Colic is more of a mystery than an actual medical term, in my opinion, but the world "colic" is used to describe painful infant gas or abdominal discomfort. However, when you're a new mom, there is nothing more real than the terrifying, never-ending cries that come from your colicky baby. Sadly, there are a lot of things no one tells you about having a colicky baby, so that fear is left unchecked and, well, it's relentless.
My first son was colicky and, before I had him, I had never even heard the term "colic" before, let alone had any sort of idea as to what it was or what it meant. After someone mentioned colic, and told me it was probably what was "wrong" with my baby, I searched the internet for any and all information that might be helpful. Sadly, and to no one's surprise, the web only provided me with "tips" on how I could limit my diet to exclude the only pleasures I was getting in life (like cheese, coffee, and other foods I had avoided during pregnancy, too). I'm sorry, but that seemed pretty damn unfair, considering I had suffered through nine months of restraint already. So, thanks but no thanks to the diet tips.
Friends and relatives also provided me with all kinds of well-meaning advice on how to help calm my baby, but most of these people had only dealt with regular, docile, non-colicky newborns. It didn't take me long to realize that the same rules do not apply, and it's a whole different ballgame when you have a baby with colic. So, in the name of solidarity and because diet tips and well-meaning-but-essentially-useless advice are anything but helpful, here are my tried and tested approaches to dealing with a newborn with colic, for the uninitiated:
First Thing's First: Keep It Tight
Before you do anything else with a colicky baby, you're going to want to get them in the tightest swaddle possible. I recommend finding a very burly man or a no-nonsense nurse from an Eastern European country in the hospital, to demonstrate the most restrictive swaddling technique one can employ.
Colicky babies tend to be the most adept at Houdini-like escapes so you really have to up your swaddling game. My baby was breaking out of his swaddle by Day Two of our hospital stay, even though he was only seven pounds. My partner and I learned some serious origami with our swaddles to keep our colicky baby feeling as enclosed and tightly packed in as possible, so as to emulate the feeling of being in my tummy.
Keep It Loud
Colicky babies tend to like it when you've got all systems going full force; the vacuum cleaner, the hair dryer, the white noise machine, your mom telling you how she would do things differently. I would just make our apartment sound like the inside of a black hole in the hopes that it would calm our baby the you-know-what down. Sometimes, it actually helped.
Always Be On The Go...
The last thing you want to do with a colicky baby is allow him or her to be still. Your best bet is to take that swaddled baby, put them in a carrier or stroller, and leave the house.
My baby refused to sit in a stroller, and from what I've heard from parents of other colicky babies, they tend to only like scenarios that cause the most suffering and exhaustion from their parents. So, you most likely will have to leave the house wearing your colicky baby. Either way, you have to leave the house (unless you enjoy walking in circles) because your colicky baby requires constant movement and bouncing. Do not be fooled by the sleeping colicky child, as it's a pure illusion. The moment you sit down with the sleeping colicky baby to enjoy your coffee, or simply to rest your weary body, they'll wake up instantly. I spent the majority of my days as a new mom exploring the museums of New York City, because I couldn't sit down anywhere, and the subway was one of the only places that seemed to calm my baby down.
(...Which Can Help With Any Weight Loss You May Or May Not Be Interested In)
Being on the go all the time means that you don't really have that much time to sit around and watch Netflix. It also means that you're constantly moving and burning calories. If you're also breastfeeding, I have a feeling the pounds are going to freakin' fall off of you.
Not only was I moving and shaking during the day, but at night I was bouncing and dancing with my baby to try to calm him so that he could sleep every once in a while. My quads got a real workout, even though I wasn't trying to Jane Fonda or anything. My other mama friend with a colicky baby ended up with super toned abs because her baby loved being bounced all night on an exercise ball. You have to find your silver linings somewhere, my friends.
Gripe Water Is Not A Magic Potion
Like a lot of new parents, I scoured the message boards for a magic elixir to cure my colicky newborn. There were hundreds of missives about the healing powers of gripe water and – much like diapers and formula – every mom was loyal to a different brand. In desperation, I ordered every gripe water I could get delivered to my door, because I was basically a prisoner during those first few postpartum days.
In my experience, the gripe water "works" for a few minutes, but only because the baby enjoys the pleasure of the sugary taste of the water. After the sugar effect fades, your colicky baby goes right back to hating life outside of the womb.
