Read about what our blog editor—and other mamas who've struggled with colicky babies—wish they would have known at the time.
It was our second week home from the hospital when it started—the incessant, purple-faced, sweaty wails coming from our newborn. He’d switch off between sleeping and fussing (like all new babies) during the day, but once 5 p.m. hit, he let it rip at the top of his lungs straight through midnight before finally passing out from exhaustion. This happened every. single. night.
Colic nearly broke me—and if you’ve had a baby with colic, there’s a good chance it nearly broke you, too. When our little guy started up each night, it was almost like my husband and I upset him more the harder we tried to calm him down. He’d gag and scream through nursing, bust out of all 80 different swaddles we tried, and stiffened his back as we bounced and paced through our small apartment. Our evenings were spent simply passing an inconsolable baby back and forth—one of us held him for as long as we could handle the screams while the other person attempted to sleep for an hour (or just sit in the bathroom with the fan on to decompress) and then we’d do a handoff. We were both so drained and dejected we could barely speak. Somehow my husband still made it into work the next day. (At the time, I felt so jealous of his ‘break.’ I daydreamed about sipping coffee alone on the train.)
Convinced there was something causing our baby real pain, I tried cutting out dairy, gluten, caffeine, and certain veggies from my diet over the course of a few weeks in case my breastmilk was the culprit (this was despite my pediatrician’s insistence that it almost certainly wasn’t. It wasn’t.) I worked so hard for good burps, kept the baby upright and cycled his little legs to work the gas out in case it was contributing to his wails. We put him on a probiotic (one of the only research-backed options for colic relief), and I spent the few hours he slept each night googling colic under my covers, ordering different bouncers off Amazon, desperate for a cause, a solution—or at least other moms who could tell me I wasn’t alone.
At one point, around week four, I called our pediatrician midday while my husband was at work, asking if he was c-c-c-certain (the tears were building) there was nothing we could do to help our baby; that I didn’t need to admit him to the hospital for an evaluation. He could tell I was teetering—he gave me info for a hotline for moms with colicky babies, and reminded me again it was ok to let the baby cry and go sit alone in the next room for a few minutes to regroup. “I’m so, so sorry—I know this is so hard. Just remember that it’s temporary, it’s going to be ok.” His voice was so genuine and kind, I was only able to mutter a ‘ok thanks so much’ before hanging up the phone to cry some more, mostly because of his kindness. (Kind of like when you’re upset, and your mom calls, and you just cry because you hear her voice.)
By week six, we made an ounce of progress—the crying hadn’t slowed down, but we had found a way to get the baby to fall asleep earlier for the ‘night.’ I had read during one of my 3 a.m. google binges that colicky babies liked to be rocked while you bounced on an exercise ball—I Amazon’d one to our place the next day and found that a rhythmic bounce, plus a super loud sound machine inches from our baby’s head, helped get him down closer to 10 p.m., as opposed to midnight. (It also helped my back.)
Colic is unbelievably challenging. I felt like a failure; I worried I was somehow causing long-term damage to my child because I couldn’t help him to stop crying. I worried this baby that I obsessively loved was going to be a real pill with a bad attitude straight through grammar school. I felt like no one really believed me when I said he was colicky (‘he was fine when I was there for lunch!’) which contributed to the isolation all new moms feel. I felt guilty for feeling bad—I knew there were moms out there who’d kill for colic to be their baby’s only problem.
Doctors will tell you six weeks is usually the ‘peak’ for colic, and sure enough, right around week eight, the cloud lifted. We had one ‘not so bad’ night, and my husband and I kept looking at each other across the room like—could this be it? We didn’t dare say it out loud as to jinx it. Over the course of the next couple weeks, our groaning, inconsolable newborn turned into a happy, sweet, goofy three-month-old. It was like night and day—there was no trace of the chaos we’d (all) been through. Now, at 8 months, he’s a dream. (He’s still got those pipes—take the frozen peach he’s gnawing on away too early and he’ll let you know what’s up—but 99 percent of the time, he’s smiling his big, still toothless, grin.)
There’s really only one thing to tell all the mamas out there with a colicky baby—and that’s what my kind pediatrician told me. It’s temporary. It’ll pass. And it’s so, so hard. Your only job is to take care of that baby and yourself, so if that means bringing in help, passing on the laundry and thank you notes to close your eyes, or closing the bathroom door for two minutes to regroup alone, do it. All you’ve got to do is get through it. And, if you’ve got $20 to spare and nothing to lose, try that exercise ball trick. -Kristen Dold, M+A Editorial Director
Struggling with a colicky baby? You're far from alone—here's what other mamas had to say about their experience.
I begged would-be visitors not to come, embarrassed that my son's constant crying would discourage their love for him and that they would think I was a terrible mother for not being able to console him. It was draining, depressing and anxiety-inducing. I became extremely depressed and anxious as a result of his colic and waited too long to talk to my OB-GYN about my feelings. I wish I'd done so much sooner.
-Lauren Gall, @thatgingerlatte
For me, it ended up being that my breastfed baby had a milk and soy protein intolerance. Once I completely eliminated dairy and soy from my diet, my baby (gradually and slowly) got better. Her colicky symptoms ended about three weeks after my big diet change. My advice for moms going through this is to be informed. It is possible that there is an actual REASON for your baby's constant crying.
My husband and I used to push our daughter in a stroller inside our house for hours on end in the evenings, and that would sometimes calm her down. My advice is to find another mom who has been through it -- or is going through it currently -- so you have someone to commiserate with and vent to. As they say, 'misery loves company,' and for me, that was the only antidote to a colicky baby.
-Katie Stansberry, @breastfeedingbliss
To new moms going through this, it is not you. Motherhood is a magical often messy journey and new motherhood is certainly no exception. Do your research, utilize all resources available to you (family, friends, doula, lactation/feeding experts, fellow moms). Motherhood is different for every mother. What is right for one mother may not be right for another. Be gentle with yourself.
-Maria Carola, @themamamosaic
I was pretty hopeless at the time and it really contributed to postpartum depression. I felt like failure because I couldn't comfort my baby. Your baby won't scream forever and subsequent babies may not cry like this. My second child was calm as could be and my colicky baby is now a quiet middle schooler who never screams. Give yourself a break.