Some common, painful reactions you might have to colic, and what can help
My newborn’s fussing started every afternoon around the same time as Oprah. By the time the show ended, he was usually in a full-out cry — and often, so was I. He cried for upward of 12 hours a day, morning and night, longer than an Iron Man triathlon and, to me, just as grueling. Only, no training could have prepared me for colic, that nebulous diagnosis for a newborn’s inconsolable crying that ought to be a four-letter word. In fact, when my son’s doctor gave me the diagnosis, he whispered it, as if he were delivering very disturbing news. The look on his face told me that colic was going to be harder on me than on my baby.
After suffering through two colicky infants, I can’t tell you for sure how to make your baby stop. But I can assure you whatever you’re feeling is normal. Some common, painful reactions you might have to colic, and what can help:
“I’m a bad mother.”
When my kids were babies, I despised the woman in the baby-lotion commercial — the one with the clean hair and the content baby — because she made me feel like a bad mom. Her baby cooed while my babies cried. As least I think her baby cooed. I couldn’t really hear over my sons’ wails.
When you already feel like a terrible mom, comparing yourself to others is like pouring salt on a wound. Watching new mothers doting over their peaceful babies while her offspring screamed convinced Andrea Kahl of Kings Park, New York, a mom of two, that she was the worst mother around.
And what about when you think you have no excuse for not knowing what to do? Valerie Burton of Roseville, California, had raised two children from her first marriage. So when she couldn’t stop her new baby’s tears, she says, “I felt like I was failing in my husband’s eyes.”
This’ll help: Cut yourself some slack. You’re trying, and you care, and that’s what makes you a good mom. If you can find something that eases the tears even a little bit (swaddling, playing music, patting your baby’s back), great. But don’t wrap your self-esteem up in it. Babies just can’t be controlled that way.
“No one else gets it.”
When my best friend’s newborn, whom I nicknamed “Rip Van Emma,” slept peacefully through our get-togethers, I felt very alone. Emma slept so often and cried so little, I didn’t dare share with her mom just how awful I felt about the three and a half months of colic I had just endured.
Joining a moms’ group can be helpful because you may find another secretly miserable mom of a crier. But if all their babies are perfect in every way (or so they claim), get out. “I had a really nice network of new-mom friends,” says Julie Watson Smith of Carlsbad, California, “but I didn’t feel like any of them understood.” The dirty little secret of colic is that it’s hard to connect with a baby you’re not sure you even like. So get those moms’ numbers and save them for six months from now, when you and your baby are getting along better (it’ll happen).
This’ll help: Actively look for a fellow sufferer. Try the forum at Parenting.com/colic to start. When I met a mom who also had survived two colicky babies, we bonded like just-hazed fraternity pledges. Instantly, I felt better.
“Am I imagining this?”
At times, I felt like the person who had discovered the Loch Ness monster. Few people witnessed my babies’ crying bouts because, frankly, who wants to take a shrieking baby to the mall or to her mother-in-law’s house?
Much of the day, Andrea Kahl’s son was a smiley baby. People would ask her, “Is he always this happy?” At a holiday get-together, he slept peacefully in the stroller throughout dinner. “What a perfect baby!” her relatives beamed. Kahl bit her tongue: Most days, he cried for six hours — straight.
Kahl felt like she was going crazy until her mother-in-law witnessed a — wait for it — 24-hour crying bout. “I wanted to sky-write ‘I told you so!’ ” says Kahl.
This’ll help: Leave your baby with friends or relatives during her “witching hours.” Their frazzled faces when you return will likely be enough to reassure you that the colic is indeed real — and draining. Plus, you deserve a break.
“It’s all my fault.”
When my younger son started the inconsolable crying that had tormented me with his older brother, I had to wonder, “Am I causing this?”
The worrying only gets worse the more frustrated you get. Nicole Dane of Freehold, New Jersey, thought maybe she had transferred her emotions to her newborn: “Is he feeling this way because I’m frustrated?” And then you start questioning everything — the glass of wine you drank while pregnant, what you just ate for dinner, everything!
This’ll help: Remember that even though the top doctors and researchers in the world don’t agree on what does make a baby colicky, they don’t think it’s the mom’s fault.
“I can’t take it anymore!”
What few mothers will admit about enduring colic is how angry it can make you feel. I remember yelling at my newborn to “just shut up, already!” And it felt good to scream over his screaming. I didn’t dare tell anyone about it, though: What kind of mom would they think I am?
I’m okay admitting it now — it’s important for other moms to know they’re not alone if they get angry, or wish they hadn’t had the baby at all, or even have violent thoughts. “I actually thought about hitting his head on something so he would stop crying and it would be quiet,” says Andrea Kahl. That’s not something you share at Mommy & Me class.
This’ll help: It really is okay to be angry with someone who wails for hours each day. What’s not okay, of course, is to act on that anger. Put the baby in her crib and call someone — your mom, a friend, your spouse — who can get there quickly to help you out. If you think you might harm your baby or yourself, seek professional help immediately. And, please, don’t feel ashamed about it. Some experts have likened experiencing colic to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ever since my babies started to become kids, I’ve had a chance to bond with them in a way I couldn’t early on. Their hugs, smiles, and laughs have felt like redemption for a bad start, and I’m grateful. You’ll get there, too. But don’t be surprised if, like me, you’d rather not hold your friend’s new baby.
Jen Singer is the author of You’re a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either).