You Might Feel Like You Got Stuck With The Defective Model
I knew that newborns were supposed to cry, but after checking in with my friends (who I had been pregnant with at the same time and who had had babies within days or weeks of me), it started to dawn on me that something was a little different with my experience.
Whereas other people's babies cried when they had a wet diaper, or cried when they were hungry, or cried during those awful witching hours of the evening or early morning, mine just cried. Like, all the time and no matter what. While I clearly loved my baby and thought he was just the most amazing baby ever, I did start to feel like I had drawn the short end of the stick. In my less than finer moments, I had visions of driving back to the hospital and bringing him back to the maternity ward and saying, "So, um, I think this one's like, not working so well? Can you guys do something about that? Or maybe I could return him for a different one? I have Amex. Does that help matters?"
You Will Often Wish You Could Escape To A Tropical Island. Alone.
There were many times when I wished I could just pack my bags and go on vacation somewhere by myself, preferably leaving my partner, my baby, and my burdensome nursing breasts behind. Babies are hard to care for in general, but a baby that doesn't stop crying is crazy hard. I felt like I just couldn't catch my breath. I was jealous of my new mom friends who were writing Facebook posts about being blissfully in love and covered in their own breast milk but they didn't care because motherhood was just so magical!
I was beyond sleep deprived, depressed, drained, and searching for that "mom magic" only to come up empty. It was a really dark time, and I felt really guilty for feeling so negative about it, considering I had been handed such a gift: a healthy baby.
Strangers Will Say Things To You That Will Make You Want To Kick Them In The Shins
Now, I don't blame people for wanting to try to be helpful but come on, people. If you see me with my 2-month-old son and he's crying so loud that the walls are vibrating, maybe this is not the time to tell me that you think it is because he might be hungry.
Really? Are you really going to go there, lady on line at Anne Taylor Loft who just made me wait 15 minutes while you returned a shirt that you bought for $6.99 and obviously wore already because the saleswoman and I can both see the deodorant stain you left on it in plain sight? Ugh.
You Will Feel Like A Pariah Almost Everywhere You Go
Remember how annoying it was when you'd be at a coffee shop enjoying your latte and scrolling through Instagram and some crazy mom would be letting her baby scream bloody murder for five whole minutes while she waited for her drink order, totally ruining your vibe? You'd wonder what kind of monster would bring a baby like that into a public place where people are just trying to enjoy a sensible Sunday afternoon, creeping on photos of their exes vacationing in Peru or wherever?
Well now, that "monster" is you, my friend.
You are the mom with the baby screaming at the top of his lungs and now you know exactly how it feels to be a woman with no safe harbor in sight. You can't go home, because home is lonely and the baby's cries are amplified by the quiet of your four walls. You can't sit in this coffee shop because everyone is looking at you like you used to look at someone like you.
Get Yourself A Partner In Crime
I made sure to get out of the house, no matter what, and to try to meet up with other mom friends during this pretty miserable time period. I was lucky too, because I made friends with another mama from my mom group who had a colicky baby, so we explored NYC together with our screaming babes and learned to tune out all the dirty looks and sometimes we cried and sometimes we laughed together.
It really helps to have a friend who really "got it." If both of our babies were completely losing it on the street, we would just turn the strollers to face each other and let them cry into each other's faces. It was so awful that it was comical.
Time Is Going To Move Really, Really Slowly For A While. Until It Doesn't.
The first few months with your colicky newborn will feel like a lifetime. You will wake up in the morning, and you will wonder why time is moving as slow as physically possible and you'll worry how in the hell you'll get through another day.
I found that the best thing I could do to make the days go by was to keep very, very busy. Then, one day (I think somewhere around month two or three), my baby's mood changed completely. He started to take better naps and he started to sleep better – a lot better – at night. He smiled more, and enjoyed life more and, well, he stopped being colicky.
And I started to fall, like really fall, in love with motherhood, and with him.
Now my son is a 5-year-old kid, and every day goes by at warp speed. When you're in that newborn phase, it is hard to truly internalize that this too, will pass. I wouldn't have believed me, if Future Me had told Past Me that our colicky days would be a distant memory. I can still access these feelings of despair very readily, and they are very raw and very real. A colicky baby is hard, but to the new mother of a colicky baby, I can say is this: It will get better.