When our daughter was born at 34 weeks, the last thing we were worried about was the possibility of colic. But then it happened to us. We had a baby who, if she wasn’t sleeping or eating, was crying. No, screaming. The memories that stick out the most from the blur that was those first four months are not all good ones. Memories of standing in my living room, simultaneously rocking/swinging/bouncing my screaming 2-month-old daughter, my back and arms cramping, her hair wet with my tears. She had been crying for hours, my husband was at work, and I was left with what I thought was the most unhappy baby on earth.
There were times when I had to set her in her crib and let her cry, while I went outside to get my nerves under control so I could go back calmer and keep trying to help her. There were many, many days when she would only sleep on me, and being the light sleeper that I am, I barely slept when this was the case. I would doze off when feeding her more often than I think is normal for a new parent. One time my husband, who was getting ready for work, woke me up because I had accidentally fallen asleep feeding her and the bottle was leaking into her ear. There were weeks when I didn’t leave the house because I didn’t know if she could handle it. I saw pictures of everyone else’s happy babies on Instagram and wondered, Why is my baby so unhappy?
You hear of colic, you know it exists, but you don’t really know until you experience it first-hand. Even friends and family might not fully understand. Maybe she’s spoiled. It’s probably just gas. If you’re nursing, try cutting [all the things that keep you sane] out of your diet. While advice like this is well-meant, it isn’t really helping parents.
Why? Because it’s not that simple.
There is no guaranteed solution, and there certainly isn’t a quick fix. You literally have to wait it out, and hope to God the gripe water doesn’t lose its effect because you give it to her so frequently.
As a parent who went through it, I think I speak for most parents of babies with colic, PURPLE crying, overstimulation, and reflux. So here are nine things parents of colicky babies need you to know:
1. It’s a different kind of new-parenthood exhaustion.
It’s not just the newborn feedings every two hours around the clock and out-of-whack postpartum hormones. This baby does not want to be set down. There is no catching up on sleep or alone time while they nap—because they are probably napping on you. The hours of crying takes a mental toll on you. The constant rocking and swaying and not being able to sit down because they somehow KNOW when you sit down takes a physical toll as well. It’s non-stop, and when these parents look back on those first months, it’s going to be a blur of pure survival.
2. Know that if you offer to help, they will most likely decline.
Dang our pride as a society. Try to help anyway. And know that your offering means the world, whether they accept the help or not.
3. It’s not as easy as saying, “I’ll just come hold her for a while.”
Oh man, the anxiety this phrase brings parents. The thought of putting the stress of a screaming baby on someone else sometimes feels like a bigger burden than relief. But if they do take you up on it, take the baby so mom and dad can sleep, shower, go grocery shopping, or simply go outside and just BREATHE. Assure them you know the baby will probably cry the whole time, and that you’re OK with it. (If you’re lucky, the baby will just sleep on you the whole time.)
4. Bring them coffee.
Getting out of the house during this phase is almost impossible, and having a fancy Starbucks coffee is a luxury at this point. And adult human interaction can do wonders for the soul.
5. Help out with pre-made meals.
Or just as helpful, do some dishes or laundry. Our church did a food train for us for about two weeks after we came home from the hospital with a preemie (who ended up being colicky). But a month or two in, what would have really helped was help with dishes and laundry, because that piles up real quick when you have a baby who won’t let you set her down.
6. Check in on the parents every once in a while. Check in even after they’ve said they’re fine a million times. Colic, PURPLE crying, overstimulation, and reflux usually lasts a few months. Try not to forget about the parents, even if they have a hard time accepting help. It’s nice to know someone is there for them, should they ever need it.
7. Yes they’ve probably tried everything.
In this day and age, we parents have Googled it all. I Google at least three things a day still. The parents have most likely tried gripe water, gas drops, tummy sleeping, the rocking/bouncing/shushing simultaneously technique, etc. Sometimes advice isn’t what’s needed. Sometimes, just being heard is all it takes to get through a hard day.
8. Don’t take it personal if they can’t come to your party or event.
Even a trip to the grocery store brings anxiety for these parents. Will I have to abandon this cart full of groceries because of a baby that could go off like a bomb at any moment? Sure, she slept through that party but it will be a nightmare trying to get her to sleep tonight?
9. No the baby isn’t “spoiled”.
We should all know by now, it’s impossible to spoil a baby. Babies, especially newborns, are acting out of pure instinct. They haven’t figured out that they’re a separate entity from mom yet, let alone how to manipulate her. So please, just don’t even say it.
Colic, PURPLE crying, overstimulation, reflux—whatever it is, these babies are having a hard time adjusting the first few months outside the womb. This chapter will pass with time, but to the parents living in those three or four months, it feels like it will never end. Today at eight months old, my daughter is now a happy, smiley, “easy” baby. But in those first few months, I truly didn’t know what it was like to have a baby who wasn’t constantly crying, and it was even more impossible to think it could be otherwise.
Keep in mind that sometimes a solution doesn’t exist, and searching for one doesn’t always help. In cases like these, you don’t have to fix anything, you don’t have to have the answer. Just show your support, and the ways I listed above are a good start.
It really does take a village—to raise a baby and to get the parents through the hard times in one piece. So take my advice gently, from someone who’s been there. The time will pass for them. And even if they won’t accept any help, just knowing you understand what they’re going through, even a little bit, means the world.
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