You are here

Easing Through the Tough Stages


What your baby's going through: It's a catchall diagnosis for inconsolable crying in the early months of life and it's about the roughest introduction to motherhood one can imagine. While there's no easy or uniform explanation, typically babies are colicky because they may have either a digestive problem like reflux or an unpredictable temperament (or sometimes both) that makes it hard to establish feeding, sleeping, and soothing routines, says Amy Salisbury, Ph.D., a developmental psychobiologist at the Women and Infants' Hospital in Providence. (She's also the mom of two boys, both of whom had colic.) Whatever the reason, a colicky baby will probably become sleep deprived as well, which makes him even crankier.

What you're going through: Three or four months is a long time to spend feeling exhausted, frustrated, helpless, and inadequate. Salisbury says her oldest son, Steven, now 8, cried all day long his first month. "I felt cheated of special time with my baby because so much of my life was spent trying to soothe him or figure out what he needed."

Getting past it: Luckily for Salisbury, her pediatrician recommended giving Steven Mylanta whenever he was crying inconsolably to see if he might have reflux. "Sure enough, within five minutes of receiving the Mylanta, he stopped crying  -- nearly every time," she recalls. Salisbury also decided that establishing a routine when Steven was 3 months old would help her regain some semblance of control, and it ultimately helped him, too. "I started to keep him awake for two-hour stretches, which meant no car rides or stroller walks. Then I'd put him in his crib for a nap at the same time every day. The first day he cried a lot. But I continued this routine, and within a week he was napping at least an hour three times per day."

Many moms have found motion to be an effective soother for a crying baby, and Melissa Magee of Dover, Pennsylvania, found a way to make it pay off for her: "In the evening, when my daughter's colic was at its peak, I'd walk with her in my arms, facing forward and legs dangling, and sing to her. She'd usually look around for a while, then fall asleep. The walks also helped me lose my pregnancy weight," says Magee.

Don't try to be Supermom, either. Ask friends and relatives to pitch in with the housework or the baby, nap when the baby naps, and try to get at least a half hour of alone time a day. "Swaddle and comfort as much as you can, but if you've tried everything and your baby's needs are met, it's okay to put him down in the crib and walk away for a little while to give him some downtime," says Salisbury. "Sometimes babies get overloaded by us, just as we do by them."

Separation anxiety

What your baby's going through: While you may feel bad about leaving an infant, the feeling is hardly mutual  -- she may barely notice you're gone as long as she's fed and dry and comfy. All that changes between 6 and 9 months, when out of sight no longer means out of mind. She suddenly knows the difference between you and someone else, and she isn't quite sure you'll be coming back. This phase lasts until age 18 months or so. Some kids have a more intense reaction that can recur at every new transition: changing daycare providers or moving to a new home.

What you're going through: Most likely, you're feeling confused  -- flattered by so much attention and affection but smothered, too. I can remember feeling frustrated at the ball and chain it felt like I had around my ankle when Matilda, then 1, would crawl into the kitchen and hang on to my leg as I was trying to wash the dishes.

As exasperating as this clinginess can be, try to keep your cool. "The more overwhelmed you get, the harder it is for your child. She needs reassurance," says Susan Isaacs Kohl, author of The Best Things Parents Do and a mom of three.

Getting past it: Think of yourself as an acrobat on a tightrope  -- you need to make your way cautiously to the other side without tipping over. When you leave your child with someone new, do it gradually  -- a dry run with a sitter while you're home, short trips for errands instead of a long outing  -- and start a goodbye ritual, such as reading a story followed by two hugs and a kiss.

"I started getting up earlier to spend more time with Jaden," says Lolita Carrico of Los Angeles. "I would feed him and then play with him in his room. When my sitter came, she'd join us and we'd play with him together. It took about a month, but he got comfortable with the routine and I could leave more easily. Plus, I'm not as rushed. It's a nice way to start the day."

Nighttime demands

What your child's going through: "The issue is 'sleep onset association disorder'  -- if Mom's there when the child falls asleep, he needs her back when he wakes up later," says Jeffrey Durmer, M.D., medical director of the FusionSleep Medicine Program in Suwanee, Georgia.

What you're going through: You're feeling anything and everything from supremely frustrated to resentful to resigned. I've yelled at Charlie when he's having a bad night and my firefighter husband is working nights. One thing that helps: The calmer I am, the easier it is for both of us to nod off again.

Getting past it: If you want to end the situation, be prepared for protests. To keep them minimal, says Kohl, "go in and pat your child for five minutes, then go out. If he's still crying, go in five minutes later and do the same thing."

Still, many moms prefer to skip the hysterics. When Christine D'Amico's sons, now 5 and 3, began nightly visits to their parents' room a couple of years ago, she set up a blanket and pillow at the foot of her bed for them. "They'd just come in and take their places on the floor in the middle of the night," admits the San Diego mom of three and author of The Pregnant Woman's Companion. "Now my third one does it!"

Some moms swear by "deconditioning." Start by sitting on your child's bed, then gradually over a few weeks move away until you're in the doorway. The goal is for your child to feel secure enough to fall asleep before you exit. Dr. Durmer used this approach on his third child when he was about 2. "You can promise to come back to check on your child to reassure him, but stick to your word," he says. "A reward for sleeping through the night, like stickers, works well, too."

Giving up the Binky

What your child's going through: Pacifiers can be the perfect prescription for babies during their first year. But eventually, toddlers should develop the ability to self-soothe, and a pacifier may turn into a crutch that keeps that essential skill from evolving. Furthermore, it can delay language development  -- if your child is spending a lot of time sucking her paci, she's not interacting with the world as much as she might without it.

What you're going through: Chances are, despite your discomfort with the sight of that plug in your child's mouth, you're secretly almost as fond of the pacifier as your child is  -- after all, anything that helps her settle down is good.

But there's always a flip side, as Karen Leff of Atlanta discovered. At 3, her son was waking up constantly at night demanding help to find his Binky, and she was walking around with four of them at all times just in case he needed winding down. "We had a baby who was sleeping better than Jack was, and I was beginning to think, 'This really stinks!' I felt like I had given him long enough and that he was old enough to let it go."

Getting past it: Don't expect this to be an easy hurdle. "I had to keep reminding myself that Jack had fallen asleep with this thing in his mouth for three years," says Leff, and, in fact, "weaning him from it meant eight really miserable weeks."

After gradually limiting his Binky use  -- first only in the house, then only in the bed  -- and whittling down the supply to one, Leff used her final trick: She asked Jack if he'd be interested in trading in his pacifier for a fish tank. "He really loved Nemo and was happy as a clam about it for about three days. Then we went through two weeks of 'Take the fish back!' every time he had a stressful moment. I had to really stay the course, but he eventually quit asking for it."

That's the key to this and other challenging situations: It's going to take plenty of patience, perseverance, and comforting kisses to get past them  -- for both you and your child.

But that's okay. If you take a gradual, consistent approach, you won't feel like a mommy ogre, and your child will feel all the prouder because she'll think she did it on her own. And isn't that what this job is all about?