Dark Days with Colic: How-To Cope When A Baby Won't Stop Crying

Cute Baby
This is my daughter. 
Cute, right? 

And the tongue out isn't an accident, she has impeccable comedic timing. She's our funny girl.

She was also a complete nightmare for the first 6-8 months of her life. 

By the time I was pregnant with my third child I thought I had a decent handle on things. So did everyone else. The medical professionals I dealt with throughout my pregnancy and after she was born looked at  me as if to say "Oh you're an old pro at this." They used medical terms and talked about testing as if it was all second nature to me. When I delivered my daughter in less than 20 minutes without so much as a groan, the nurses called me a Rockstar. I kind of felt like one too.  

Then we took our daughter home...

Immediately it was obvious she had reflux: always fussy after eating (especially evening feedings), spitting up constantly, and the sound of fluid rising and falling in her esophagus.

She couldn't sleep flat in her crib. In fact, the only time she did sleep was in her car seat (which we had to haul up and down a flight of stairs until she fell asleep).

She had horrible gas that would periodically obstruct her bowel.

She needed to be carried constantly, and wouldn't go to other people. She'd shriek and cry even if you stopped looking at her sometimes. Car rides were absolute misery.

She spent hours crying each and every day. When she cried it was hard to remember that she did anything other than cry. I would call my husband at work and put the phone up to our daughter so he could hear what our day was like.

I took my daughter in to see our family doctor, who looked at me and said (deadpan) "Do you think she has colic?" I tried to answer with as much seriousness as I could muster, but I couldn't help but think "Aren't YOU the doctor?", and "what kind of medical term is colic anyway?!"

I'd entertained the idea that she had colic. The problem was that nobody seemed to know what the hell colic was. It appeared to be a placebo word slapped on fussy babies to make parents feel better about having fussy babies.

No one could offer any reasonable advice and, stuck at home with a screaming baby all day, I was starting to lose my grip on sanity.

It was in this desperation that two things happened: my mother-in-law told me about Purple Crying, and I found a study about breastfeeding mothers who stopped drinking milk.

Purple Crying 

is essentially crying that cannot be soothed. While all babies cry, some infants- like my daughter- cry significantly more than others because they don't learn self soothing. It's not a learning disability, and it's not something she wasn't taught. It's a phase. A really, horribly unpleasant phase. And for our funny little girl it was severely aggravated by dietary issues.

In an effort to address the dietary issues, I spent countless hours scouring online parenting sites, forums, any resource I could get my hands on. I paid special attention to everything that could potentially be the source. But I never considered that drinking milk might be the issue. I'd always been told that breastfeeding mothers should be drinking milk. How could my daughter be lactose intolerant to MY MILK? But as soon as I cut it out, my daughter was noticeably more comfortable.

As much internet scouring as I did, I didn't find a lot of candidness about these 'Dark Days' (as my husband refers to them). In fact, I stumbled over one after another serene mommy sites with no helpful advice whatsoever.

From a mom who's come through the Dark Days, and didn't always feel so serene, here's what kept me sane:

Putting my screaming baby down

Even if I felt guilty, sometimes I had to set her in her crib, and walk away for 5-10 minutes to gather myself. Getting to a part of the house where I couldn't hear her crying refreshed me enough to look past the helplessness of those moments.

Getting outside

This worked nearly 100% of the time. It wasn't always practical (especially because she was born in the dead of winter) but taking my daughter outside- even if it was just to grab the mail- would calm her down immediately. Changing the scenery didn't always work, but fresh air almost always did.

Dropping preconceived notions. 

At one point I remember thinking that people with fussy babies were somehow nurturing fussiness. I know it's ridiculous, but I did. Because my first two kids were so even keeled I wasn't very prepared for a baby with so many 'issues'.
After every need and want was crossed off the list, my youngest would often still be beside herself. Sometimes it wasn't about needing anything, so the best thing we could do was to make sure she was OK, and find the best possible way to cope.

Asking for help. 

I'm not always good at it, but I think it's important to show my kids how to ask for help when it's needed. Admitting that I was getting overworked, and spelling out exactly what I needed from my family, gave me a bit of peace of mind and brought us all a bit closer by sharing responsibilities.

Thinking Ahead. 

Anyone stuck in a room with a crying baby for long enough can attest to how torturous it can be. For the people responsible for that baby, it's a special kind of torture. You can feel worried, frustrated, helpless, angry, weak, exhausted, and overwhelmed. You can feel like you're not a very capable parent. It's not a good headspace to make decisions in.
Gathering resources in the calm moments gave me important coping tools for the difficult moments:

    Jane Barkley and Baby
  • Writing down things that were effective (and the stuff that wasn't) was not only helpful for me, but for other care givers too. 
  • Having pictures, videos, and the words of loved ones was a reminder of how capable I am (invaluable in those moments when I felt at a total loss). Find a picture that reminds you of a good parenting moment, a video of you having fun with the kids, get someone you know to write down something positive about you as a parent. When you feel like a good parent, you're more likely to make the decisions of a good parent.
  • Sometimes the most frustrating thing isn't actually the crying baby, it's trying to accomplish other things while your infant is completely beside herself. Our days were much more manageable when the daily stuff was prepared in advance (outfits, meals, distractions...).

I'm not a rockstar. I'm not an expert. I'm a parent, just like you. What do you do to manage the difficult moments?

You should visit me on YouTube HERE.