Nanny B here, with the first of my monthly musings. Check back each month for a new post each month about babies and toddlers from the mouth of a nanny. This month I’m thinking about Colic.
What is Colic?
Colic is diagnosed when an otherwise healthy infant persistently has sudden unexplained bouts of severe crying lasting for hours. It is most often seen in babies between 3 weeks and 3 months and usually resolves itself by about 6 months. Babies may seem to be in pain, arching their backs and are inconsolable. Colic is most commonly observed in the late afternoon, evening, and night.
Is Colic Real?
I’m often asked whether or not colic actually exists, since there’s no medical explanation and the very definition require that the crying be unexplained and that the baby be otherwise healthy. I was going to write about whether or not I think Colic exists but the more I recalled my own experiences as a nanny, spoke to parents and carers, read blogs and forums and articles… the more I started to think that it doesn’t matter. Better questions would be: is your baby crying uncontrollably? Have you no idea why? Does it seem like nothing you do helps? Then whether you call it colic or not you have a problem and you are not alone.
How can Colic affect my family?
Parents who report their babies have colic are significantly more at risk of developing depression and experiencing relationship stress, mothers are more likely to experience breastfeeding failure and high levels of anxiety, and babies are more at risk of being misdiagnosed with reflux and given unnecessary medication, and of being victims of shaken baby syndrome. The unexplained crying almost always disappears after a few weeks or at most a few months regardless of any medical intervention (only 5% of babies presenting with colic are diagnosed with an illness). So your main focus should be how to comfort your child and, importantly, keep your sanity.
What can I do?
Routine – Regardless of your preferred parenting approach I strongly recommend you try setting a daily sleep/play/feed pattern to ensure your baby is getting enough sleep. Overtired and over stimulated babies are unable to relax and become more and more distressed as they fight the sleep they crave. Whether this is a reason for colic or an additional stresser, giving your baby enough rest will decrease their likelihood of working themselves as the day wears on.
Crying in arms – If you object to routine, or it seems to make no difference to your crying baby, you can step back from active comforting to just hold your baby while she cries. Most parents say cuddling, soothing, rocking, walking etc have no effect on their colicy baby. If this is the case then don’t wear yourself out but sit with your baby safe in your arms and let her cry. She will still be comforted by your presence and you can avoid the additional stress on you both of trying a dozen methods to calm her, none of which work anyway.
Take care of you – Long periods of crying are incredibly draining on you. The noise, your anxiety, sense of helplessness, and loss of sleep can wear you down so much you end up doing damage to yourself or, as is sometimes sadly the case, your baby. Give yourself permission to take time out. You’ll be surprised how a friend may be less affected by the crying than you and able to tolerate it while you take a break. The cot is a safe place to leave the baby while you stand under the shower or listen to some music. Having a cry yourself can release a lot of tension and pent up resentment. If there’s little you can do to change the situation anyway, taking time out to make sure you’re as calm as possible means when you are with your baby you’re helping to keep her calm and not feeding the crying with your own anxiety.
Whether or not colic exists, a baby that cries for no good reason for hours on end just plain sucks. Many others are experiencing the same thing as you right now. Reach out to anyone who can help you feel supported and take comfort in knowing that this, too, shall pass!
Brigid is a career nanny with over 15 years experience working with children and babies. She is dedicated to the care of infants and the very young, and the support and guidance of their parents and families. After having been integral in the care and raising of hundreds of children she has seen plenty, learnt a lot, and shares as much as she can.