All babies cry. But some babies cry a lot. A colicky baby — defined as a healthy baby who cries for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week — presents a mental, physical, and emotional challenge for new parents beyond what most of us can fathom. To be tasked with consoling a seemingly inconsolable infant for hours on end over the course of literal months can feel like pure torture. But there are some tactics you can use to ease your stress (and theirs) while you wait this phase out.
For this piece, I polled the parents in our Offspring Facebook group, many of whom parented colicky babies for the better part of a year and understand well what you’re going through. The only way out is through — so here’s their best advice for getting through.
First, rule out other issues
We know that some healthy babies are colicky for reasons we may never fully understand, but are rooted in the fact that they are simply adjusting to life on the outside — getting used to the sights, sounds, and smells of the world. But other babies cry because of sensory issues or because of a digestion problem related to an allergy or sensitivity to their formula or something they’re consuming in breastmilk.
Here is what Offspring group member Steph experienced:
“After hearing so much about how some babies are just colicky, I figured I had one of those kids. He screamed for more than a year. I almost lost my mind. I eventually thought, ‘Hey, maybe it’s not colic and maybe I’m not the world’s worst mum’ — and asked for help. Turned out he was allergic to milk. I was breastfeeding exclusively and had no idea a child could be allergic to something in my own breast milk. We switched some things up and magically the crying stopped. Wish I knew about allergies sooner.”
Before you assume it’s colic, talk to your doctor about what else might be causing the endless crying, in case a switch like that is all it takes to ease their discomfort.
Set up a schedule with your partner
If you have a partner, caring for a colicky baby must — must — be shared by both of you. You don’t want to go through what Jennifer went through. Do not be like Jennifer’s ex-husband:
“When it’s 3 a.m. and a baby is crying and crying and crying, we become the worst version of ourselves, and there were entirely too many nights when my ex-husband would pretend to be sleeping and ‘not hear’ the crying. Even though it was a two-bedroom condo. And then he’d say, ‘Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do,’ and then, ‘He’s still crying. Do you want him back?’ NOPE. Figure out who has Monday night, who has Tuesday night, etc. And then take care of the baby on those nights. No pretending. No learned helplessness. Just freakin’ deal with the baby during your assigned hour/night.”
When the child is screaming is not the time to devise such a schedule. Choose a moment when everyone is (relatively) calm and decide how you’re going to divide and conquer. Even if one partner is working out of the home and the other one is staying home, the stay-at-home parent cannot handle a colicky baby day and night. Yes, the person who goes into the office needs to be able to function; so does the person who is caring for an infant.
Group member David and his wife came up with a schedule that might work for you:
“I was better able to stay up later. My wife went to bed at 9 p.m., and my shift started then and went until 3 a.m. (or slightly earlier if I could settle the baby). If I was in the middle of helping the baby at 3 a.m., I’d wake my wife, and she’d take over so I could get some sleep. This way, we would each get a minimum of six hours of sleep, which makes sure we can handle the baby.”
Protect your ears
You know they’re crying, and you’re trying to help them stop crying, but they’re still crying. There is no reason for you to also listen to that crying on full blast. And if you feel like you need permission to block some of it out, Julie is here to give you that permission:
“When you’re in the thick of it all and trying to wrangle and soothe them, there is no shame in wearing earplugs or noise cancelling headphones and listening to music or a podcast at the same time. You’re still being there for them and it can help take the edge off.”
Heather gets even more specific and recommends that wireless headphones, such as AirPods, work best when you’re listening to podcasts, audio books, or meditation tracks while also trying to bounce or soothe a colicky baby. She kept them in a fanny pack along with ear plugs, her cell phone, and whatever else she might need to take on-the-go with a crying baby.
Head to the great outdoors
The fanny pack idea is a good one, because at some point, you’re going to want to get out of the house, whether it’s for a walk around the neighbourhood, a long drive, or even just a few minutes in the grass, like Eliza suggests:
“I used to take my daughter outside and lay her on the ground for about a minute. Something about being outside reset the crying for a while. Now when she’s crying like she used to, we go outside and stand in the grass for a minute, and it still works.”
For David and his wife, it was all about getting out of the house and moving:
“I would take extremely long drives. I live about 90 minutes from Niagara Falls, and boy did I get a lot of looks at them during those overnight hours; the sound also helped him sleep. My wife would take the opportunity to go on long walks with the stroller (baby born late spring, so we got lucky with weather). As long as he kept moving and bouncing, baby was soothed.”
Accept (or ask for) help
All new parents should accept the help they’re offered (or ask for it if no one is offering it up), but especially parents of colicky babies. Maria wishes she’d done that:
“Honestly, I didn’t know until later that my daughter was colicky. I’d called the paediatrician once and the advice nurse just told me, ‘Babies cry a lot.’ I wish I’d asked more friends to come over and hold her sometimes to give me a break. Spending all day alone with a crying baby and then also being woken up several times a night was pure torture.”
Ask them to help care for the baby for a while so you can get a physical and mental break, or have them tackle the household chores you don’t have the time or energy for. Make it a damn rule that if you stop by to visit, you’re pitching in, like Michelle did:
“If you want to be here, you need to do a load of laundry or some dishes or cook us a meal. We had a colicky baby for over a year; you weren’t allowed in our house unless you were helping. Everyone I know cleaned, did my laundry, took our toddler somewhere during that time, or held the crying baby while I took a long, hot shower.”
And if people aren’t banging on your door to help, Miki says you’ve simply got to ask for it:
“Reach out. I didn’t have help, and I suffered. But I was also too independent and never asked for help either. I was losing my mind while in the same instance so concerned that someone would hurt my baby because he wouldn’t. Stop. Crying. But I know now that no one was going to hurt him. And hell, they could listen to him cry for a few hours, big whoop. I got to listen to him cry 24/7. They can handle it. Trust that. Your baby will be ok. You’re not ok. Realise that there is help, and use it.”
Remember that this, too, will pass
It seems like it’s going to last forever, but it’s not. All of the parents of colicky babies in our group are here to reassure you that this is temporary. Here’s David again:
“The thing that kept us going is we just kept reminding ourselves it was only temporary. Each stage the kid has is only FOR NOW. It’s not forever. And while they make us cry, scream, whimper, and generally feel like failures a lot of the time, there are going to be moments that you’ll still cherish. (I love the Falls now!) And more importantly: You’re building an important foundation of trust with your baby, and it will pay dividends.”
To get through the hardest moments, try coming up with a mantra like the one Samara leaned on:
“The phrase, ‘Every moment only once,’ which I got from [Zen master] Thich Nhat Hanh, helped me realise that when I was sitting up late at night taking care of my baby, worrying about how I would possibly have enough energy to handle the next day, I was actually making my suffering so much worse. Same goes for listening to them cry. It’s hard to tolerate. I let myself focus on just one moment at a time, realising that every moment only happens one time, so all I need to do is get through them.”