Wednesday, November 2, 2011


My daughter, Riley, is going on 21 months and is a happy and delightful child, but that wasn't always the case. She struggled with colic for the first 3 - 4 months of her life. It's been a bit since my husband, Jesse, and I were struggling along with her, but I felt the need to write about our experience because I recently read the following two things:

1. Another blog, titled "Enjoy Every Minute... It All Goes So Fast", wrote about people who naively make this statement to new parents.  I get why people feel compelled to say this, but in reality this comment isn't that helpful when your baby won't stop crying, you're sleep deprived, and you're just trying to stay sane. Do I have to enjoy every minute? Because there were a lot of miserable moments that I would just rather forget. The one that I especially got to me was "Don't you just love motherhood?" No, actually it sucks big time when you have a colicky child.

2. A colleague posted on Facebook what he learned about colicky babies at the birthing class he and his pregnant wife were attending. Namely that colic may last 4 months, but it feels like 4 years. What they should have added is that colic will make a parent age at least 10 years as well. At. Least.

These two things brought me right back to my own experiences with colic, the comments (and looks) I received from others, and the thoughts that were often running through my head. I know everyone experiences colic in their own way, but for those who aren't that familiar with colic the hardest part for me was seeing my baby in pain and not being able to take the pain away. The second hardest was the toll it took on my body and my mind followed by that I felt few people really understood what our life was like during that time.

I've been around a lot of babies, but this was the first of my own. The first that I was responsible for during every living moment of the day. So when she wouldn't stop crying around 2 weeks old I was pretty sure something was wrong. I knew it was colic right away. My husband tried to assure me that it wasn't colic, but if it wasn't colic then it had to be something pretty serious because babies don't normally cry like that. That much I knew.

Crashed in mommy's arms after a crying tizzy that lasted several hours.
I held her this way for at least a couple hours after the crying stopped.

Of course, we consulted with our doctor and she was helpful in assuring us that this would pass, but it didn't make it any easier to get through each day. We found some techniques and tools that helped relieve the crying a little bit, but they also put a huge drain on us. For example, I usually had to hold Riley to get her to sleep. The moment I would put her down she would wake and start crying. Occasionally, if I laid her down I could get 20 minutes of sleep or so out of her, but she clearly needed sleep so I would sit in the glider in front of the closed captioned, muted TV with my baby in my arms. I watched a whole season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia that way. I'm pretty sure that show has a completely different feel with sound.

Because our baby cried all day long (it was worse in the evening hours) we didn't accomplish much as we were on constant 'Operation: Stop Baby from Crying' mode. I tried to explain to others what colic is and how it impacted our child, but I don't think most really understood unless they lived through it themselves. As I mentioned, we found tactics to help alleviate the crying, but it didn't really solve 'colic'. One of our most useful  'tactics' was running a hair dryer. Once we discovered that it calmed her down we had it running constantly for 4 months. I'm not kidding. We burned through 2 hair dryers. Using the hair dryer was all fine and dandy, but it didn't help us if we wanted to go out in public. I'm pretty sure you can't plug in a hairdryer at a restaurant without getting some ugly looks (not that we tried).

One of our other top tools was the yoga ball. Unfortunately, it was only useful when you bounced up and down rather vigorously on it with baby in your arms for long periods of time. My husband could only tolerate this for little bits of time so I was usually stuck with this one. My back still feels the residual pain of it. This one alone helped me age 5 years.

So tired from crying all the time.

I would read all sorts of articles, blogs, and the such and I'd hear all these stories about how changing the baby's diet, going to the chiropractor, bouncing on a ball, taking anti-gas meds.... made all the difference in the world. I tried many, many things and while some helped a bit, nothing made the drastic difference I read about in other people's lives. The things that did help us made it slightly less painful for our family which was worth it, but I never found the miracle cure that I'd often read about. I have to admit that when I would hear other wonderful baby stories (colicky or not) my first thought was "they suck". It wasn't that I couldn't be genuinely happy for others (I was), but I also felt sad that my child wasn't having that experience and it could come across as bitterness. I wanted that sort of magic in our lives.

Supposedly babies like when people make googly noises and funny faces at them. Riley does now, but this wasn't true for my colicky child. At all. I know people meant well, but I just wanted to scream "back off people". I knew my child well enough to know that this was not how she wanted to be approached. I tried to remember that my baby was not like the babies these people were used to. It was almost as if Riley was always overwhelmed. By everything. Complete sensory overdrive.

I often had to reel myself in and remember that other people did not mean harm. However, it irritated me when people didn't understand or minimized what was going on. I remember people hearing her gentle cry and saying "Oh, that's so painful to hear" or "Is that the crying your talking about" when her colic cry was a gazillion times more difficult to bear. People would make comments that were meant to be helpful, and perhaps encouraging, but often weren't. I even met people who didn't believe in colic. If I would just cut sugar from my diet, if I would just carry her every moment of the day, if I would change my parenting styles... I wanted to say "F**k you, you come over to my house for 24 hours and let me know how you feel at the end of the day after you've tried all these things and she's still crying". But that might have been sleep depravation and shot nerves talking. Thankfully, I still had the sense not to say it out loud.

So how can you help parents with a colicky child? Well, that's different for everyone so you want to make sure you take each person's preferences and personality into account. Some people might love having someone stay and assist for a week, but not me. That was one more person I had to take care of, train how to calm my child, and deal with their emotions when they realized how torturous it was to listen to that cry. It was helpful for me to have a supportive ear, and it was ok if people offered suggestions as long as their tone wasn't laced with judgement. Colicky kids tend to be sensitive so staying calm and expressing comfort can help a lot. And try to withhold the googly faces.

Sleep deprived mother and daughter.
Googly faces unintentional.

At some point the smiles occurred more often than the cries for Riley. She still didn't sleep through the night until well after a year old, but it was drastically better. I didn't have to spend hours each night consoling her while bouncing on a yoga ball. We finally turned the hair dryer off and we went out to eat without her crying once.

Between 3 and 4 months

Now? She's one of the happiest kids I know. She's made up for the colicky time tenfold, but I won't ever forget how hard that time was. Even now, writing about it makes me emotional - and not just because it was hard for me, but because I remember how painful it was for her. She's brought a ton of joy to my life and I am grateful for the little girl she's become. And now, I can say I truly love being a mom.


  1. This is great, Jo. I'm glad you took the time to write out your story, I have to imagine it must be kind of traumatizing to even remember it all. I just had a normal variety fussy newborn and I'm still pretty scared for #2.

  2. Thanks Erin. Hopefully, your little boy will be one of those super laidback and happy babies!


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