Monday, April 30, 2012

Dear Mama to the colicky baby...

Colic.  Even that word brings me back 8 years ago, and 5 years ago, and even 4 months ago.  Three out of five of mine have been known as colicky babies.  I actually feel pretty qualified to write this post. 

If you don't have a colicky baby, please read on.  One day you might.  Or one day you might have a friend who does and needs your support.  I can help with that...

Dear Mama to a Colicky Baby,
I know you are stuck in a sleepless fog of screaming.  I know you look at your precious baby that you love more than your heart can bear, but yet you know this isn't what you pictured motherhood to be like.  Then you feel guilty.  I know you question if your baby is in pain, if you should've breastfed or formula fed or changed formula or cut something from your diet to make your breast milk more tolerable.  I know you want to cry with his cries.  I know you look at her with sadness and wonder what you can do to help her.  I know you feel guilty because it seems as mothers, when something isn't right, that's how we feel no matter what.

First, understand that this isn't your fault.  Don't let anyone tell you your baby is crying because you are too uptight and nervous.  Don't let anyone tell you that her screams have anything to do with what kind of mama you are.  When I heard these comments, they came from people who never had a colicky baby.  However don't be frustrated with these well meaning people, but don't take them to heart on this one.  They just don't understand.  And that's okay.

Baby Noah at 3 months
 When Noah was four months old and had been screaming for four months straight, we hit a breaking point.  He had a day where all he did was cry.  No sleeping, no nursing, no cooing, just screaming.  I called Craig at work around 3pm in tears.  He suggested I call the doctor.  Perhaps, he said, Noah was sick.  In my sleep deprived state, ear drums ringing, I hadn't thought of that.  I called and got him in.  He actually had acid reflux.  Unlike Elijah who had "mystery colic" (no detectible rhyme or reason as to why he was screaming) Noah was in physical pain.  I tell you this story to encourage you to talk to your baby's doctor.  Maybe they can do something.  Maybe they can't, but maybe they CAN.  And I know there are days when you are desperate for answers.  You don't have to wait for a terrible day, or until their next check up.  I have found my pediatrician to be an open door.  He was concerned for the babies, but also for me.  He made sure Craig and I were handling the stress of a colicky baby okay and he listened and offered answers.  If your pediatrician blows you off, doesn't ask questions, and shows you no sympathy for how difficult this is, find a new one.  They are out there.  There are doctors who truly want to help your family.  Ask your mommy friends, your facebook friends, and your church friends for recommendations.  Don't settle.

Baby Elijah at just a few days
Accept some help.  Let someone you trust come over.  I know you may not want to leave your baby, and if that causes you more stress then stay home and allow someone who will be truly helpful to come over.  They can hold your little one while you take an uninterrupted shower or nap.  They can fold laundry or cook dinner or hold the baby while you do those things.  They can do some cleaning or just offer you some company.  If you have people in your life that you are comfortable leaving your baby with, then take the help!  Go to the grocery store, enjoy a dinner out with your husband, or go get your hair cut.  Sometimes just a few hours of a break from the screaming can really make a world of difference.  Be sure whoever is keeping your little one is someone you really trust.  Sometimes screaming babies can really rattle some people and they may end up shaking your little one.  I'm not trying to be an alarmist, but with any baby, make sure you are leaving them with someone you know can handle the crying.  I tended to only leave my colicky babies with their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, and my very close friends.

On the same token, when you are trying to help your little one calm down (and you will find certain things work for certain babies) don't feel pressured to let someone else take them just because they offered to hold them for a moment.  There were times with my colicky ones that I could feel that they were starting to soothe because I was holding them in their favorite position or helping them in a way I knew they responded to, when someone might come up and snatch him away from me insisting they could help.  This was frustrating every time it happened.  The whole cycle would then start over.  I got to the point where I would speak up and ensure the concerned "helpers" that I could take care of it or I simply would go to a different room to soothe my little one. This isn't to say that when your child is doing OK not to let someone hold him (you might even get to eat your entire dinner in one sitting!) but don't feel pressured to hand your crying baby over when you know it isn't going to help.
Elizabeth at 4 months

