When you’re a new parent dealing with daily bouts of crying that last three or more hours, it’s no secret that your infant is miserable—but what about you, the person who’s attempting to console him, only to have your baby scream louder?
As difficult as colic is for a baby, it is just as challenging for the parents—if not more so! This can be especially hard if you have other kids to care for, you’ve returned to work, or you’re suffering from postpartum depression. Even if everything else in life is perfect—which let’s face it, is seldom the case—colic is taxing on your patience, energy and overall wellbeing. It’s frustrating to feel helpless as your child bawls tirelessly, which can lead to additional anxiety.
While the crying won’t stop until your baby’s body matures, there are ways to control his tears and soothe his crying jags some of the time. Here are a few things you can do to take some of the stress out of these colicky situations:
- Accept limited control. It’s crucial for your own sanity to understand that you’re not to blame for your baby’s condition—and there’s not a whole lot you can do for him. He will cry during his colicky time, and while you can bounce, bathe or massage your baby to make him more comfortable, nothing you can do will totally stop the sobbing. This is not a result of anything you’ve done or not done, so don’t waste any time feeling guilty or like a “bad” parent. Colic is about biology, not parenting.
- Pleasant in public. Plan fun outings and necessary errands for the times of day when your baby is usually happy. Alternatively, if trips to the park or grocery store keep your little one content, plan them for the colicky times. Colic most often occurs in the evening, when babies are worn out from the day’s activities.
- Take a break. Avoid unrealistic Super Mom expectations of yourself and ask for help when you need it. Take advantage of pal’s offer to take a turn with the baby, even if it’s just so that you can take a quiet bath or shower. When you take care of your needs, you’re better able to deal with your baby’s fussiness.
- Temporary gig. After days of not sleeping, it’s easy to forget the big picture and become overwhelmed by hours and hours of crying. If you feel yourself losing perspective, remind yourself that this is a short-term phase—the tears will taper off soon.
- Delegate duties. Avoid keeping a long to-do list right now; the dishes and laundry can wait. Ask your partner to pick up a few household duties, or simply put them off for when you have free time. Right now, your baby’s temperament needs to be your main focus.
- Support system. Find other parents of colicky babies with help from your pediatrician or online forums. Often, parents of colicky kids feel isolated, so it’s important you have a place where you can share ideas and comfort each other.
- Tame your temper. If the sobbing starts to make you tense or angry, put your baby in his crib, or give him to someone else to hold for a while so that you can calm yourself down. The excessive tears associated with colic could make anyone angry and frustrated, so it’s critical you don’t find yourself in a situation where you could accidentally shake your baby, which can cause brain damage.
- Stay in the moment. Just as the crying fits won’t last forever, your baby’s misery is short-lived. Babies don’t suffer long-term harm from having colic, so skip adding even more stress to your life by worrying about your baby’s long-term wellbeing. Do what you can to comfort him now, and the future will take care of itself.
When to Call the Doctor
Anytime you’re concerned about your baby, call your pediatrician. Even if nothing serious is going on, it’s always better to have peace of mind about your child’s health. In the case of colic, be sure to make that call if you notice any of the following, which can be symptoms of something more serious:
- Your baby’s crying is accompanied by vomiting.
- Your baby is not gaining weight.
- The colicky behavior lasts longer than four months.
- Your baby seems to be in pain.
- Your baby has a fever.
- Your baby doesn’t want to be held or handled.
- The crying spree isn’t limited to one bout in the evening.
- Your baby doesn’t have regular bowel movements or wet diapers.
- You notice other problems that don’t appear on the previous list of symptoms.
- Your baby’s crying is making you angry or depressed.
Since colic occurs in newborns, you may feel like you’re doing something wrong to create the situation. Your vulnerability and lack of experience puts you in the position of questioning your own ability to take care of your baby. Hearing your baby cry with colic, and not knowing why it’s happening, or what to do about it, is painful, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and frustrating. Just remember: It’s not your fault. Any baby can have colic, and by equipping yourself with coping methods, you’re taking responsible steps toward helping your little one’s deal with the hand he was dealt. Until the day the crying stops (yes, it will come!) hunker down, lean on supportive friends and family, and do your best to make your baby as comfortable as possible. This too shall pass!
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company. She is also the author of twelve parenting books, including the popular "No-Cry" series.