What is colic—and what can I do to help my baby It’s true what they say: Having a new baby is hard. But when you add colic to the mix, your life enters a special circle of hell. My first child spent almost every waking moment for months screaming her head off. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was always someone trying to fill my precious few moments of silence with things I absolutely did not want to hear. If you know someone with a colicky baby, you can avoid alienating these sleep-deprived and stressed parents by not saying the following things.
1. “Don’t worry about it. All babies cry a lot.”
Yes, thanks. We knew about the crying-baby thing when we got into this parenting lark. When you say this, it sounds like you’re suggesting that we’re making a fuss over nothing or we simply can’t handle normal parenting. All babies cry, but colicky babies cry much, much more than usual.
Colic is defined as crying more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks, but it usually lasts around three months. That’s at least 108 hours of solid screaming. But for most people I know who had colicky children, they cried considerably more. My daughter averaged five hours of crying every day for 12 weeks. That is 420 agonizing hours of wailing.
My first baby was colicky; my second was not. There is no way you can mistake colic for normal crying. If you suggest this to a friend with a colicky baby, don’t be surprised if she starts screaming, too.
2. “Have you read this book/considered cutting out wheat/tried this homeopathic medicine?”
I know you mean well, but trust me on this. I tried the books. I tried the diets. I tried the horribly expensive baby wraps. I tried everything. No one simply shrugs their shoulders and accepts that their baby will spend all day screaming. They Google like crazy, looking for a solution. They read everything. They buy all the drops. They interrogate their poor paediatricians.
You do not have a secret, magical cure for colic because, sadly, one does not exist. Whatever your intentions, you risk implying that it’s the parent’s fault for eating the wrong thing, buying the wrong product or not looking after their baby in the right way. Even if you think you have excellent advice, be very careful. If there is one thing that parents of colicky children have heard almost as much as the screaming, it’s the useless suggestions.
3. “Treasure these moments.”
I got this all the time and it made me want to cry. Yes, I know the baby days are incredibly special, but sometimes, with a child with colic, I felt cheated out of them. I saw other parents with their babies cooing gently and smiling while I was pacing around trying to calm my bawling daughter. Whenever someone said “Treasure these moments,” I wanted to shout back, “Which ones? The ones where the screaming is like a pickaxe through my eye or the ones where I feel like a failure because I can’t stop my daughter’s crying?” The moments she didn’t cry often made me sadder, as I felt this was the child I was meant to have, but I rarely saw her.
4. “I think she’s hungry [or too hot/needs a new diaper].”
I honestly don’t know what people were thinking with this one. Did they think I hadn’t noticed that my child was screaming? Did they believe they had some kind of magical vision that could assess my child’s needs when I was too clueless to spot them?
Parents of colicky children are followed everywhere by the glares of people offended by the noise. They endure the judgment of men and women who think they are heartlessly ignoring their baby’s needs when there’s simply nothing they can do to stop the crying.
The best-case scenario with a question like this is that you were just trying to make small talk. If so, stick to the weather in the future.
5. “Oh, my friend’s baby didn’t stop crying and it turned out to be [insert really awful diagnosis here].”
Don’t do this, ever. When your baby screams all day, your head naturally goes to the dark places, to your most awful fears. It’s agony. Colic is harmless, but it doesn’t feel like it when you are going through it. Parents of colicky babies have ruled out everything they can, but they can’t stop worrying. Please don’t give them any more nightmare fuel. They are barely sleeping as it is.
6. “She needs her mommy. You should take her home.”
My husband got this one when he took my daughter out without me. No, our daughter did not need her mommy. She screamed like that with her mommy, too. She screamed like that all the time. The whole reason she was out with her daddy was because her mommy was going up the wall and needed to sit in a silent house for half an hour, thank you very much.
7. “I don’t know how you manage. Our Quentin is a little angel.”
I didn’t know how I’d manage either. Every day was a struggle. And whenever anyone went on about their “dream baby” or “easy baby,” I had to constantly remind myself that this person was a friend of mine and not an insufferably smug monster or I’d have ended up hating both them and their darling little Quentin.
So, what should you say?
Offering to help is a good start, even if it’s just to take the baby around the block to give their mom or dad a moment of quiet. Listening is good, too. The parents of colicky children need to let off steam, and being a sympathetic ear without trying to fix things will be appreciated.
The only things that were actually helpful to hear was that the colic would pass, that it wasn’t anything we were doing wrong and that our daughter would be fine in the end (as she now is). Consider telling them that you know it’s hard, that they’re doing a great job and that things will get better.
Of course, you’ll need to raise your voice to be heard over the screaming.