Colic & Crying: Sometimes Nothing Works

Sometimes, whatever you do it is not going to work, and sometimes, doing nothing is what works best.  This is true of a lot of things in life, from curing a headache to fixing a drain, but is never more obvious than when trying to stop a baby from crying.

This morning, I was taking my usual walk. It’s a 2.2-mile loop that takes me about 40 minutes. It is a great part of my day, and I always see an interesting cross section of people in the neighborhood walking, running, biking and pushing baby strollers.  Today, while I was about half-way around, I saw a young couple walking towards me with their baby screaming at the top of her lungs in her stroller. They looked so tired, so utterly exhausted, that I had to say something to them. “Rough night?” I asked. After rolling their eyes and nodding their heads in agreement, they said, “You know it!” We chatted for a moment, and I commiserated with them about their struggle. “Sometimes just taking her outside is the only thing that helps.” The funny thing was that the baby had suddenly stopped crying when they stopped to say hello.  I wanted to tell them, but it wasn’t the time or place, that they were absolutely right. Getting outside does sometimes help. But it’s not necessarily the outdoors, but getting outside of the predicament that helps too.

The look on their faces changed from the moment I talked to them: Where they were down in the mouth, they suddenly engaged; where they had their shoulders hunched, they suddenly stood up straight. They were feeling their baby’s cries on the inside and out. So, getting outside of their emotions, even for just that moment, helped them. And maybe it was a coincidence, but it seemed to help the baby, too.

I have three children and have experienced their pain, literally, when they cried.  Our firstborn cried a lot. In the early months, that time between 4:00 and 6:00 in the evening seemed to drag on for an eternity. It appeared to be the classic time and behavior for a colicky baby. I tried every formula and technique available to stop what appeared to be her agonizing pain: I held her, burped her, massaged her, gave her “colic syrup,” fed her, tried to stop feeding her so much, played music; anything to stop the crying. They all seemed to help a little, for a few minutes, and then we were back to square one. I was exhausted; She was exhausted; my husband was exhausted, and this is when we only had the one child!

What I finally figured out, after I noticed a few things that did really seem to work, was that when I was relaxed she calmed down and her crying ceased. Really.

I know this sounds simple, and it didn’t work 100% of the time, but ultimately, when I wasn’t scrambling around and trying to figure out what seemed like rocket science, how to stop this baby from screaming, we all had a more peaceful time.

When I looked at the faces of that young couple, I knew exactly what was wrong. They were exhausted. How could they tend to the needs, which are many, of their newborn when they were barely able to put one foot in front of the other and keep awake? I wanted to tell them, “Quick, one of you go home and sleep while the other walks around the block 140 times.” The camaraderie of parents needs to be renegotiated when we’re talking about stress and sleep deprivation. It’s all well and good to offer moral support to each other, but what is really worth offering is time off.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes babies cry, and there is no amount of relaxed parenting that will solve it. Sometimes it is the baby trying to figure out digestion, and, yes, it may be worth giving up the strawberries, or Vegetable Tikka Masala you craved the night before. Sometimes it is aches and pains that a baby in the womb never had to deal with. The blanket is too hot, or too cold. The noise is too loud or sitting in one place is beginning to feel uncomfortable. Yes, it is worth carrying your infant to soothe and cradle her close, and, yes, it’s sometimes a good idea to put them down and allow them some space. All the methods that are encouraged work, and sometimes they don’t. That is the dilemma.

Ultimately, it all comes back to the same old story: Take care of yourself, so that you can continue to care. Sleep as much as you can, so you have the energy to heal. Eat well and drink enough, so you have the vitality to give. Enjoy the small things, so that you have the enthusiasm to encourage. And most of all, love yourself enough, so that you can allow this time to pass without criticism. You are doing the best you can, and so is your baby.

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Tammy Jennings is a mother, writer/photographer and teacher. She has taught workshops and classes on women’s wellness, parenting and childbirth education for over 20 years. Presently she is a University lecturer, and has put her “doula cap” away, but she has had the great honor of attending many births. She lives on Oahu with her husband and the last of three children left in the nest! Tammy has a Masters degree in Interdisciplinary Arts and is a certified Childbirth Educator/Doula, Massage Therapist and Nutritional Advisor.