Colic is the devil


Get the out of my baby.

Let me just start with this: nobody understands colic.


It is, in the genteel words of WebMD, “a bit of a mystery.” Or, as Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, put it, “It’s not really a diagnosis; it’s more of a behavioral observation.”

Leading me, between two weeks and three months post-partum with both babies to “observe:” What the bloody, rotten hell, Dr. Karp, is THAT supposed to mean, and how do I get this baby to stop screaming, and why am I a terrible mother, and why does my sweet, little baby HATE LIFE?

Well… It’s a bit of a mystery, really.

You know what else is a mystery? How our species ever came to inherit the Earth when so many of our most helpless send out nightly sirens to update predators on our locations.

But I digress…

With both babies, we had about two weeks of honeymoon calm before It set in. That’s a vulnerable transition, marked by buoyant euphoria and incalculable tenderness on one hand, but also the insecurities of new parenthood, fatigue of new sleeping patterns, pains of early breastfeeding…

But those early trials faded to minor inconvenience when viewed from the colic days. Or, months. Because colic is just… hard. Really, really hard. It’s been more than two years since we’ve last dealt with it, and still, just thinking about those nights renders me inarticulate. Because it’s just… It’s..

Well, it’s devastating to hold your precious newborn while she cries in obvious, inexplicable pain for hours. Every single night. For three to four months.

I suppose that already sounds pretty bad. But if I could reach through your screen and hand you an actively colicky baby, this is what you would say after about 10 minutes of desperately rocking, bouncing, shushing, swaddling, singing:

“Take her away from me! I’ve had her for AN HOUR at least. I need a break!”

(Mommas, breeeeathe. When someone else takes the colicky baby, just time them. Look at the clock and remember what it says. Because that person sincerely believes those 10 minutes have been an hour. Colicky babies are a time warp. And they probably age you accordingly.)

So you go to experts for help, and all you get is one big, collective shrug.”Your baby’s sex and birth order, and whether you breast- or bottle-feed, don’t affect it,” asserts the WebMD article, before going on to suggest that:

  • Maybe it’s gas?
  • Or hormones?
  • Or over-stimulation?

Thanks, WebMD. Maybe moodiness is causing my baby’s moodiness. They also suggest trying one thing a time. And if that doesn’t work, “move on to another one.”

But, “beware of cures” because really “there’s no such thing.”

And how is it that breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding makes no difference, and yet breastfeeding mothers of colicky babies are advised to give up every food that makes life worthwhile? Go online for diet advice, and you’ll end up like me, consuming only avocados and cranberry juice for a week and a half, because those are the only things you like that weren’t on the “don’t eat” lists.

But, don’t worry, they’ll tell you. Colic clears up by itself in three or four months. *sigh*

Look, I don’t know what to tell you. When you’re in the thick of it, knowing this will end in a few months does not help. Because it’s happening tonight. And it will happen tomorrow night. And the night after that. And the night after that. And that’s the same thing as forever.

But, here are a few things that sorta-kinda helped for me.

  1. Wear your baby. Because your arms will get tired.
  2. Wear your earphones. With something really nice coming out of them: Music. A fascinating podcast. The audio for the movie you’re watching (ideally starring Steve Martin, because you need to laugh.)
  3. Take walks with worn-baby outside. For some reason, the change in atmosphere can sometimes do wonders for the poor babe. Don’t know why. (Because nobody knows anything here.)
  4. Take breaks. Whether that means giving her to a loved one or just setting her down in a safe place while you go sob in the corner.
  5. Rest as much as you can. Especially in the late-afternoon/evening or whenever is right before the mayhem usually begins.

Oh! And when the crying finally stops, you might experience audio hallucinations of phantom baby screams. They’ll maybe even change pitch and volume, just like the real thing. You’re not going crazy. At least, not permanently.

Most importantly, remember: this is a version of normal. As Dr. Karp said, it’s not a diagnosis. Because as far as anyone can tell this isn’t disorder. It’s just how the system gets going for some of us.

It’s not a modern development, either, so we can’t even blame Monsanto. As Wikipedia points out, the second-century BC Greek physician Galen’s go-to prescription for fussy babies was opium. Apparently opium nipple creams for babies remained popular throughout the Middle Ages. And I’m guessing that no one ever prescribed opium for newborns unless that was some serious fussy.

Victorian and early 20th century remedies weren’t much more wholesome. Chamberlain’s Colic Remedy, for example, was 45 percent alcohol, and contained chloroform and ether, besides.

The most essential take-away is simply this: This is not your fault, Momma. Your baby doesn’t hate life. She doesn’t “blame you” for not being able to soothe her pain. And your milk is not poison. You are doing a phenomenal job.

Try not to think about the three-four-month finish line. Just take it one night at a time. Rest up. Arm yourself with your baby-carrier, earphones, and walking shoes. You’ve got this.

But the second you start fantasizing about throwing your newborn out the window, give her to someone else for a break. And, when you do, be sure to set the timer.


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