding. However, many people, upon learning I quit after six months, gave me some seriously disapproving looks, and sometimes inappropriately lectured me on the benefits of long-term breastfeeding. Of course, they couldn’t have known my personal business, because IT’S MY PERSONAL BUSINESS!!!
This is why I realize what I’m about to say is going to be controversial. If you have a colicky baby, maybe stop breastfeeding.
With a colicky baby you need to have as much strength and energy as possible and breastfeeding saps your strength and energy, both in the calories it consumes and in the sleeplessness you endure. Further, breastfeeding puts the responsibility of childcare much more heavily onto the mother, and with a colicky baby you really need to spread that responsibility around as much as possible. If you’re not willing to do that–and I totally get it because breastfeeding is wonderful–then pump like a mad woman and get other people to help you out. In other words, put down that baby! Which brings me to my next item…
#5 Self Care
I know you’re not going to put yourself first, so I’m going to spare you that annoying piece of advice. That’s just not possible. As we all know, the little squirmy ball of amazing comes first. Always. But, as cliché as it is, in order to really be there for the baby, you need to take care of yourself, especially if you’re baby is colicky because you have quadruple the trouble.
Not only do you need a good night’s sleep once in a while, go and get yourself a weekly massage. Just do it. Get a cheap package somewhere, eat ramen noodles for a week if you have to, but get that dang massage. Carrying, bouncing, cuddling, swinging, that colicky baby is taking it’s toll on your poor back and you deserve it, gurl! (You too, Dad!)
Go to a movie. You need two hours where you are NOT holding your baby and NOT thinking about your baby. Two hours can be surprisingly restorative.
Go for a walk. Alone. Preferably in the woods or on a beach. Let your mind wander and think of something OTHER than your baby.
These are just suggestions, but you get it. You need some time off and you must do something that fills your cup, not just napping. It’s not enough to take a break. You have to get some fuel, too.
#6 The Aftermath
Colic lasts three grueling, grinding months, peaking around 6 weeks. But did you know that 80% of colicky babies have continuing sleep problems? It’s easy to see why.
To cope with colic most families do aggressive soothing to get their baby to sleep and most co-sleep, because it is the only way their baby will sleep in those first months. It is very hard to break co-sleeping once you’ve started it because it is much nicer to sleep cuddled up next to your warm cuddly mama than alone in a crib. Further, babies become used to being soothed too much.
At six months I was still expending huge amounts of energy to aggressively soothe my daughter to sleep for two naps a day and at bedtime. Often I was bouncing and swaying and singing for 30 minutes each time. At bedtime she would wake up an hour after going down on most nights, upset that I wasn’t there cuddling her, and I would have to do it all over again. That’s two hours of my day spent in this manner. It was absolutely brutal emotionally and physically. I threw my back out weekly and would bounce and sway until I was nauseated from the effort sometimes.
It is a tough road, but start sleep training early to get your little bundle to put him or her self to sleep and stay asleep all night. Don’t wait, like I did, until she can stand up and walk to the door and open it herself. God help me, my baby is over 1 year old and we are STILL dealing with some of these issues. Get a plan together, get your spouse on board, be consistent and just get it done! It’s time to put colic behind you!