Let go of the guilt.  When you were pregnant you pictured snuggling a sweet smelling sleepy infant who occasionally smiled and cooed at you.  You had no idea that you would be walking around your house in your PJ's, sweat dripping down your face, as you bounced your baby and he cried and screamed.  I know this wasn't what you thought.  I know it wasn't the dream when you were pregnant.  But it is your reality. And its hard, and you feel guilty because you wish it wasn't hard.  Keep in mind the child you are holding, bouncing constantly, nursing around the clock... that baby is God's gift to you.  She's hard, yes, but she is an amazing blessing sent to you from your loving Father.  She can be frustrating to no end (and you thought that would only happen when she was a teenager) but God saw you fit to be her mommy.  Continue to delight in her, even when its hard.  Rely on Him.  Let Him be your portion and your strength as another sleepless night drags by.  Let Him fill you as you tirelessly give your little one all you have.  And remember, it won't last forever.  One day you will sleep again.  One day your child will go an entire day without crying.  It will happen.  Don't let guilt take your joy in what you have been given today.  Sure, it's hard, but that child is one of the sweetest blessings you will ever receive.  Remember this as you rock her and try 10 different pacifiers to see if one of them will help.  Let go of the guilt.  Focus on your blessing.

If you have never had a colicky baby and you want to be a supportive friend/family member here are some ideas:

  • Listen to the new mom.  Don't act like she doesn't have a clue because it is her first baby.  She still knows this child better than anyone.
  • Don't insinuate that it is her fault.  Don't tell her she's too uptight/nervous and that is why her baby is crying.  Don't tell her she should feed the baby a certain way (breast or bottle).  If you make suggestions do so lovingly and by asking questions.  i.e. "Have you looked into that brand of formula?  Maybe other babies have had issues with it?"  
  • Offer to help, and help on her terms.  Offer to bring dinner.  Offer to come over and help with the baby or around the house.  Offer to babysit.  Offer to clean.  Offer to come over to let her take a nap and a shower.  But then be willing to let her tell you how you can be of most help and do it.
  • If you are taking care of her baby for a time, try to do things on mom's terms.  Again, she knows this baby best.  Elijah would stop crying if we held him in the football hold and walked.  My sweet friend would hold him just right and walk on her treadmill.  He would calm right down for her.
  • If you see a mom struggling with her baby, trying to soothe him, don't grab him away.  She probably has a method in this madness and she knows what to do.  But feel free to ask if there is anything you can do to help.  Maybe she just needs a glass of water... or wine. :)
  • Don't you dare wake that child up!  When a colicky baby has finally settled to sleep please let him/her sleep for as long as possible or as long as his mother wishes.
  • Check in often.  Give her a call.  Send her a text.  Write her on facebook.  Just let her know you are thinking about her and you are available to help or just to talk.  
  • Stop by her house with something she loves and a package of diapers.  Maybe a cup of coffee from Starbucks or a diet coke from McDonalds.  Whatever her vice, I promise it will mean the world to her.
  • Pray for her and her baby.  And let her know you are doing so.
  • If she seems like she is becoming depressed, gently bring it up and encourage her to check in with her doctor about it.
Sweet Ellie as happy as can be at 7 months
My sweet fun boys!  Elijah-8 Noah-5

Colic is a difficult phase of babyhood.  But be encouraged!  Colicky babies often times turn into smiley happy kids.  I'm blessed beyond words that all three of my colicky babies are now sweet, smiley, funny children... OK, Ellie is still a baby, but she's a sweet smiley one now!  She just needed a few months to get there. :)

Hang in there mama, and remember the blessing you have been given!


  1. Half of ours were colicky babies too. It was unnerving with our first, who screamed for 5 solid months. However, when our third came along and he did nothing but scream for the better part of 9 months, we felt more confident that he would someday reach the other side--even if it took longer than we expected! It's really hard! This is a great post for moms (and dads) in the throws of life with a colicky baby, which seems eternal while you are in it.

  2. AMEN and AMEN!!!!! Our second child was colicky and it was soo very hard because he was our first "baby" so people assumed we were just inexperienced. Even the doctor!!! UGH!!! It was sooo very hard. Now I can look back and laugh, but I would sooooo help in the actual helpful ways you mentioned with anyone who has a colicky child because- I get it!!!!

  3. This is SUCH a fabulous post! Love it! :) Charlotte was a "difficult" baby. She had reflux, cried A LOT, and only wanted me. All. The. Time. Now at 20 mo. she is fun and happy. Relatives are happy to watch her. That wasn't the case a year an a half ago! Love the tips in this post (all so true!) and I am tickled that you pinned your own blog post!! Hee hee! ;)


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