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For the Mom with the Screaming Newborn: Tips for Surviving Colic

Learning new things generally comes easily to me.

I have a master’s degree and a physics degree — summa cum laude. I’m determinedly independent. When things don’t work, I find a way to fix them.

Then I had kids.

My first child screamed almost the entirety of his first six months of life. Not a cute newborn cry — a wallpaper peeling, bloodcurdling scream! I had no idea what to do. Nothing in my skill set helped.

I called my cousin, a brilliant pediatric nurse, about his screaming and screaming. She said he may have colic which was good because he would outgrow it. But it would probably last a few more months and get worse until 6 weeks. I was crushed. 

I didn’t know if I could survive another hour much less day, week, or MONTHS. 

The constant ear infections and reflux just piled it on.

My mom’s friends who had colicky babies encouraged me that their colicky babies were their easiest children and teenagers. However, it was hard to hear the encouragement for tomorrow through the screams of the day.

I am not an expert in infant care, but we did survive and soon thrive.

And in those early days of motherhood that is the gold standard. 

Some things that helped me:

  1. Letting myself accept that it was OK not to love every minute of being a new mom. 
    Being tired, frustrated, and at my rope’s end didn’t mean that I was less of a mom or missing the “mom gene.” It made me a real mom. I felt guilty for a long time about not loving every second. It’s hard to love the sixth straight hour of screaming. I feel you. You’re a great mom.
  2. Happiest Baby on The Block by Dr. Karp. 
    We lived by this. Essentially, it outlines the 5 S’s that help calm a baby

    1. Swaddle (Burrito baby to the rescue!)
    2. Sucking (Embrace the pacifier!)
    3. Shushing (LOUD white noise: the faucet at full blast, the radio on static, a white noise machine…)
    4. Side (While it’s safest for babies to sleep on their back, some babies will calm most easily on their side or stomach when you are holding them.)
    5. Swing (Rocking or swaying.)
  3. Outside. 
    When it was just the two of us, we would walk outside for hours throughout the day. He has always been mesmerized by the outdoors. Rain or shine, I would push the stroller up and down the neighborhood (or the aisles of Target). It was good for both of us to get out. It was refreshing for my soul. Get out as much as you can!
  4. The church nursery. 
    The ladies in our nursery are true saints. The hour they rocked and loved on my son and gave me my arms free to talk to people my age made me a better mom the rest of the week.  For years afterward, he would stop by Sunday mornings to blow kisses to the ladies in the infant room.
  5. Know when you need to walk away. 
    Sometimes you just need a breather. If it’s one of those times that he’s going to cry if you hold him regardless, put him down and give yourself a break. Even if he cries in the crib, that’s OK. He would have cried if you held him. He just might surprise you and fall asleep. I’m not saying to let him “cry it out” until he falls asleep; I’m saying if you need a break and he is going to cry anyway, put him down for 5 minutes. Step outside where you can’t hear him as well and count to ten taking deep breaths.
  6. Babywearing. 
    We got to the point in the first few months that he would be calm if I held him and he would only sleep if I held him. A lot of times, I would let him sleep on the nursing pillow while I put up my feet and got lost in trashy/worthless TV. I also had a lot of success with wearing him in a wrap or carrier. That gave me two hands to make a snack, vacuum, or do something else. If he naps on his own though, by all means, please take a nap yourself! Things that seem urgent will wait. Every minute of sleep is worth a pound of gold during these first few months. I wish I had napped more when I could have those first few months.
  7. Let your husband help when he is home. 
    At night, my husband was a huge help. When the baby would wake, I nursed him and then my husband would rock him back to sleep. It helped my husband feel like he was a part of things. But it also helped me get more sleep which I was going to need every second of to face the next day. I also found it helpful when my husband would bring the baby to me in our bed to nurse. When my feet didn’t hit the floor, I was able to fall asleep much more quickly.
  8. It’s OK to cry too. 
    There were many times that I would cry along with my baby not knowing how to help him. Admittedly, there are some days as a mom I still cry along with my kids, not always in the moment, but sometimes, I’m still at a loss on how to help them, what to do, and how to make all their hurts go away.

Hang in there. The days are long but they will pass quickly. You are doing a wonderful job.

And while it won’t make the screaming any shorter now, my colicky baby has ended up to be a happy, thoughtful, smart, even-tempered toddler, preschooler, and beyond. Yours will, too.

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