When my oldest was around 3 months old, he went from being a mostly smiley and calm baby... to a screaming terror. All my online research pointed to one thing: colic. I couldn't figure out how to soothe him, though, and nothing that was suggested online seemed to work. Thankfully, my partner seemed to intrinsically know how to soothe a colicky baby. Turns out, it's not just a mom's responsibility! Who would have thought, right?!
Initially, I assumed the whole "try to soothe your screaming child" thing would fall to me, the one who was lactating. But breastfeeding sucked when my baby was inconsolable, and not in the usual way. He would nurse for a second, then scream like a dying rabbit for 10 minutes. Then he'd stop, nurse for a second, then start screaming again. Rinse, repeat.
Fortunately, my partner developed his own ways of calming the baby. At first I hated having to hand my baby over to him, but letting him take control turned out to be extremely beneficial. My partner would sit on a yoga ball with the baby, bounce (way more than I would have) and shush or sing to the baby (way louder than I would have). And if that didn't work, he'd simply put the screaming baby on his chest and, somehow, our baby would just fall asleep. While I was thankful that his ways of soothing the baby worked, it was also frustrating. I mean, what was I doing wrong?
It turns out, nothing. Sometimes a colicky baby needs to be away from the breast for a minute. Maybe they're too hungry and there's no milk, as was the case with me and my baby, or maybe they aren't self-regulating their feeding so their stomach hurts. Whatever the reason, my partner developed ways to soothe our screaming baby, and I learned that I wasn't the only person who should be tasked with calming our child. So with that in mind, here are a few things all grown-ass dads, and other non-birth partners, should be doing when they have a colicky baby on their hands:
Take The Baby
Dads should never just assume their partners will handle it, or that their partners will ask for help when they need it. You should be an equal participant in this whole parenting thing, gentlemen.
Watch for signs that the baby is getting increasingly agitated, then simply tap your partner out and take the reigns. Maybe you can't get the baby to stop crying (my partner believes that sometimes it's his job is to be the worse alternative, that way my baby is grateful for me), maybe you will, but either way you'll be able to give your partner a much-needed break.
I know, easier said than done, right? But there's no need to panic. My advice? Do nothing at first. Just hold the baby and calm yourself down. Babies use other people to self-regulate. When you are holding your baby close and your heart rate and blood pressure stay low, your baby's will gradually change to mimic yours. When your heart rate rises and your blood pressure goes up, the baby's will, too.
I will admit that staying calm was difficult for my partner, who gets extremely anxious from loud noises. (He hid in the bathroom during Fourth of July fireworks on our honeymoon.) But he also found a solution that could help him remain cool, calm, and collected while our baby was screaming: ear protectors. If it meant he could hold the baby without reacting like someone was dropping bombs on his head, he was all for it (and so was I).
Rock The Baby
Rock that baby. Move your body. Sway or sit on a yoga ball and bounce. Use a rocking chair or pace back and forth. Just, you know, move.
Babies who are upset often benefit from movement. Repetitive rocking or bouncing motion stimulated the vagus nerve, much in the same way sucking does, and some babies need vagus nerve stimulation to sleep, according to Psychology Today.
Try Giving The Baby A Bottle
Speaking of stimulating the vagus nerve, sucking is the OG vagus nerve soother. While my partner and I were afraid to use a pacifier or a bottle, because we thought it might disrupt breastfeeding, we eventually caved and used a bottle of pumped milk to try and soothe our colicky baby. Some non-birth parents also comfort nurse their babies, which is totally harmless and often a helpful tool. It didn't work for us for various reasons, but it's worth a shot if you're willing to try it out.
Use A Warm Compress On Your Baby's Belly
If the colicky screaming is the result of gas, dads and partners can try putting a warm compress, or even just a warm bottle, on the baby's belly, as suggested by WebMD.
Sing Or Shush
My partner would go through his entire song repertoire while bouncing on that yoga ball, from Yiddish lullabies to Irish punk to sea shanties.
If your partner isn't a fan of a sing-along, they can provide a little white noise for their baby, whether it's a fan, the vacuum, the clothes dryer, or an actual white noise machine, as suggested by WebMD.
Take The Baby For A Walk And/Or Drive
WebMD also suggests strapping that baby in their car seat and using the motion of a vehicle to help soothe them. Of course, they remind parents that they should only use this option if they're not too tired to drive.
If you are too tired, or you don't have a vehicle, you can also try babywearing your baby. The warmth of your body and regular motion of walking can help soothe your baby to sleep, and is known to help upset or colicky babies.
Even if a quick drive or a walk around the block doesn't work, taking the baby will give mom a break from not just holding the baby, but hearing the baby. So, you know, get those steps in, dad!