Surviving Colic

Colin started crying in the evenings sometime close to 6 weeks old.  He went from being a sleepy, normal baby to a screaming baby we couldn’t calm down for hours.  Every night around 8pm it would start.  We would hear his breathing change and would know it was coming.  This wasn’t your normal “baby crying.”  This was colic crying.   It was Colin pulling his legs up to his chest and crying like he’d just received shots.  Crying so hard he would get hoarse.   It was agonizing to watch and to hear.  People who say “all babies cry” or “he just needs to exercise his lungs” have not had a baby with colic.

At first it was terrifying.  We didn’t know what to do. We would change him, feed him, burp him, tear his pajamas off looking for something poking him or a string that got caught on him.  We’d try holding him, rocking him, bouncing him, just laying him down flat, holding him on his side, holding him on his stomach (the “colic” hold) and taking him for a ride in the car.   I even rolled the stroller around and around the kitchen when it was cold outside.  I religiously did “colic massages” on his tummy with every feeding and diaper change.  We tried several types of gripe water, gas drops, and Colic Calm.  Sometimes one of these things would help for a little bit.  He would stop crying so hard but his breathing would never change so we knew we weren’t done for the night.  A bath actually helped the most.  For the 20 minutes or so he was in the warm water he wouldn’t cry that terrible painful cry.   So some nights he had more than one bath.   Maybe I had a baby that was part fish?  Going to a chiropractor helped too.  She would do some gentle holds on his belly and he would let all sorts of trapped gas out.  He would do better for two or three days after that but it didn’t cure him.

Once our doctor diagnosed it as “just colic” it was also terribly depressing.  There is no clear cause for colic and no cure for it.   We were told there was nothing we could do to help our son but continue to try every calming technique until he finally fell asleep  (usually 6 hours later) and wait until he got older when it would magically go away.  I remember coming home from the doctor’s office to tell my husband that the doctor said “there was nothing wrong with Colin.”  On one hand we were so relieved to hear there was nothing seriously wrong but also sad to hear there was nothing we could do to help him.  When I watched Colin, looking as though he was in terrible pain,  I just couldn’t believe there was nothing wrong.  There had to be something wrong.  Babies cry to tell us something.  I was sure Colin was telling me something was hurting but I just didn’t know what.

Colic is tough because it is not one bad day or a week of rough nights.  For us at least it was every night for almost two months.  Weeks into it, my husband and I were exhausted emotionally and physically.    Late one night I googled “Surviving Colic.”  I was looking for answers, looking for any bit of hope.  I needed to know other people had made it through the nightmare called colic and were still sane on the other side.  I was looking for any medicine, soother, special tummy massaging secrets that I didn’t know, hoping someone else knew how to make things better.   I found stories of other parents who had dealt with colic and found comforting knowing there were other people who understood what it was like.

While reading I found  some suggestions to help keep your marriage intact and handle the stress of caring for a colic baby.  One was giving your spouse a night off.  My husband and I began to do this, alternating who held Colin into the wee hours.  One of us would go downstairs with Colin so he wouldn’t keep everyone awake.  That person would hold him and try everything we usually tried until the colic spell passed, usually between 1 and 3 am.  Meanwhile the other might just watch some tv upstairs, read  or go to bed early.   I found that movies with subtitles were great for helping those long nights pass when I had “Colic Duty.”  Colin often preferred to be held upright in my arms while I bounced on an exercise ball.  He would still cry but I could hit the mute button on a movie and read the captions.

One thing we didn’t do enough of was ask for help.  I was scared to let someone else try to care for Colin.  It was so distressing to us to hear that kind of crying, I couldn’t imagine asking anyone else to do it.  We should have though.  Even just to have someone hold him for a few hours while I sat outside or went for a walk.   If anything our marriage has been strengthened by the challenge put before us but it was very stressful. Having an hour or two to just be a couple and decompress a bit would have been helpful.

Throughout the colic ordeal I began noticing other things about Colin that made me wonder about his digestive system.  He had reflux, a lot of gas, a red ring on his bum that wouldn’t go away and green scary poo.   As I began reading I found information that led me to believe Colin had some type of food allergy.  I also read several studies and news articles about probiotics being effective with colicky babies.  After talking with my doctor I gave up all dairy and soy and two weeks later started BioGaia probiotic drops.  We saw a change in his reflux slowly but I think after only 3 or 4 days on the probiotic we saw a huge change in the colic.  It went from being every night to only a few nights a week.   Within two weeks it was gone.  I can’t be sure exactly what helped, the probiotic or diet changes, (probably both) but we couldn’t believe the change.  My husband and I kept looking at each other in disbelief when Colin would go to sleep and stay asleep or just hang out with us, happy and smiling.  For a while we kept thinking it was a fluke, worried that our string of good nights would end but fortunately they continued.

While I can’t guarantee that dietary changes or probiotics will help any other baby, they sure seemed to help us.   I will say to anyone who is dealing with colic now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  You will survive.  Get some help.  Find something, someone, someway to get a break, even if just for an hour.   Colic is rough but you are not alone.   Join an online chat group, take a deep breath and remember that this too will pass.

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