I first heard of colic when I read my first baby book. It effects up to 25% of babies. I assumed I’d be one of the lucky, unaffected ones. I wasn’t. It took me a while to realise it was colic. The first time that your baby screams for a 4 hour stretch you find it hard to believe that it’s actually perfectly normal. Once you’ve changed them, fed them and made sure they are the right temperature and they are still screaming you become convinced that there must be something seriously wrong with them. It was only once the pattern of evening crying became clear that I realised it must be colic.
How do you solve a problem like colic?
I like to solve problems so I immediately began researching what I could do to help. I was horrified to find the answer was, very little. The NHS website makes a few suggestions, cuddling, warm baths, making sure they burp after a feed, but it’s the last line that tells the real story
“…there’s very little evidence these things work”.
And that’s about the size of it. For most babies, colic has settled down by 4 months. Until then, it’s likely you will have an inconsolable baby for several hours every single night. And it is hard. It’s important to admit that because, while colic is fairly common, it’s impact on parents is rarely discussed.
As a Mum your job it is to look after your baby. If you can’t stop that baby from screaming for hours at a time, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed. You haven’t. There is no rhyme or reason to which babies get colic and which don’t. Nothing you have done as a parent has caused it. Those hours of crying can feel totally overwhelming but it isn’t your fault, you aren’t a bad parent, just an unlucky one. This can be particularly tough if you’re a first time parent.
Parenting is harder if your baby has colic
It’s ok to feel angry and frustrated by the constant crying. It isn’t a pleasant sound and listening to it for hours on end is hard, especially since you’re every instinct is telling you to make it stop. Try not to worry about what the neighbours think though. Newborn crying sounds deafening to a parent but my neighbours say they heard nothing! When I had my second, her crying never once woke her brother so, while it feels like your baby is keeping the whole street awake, it’s unlikely to be the case. In my house the only other party who was bothered by the crying was the cat. She would come and bite my ankles, presumably telling me to make it stop. I kid myself that she was concerned for the baby but I suspect in reality she just didn’t like the noise.
I was unlucky that both of my children had colic. With my son, I could sometimes soothe him briefly by feeding him, but nothing would console my daughter. She screamed every night between 5pm and 10pm. We tried all of the different holds, spent ages after each feed burping her, gave her colief and gripe water, tried warm baths and leg cycling. She just screamed and screamed and screamed until she eventually fell asleep, completely exhausted.
People don’t see the struggle
This made bedtime for my toddler extremely difficult, particularly on the nights I had to do it alone. He was just over two when she was born so still needed help to do most things and didn’t appreciate his sister howling through his bedtime story. It quickly became our normal and it was only when a friend came to stay and was shocked by our “normal” that I realised that life isn’t like that for all parents.
That’s the thing with colic though, other people don’t see it. It’s likely that your baby behaves perfectly normally during the day so friends and family don’t realise how much you’re struggling. That’s why it’s so important to ask for help. It’s hard to leave your crying baby with someone else but remember, they will cry whether you are there or not. If you have no help, it’s ok to put them somewhere safe and take a few minutes break. You can also call the Cry-sis helpline and talk to someone who understands.
If you have a colicky baby, be kind to yourself. Keep remembering, this isn’t your fault. Ask for help and accept it. Remember that colic won’t cause your baby any permanent damage. When your baby is crying and you can’t comfort them, 4 months seems like forever but this too will pass. Your early months with your baby might not be how you imagined but you will come out of the other side. Things will get better.