A Mom's Guide to Surviving Colic
My husband and I met a couple with a newborn recently. I could tell even before they brought it up - it was written all over their faces and in their attitude towards the child - they had a COLICKY BABY. This couple was on their 2nd child. Their 1st they described as content, a great sleeper, and an easy baby overall. As they described their newborn (crying for hours on end, stiffening and arching, miserable laying on her back whether in the car seat, bassinet, changing pad, or every modern day contraption that typically soothes a "normal" baby), I could immediately relate.
I see newborns everyday at work, but they are generally napping and quiet. Despite being a Registered Dietitian specializing in infant feeding and a Certified Lactation Counselor, NOTHING prepared me for having a colicky baby! Siena displayed all of the behaviors that the couple we met described. She had this horrible staccato cry ("eh eh eh") that just broke your heart. She lasted only 5 minute stretches on her back in the bassinet at night until she was writhing in pain and sounded like she was choking and sputtering, at which point I scooped her up and she would finally settle down lying belly down on my chest. I was afraid to take her anywhere, because she screamed bloody murder during car rides and in a stroller. Visitors would ask to hold her, but when they placed her into a cradle hold she immediately protested and stiffened in pain. I had to explain that she was only comfortable upright or if the person was in constant motion with her. I was constantly apologizing for her behavior, and my husband pointed out that I was making her out to be a "bad" baby. I overheard the couple we recently met describe their colicky newborn in similar terms.
Let me first clarify that "colic" is NOT a disease or diagnosis. It's simply an umbrella term for "we don't know what the heck is wrong with your baby"! Have you heard of the "4th trimester"? Since human babies would not fit through the birth canal if their heads and bodies were any bigger, compared to most mammals we are born immature. Our brains and digestive tracts are the last to fully develop, and this often takes about 3 months or more after birth. That's why newborns are often gassy, seem to wriggle and strain when pooping, and cry so much. Colic can be caused by SO many reasons: prematurity, a loose "esophageal sphincter" (part of the GI tract that may cause reflux when underdeveloped), tongue and lips ties, sensitivities to foods that a nursing mom is eating or ingredients in formula, etc. This is why it's so difficult for pediatricians to pinpoint exactly what the cause is.
So what's the parent of a colicky baby to do to maintain her sanity? What helped us tremendously was babywearing. I kept Siena in a wrap or buckle carrier for several hours per day...even wearing her outside at 1AM during particularly rough nights. Colicky babies are most content when held upright or on their bellies (there are actually proprioceptors on the stomach that trigger a sense of security). I always held her upright over my shoulder, on her belly over my lap while eating dinner (and simultaneously bouncing on a labor ball lol), or carrying her belly down over my forearm like a football. Breastfeeding helped to soothe her more than anything else, although I always worried that what I was eating was upsetting her tummy! At one point I eliminated so many proteins from my diet that there was little left to eat and she seemed to outgrow any possible sensitivities and was eating everything by 6 months anyway. For formula feeding moms, hypoallergenic formulas seem to be a godsend (if you're breastfeeding you may want to just try avoiding or limiting dairy and soy). We had a white noise app on our phones that we ran during diaper changes, car rides, and sometimes to help her fall back to sleep at night.
So you were "blessed" with a colicky child - is it a death sentence?? Not at all! Fortunately there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Most babies outgrow colic by 3-4 months (all of the suggestions mentioned above are simply comfort measures...the only thing that truly "cures" colic is time). This was the point at which Siena became a completely different baby! She has still always been sensitive and strong willed (I guess that's just her nature), but she is now a happy thriving toddler.
And most importantly, don't apologize for your baby's behavior! It's more common than you'd think and it's in no way a reflection of you as a parent! Share your struggles with others, and I'm sure you will find plenty of parents that can relate. Don't forget self care during those first few difficult months (I know I did and suffered the consequences much later on). A relative or friend would be more than happy to help you out with baby so you can do something for yourself. Fortunately, colicky babies are magically on their best behavior around other people!