Google Ads

<< previous   next >>

pot luck

“The First Year -- The Witching Hour”

Colic should be a four-letter word. It’s a miserable experience for baby (or at least it seems that way from the endless fits of crying), and it’s no picnic for mom and dad either, who are in a weakened, sleep-deprived state by the time it sneaks up on you, just when you think things are going well.

We brought Emily home from the hospital on the 8th of May, two days after she had entered the world: a beautiful little peanut with a sweet mop of dark hair, swallowed up by a flowered onesie, a handknit white shawl, hat, and booties (threaded with pink ribbon) from her Grandma M. She was in there somewhere.

We arrived back at the apartment, showed her around her new digs, and decided to take her for a tour of the neighborhood, showing her off to friends and neighbors. It was a lovely moment: our baby, who just days before was snug inside my belly, now out in the world for all of us to admire. My emotional high from birth was still going at the time, but it would soon fade into a moshpit of sleepless pain.

In the beginning, at least for the first few weeks of Emily’s life, things were hectic, but relatively manageable. Sure, I had to learn to breastfeed (see The Boob Job), acclimate to waking every hour-and-a-half to her gut-wrenching cries, jumping from a dead sleep into combat-ready action in seconds. I was delirious, racing from my room to hers, strapping myself with a My Brest Friend pillow as I sprinted to the living room where the nursing chair awaited us and where I would stay for the next 45 minutes while she sucked hungrily, nodded off, pooped, sucked some more, and then readied herself for the next round of sleep. This was a pattern I was not happy about, but some nights in the soft early hours of the day, listening to the rare quiet of Smith Street, I was at peace. I had my baby in my arms, and while I was exhausted, and overwhelmed by all of it, it was all okay. This was par for the course with a new baby. They needed to eat every 2-3 hours and I was the milkmaid. And other than the crying for food, she slept soundly and quietly. That is, until about week six. That’s when we met Colic for the first time.

Colic, which is a term defined by more than three hours of crying without any cause, is, quite frankly, a bitch. First off, it happens often after a period of calm and quiet, when the baby is just sort of in shock from being outside the womb. The way I see it, those first few weeks they have shut down emotionally, completely freaked out by the trauma of being pushed out of the birth canal into the real world, and they’re just hoping that someone will have the brains to shove them back in. After four weeks of sleeping most of the day away (and being awake all night), they kind of wise up and realize, “Hey, nobody’s putting me back in my happy place, I am stuck out here in the real world indefinitely!” Their little baby brains may be small but they are not stupid. They know a good thing when they see it and they want back in. And when they realize the birth canal is exit only, the colic begins.

Emily’s colic took the form of some lovely thing called “The Witching Hour.” This “hour,” is really a number of hours, anywhere from two to six in our case, of incessant crying usually beginning around 7pm or so and lasting anywhere from 11pm until 2am depending on the night. There’s been a ton written about it, explaining this as an end of the day breakdown period that some babies experience. They’re done for the day and they don’t know how to soothe themselves yet, and they have no ability to express themselves other than to cry and so that’s what they do, non-stop, for hours.

After reading about The Witching Hour and trying Mylicon (in case it was caused by gas), and gripe water (in case it was caused by gripes), I realized this poor baby was not going to stop crying no way no how. And that opinion was backed up by the books, too. Basically, the experts wrote, there’s not much you can do about colic other than wait it out. All of a sudden, they wrote, the colic will disappear as suddenly as it showed its ugly face, but not until between 3 and 4 months of age. Three or four months? I wasn’t sure I could live through three more days, especially when every day was an endless three-hour cycle of feeding, diapering, napping, feeding, diapering, napping with no beginning or end.

When the crying first started, we had no idea what was happening. One day, late in the evening out of nowhere she started to scream. And she didn’t stop. I was terrified. I thought she was sick or dying. Emily was not a cryer. She was a good baby. We were so proud. Our baby was perfect, we thought. We’d seen those mothers of colicky babies on the streets, dark circles the size of saucers under their eyes, hair knotted and haggard, looking like they’d just come back from hell on the express bus. But not us. Emily slept between feeds and occasionally opened her eyes, looked around, pooped, and went back to sleeping or eating. How wrong we were. Soon, I would be one of those mothers, too.

We called the doctor. “No she has no fever, no signs of distress,” we told her, “she just won’t stop crying.” “Oh, your baby probably has a little colic. It will pass,” the nurse said, sweetly. “Try to keep things calm and quiet at night, don’t let her get overstimulated. Keep the lights down, swaddle her, sing to her. It will pass in a few months.” This was of no help to me. Saying your baby has a little colic is like saying you’re a little pregnant, you either got it or you don’t and Emily had it. “What about a pill or something, maybe she has reflux?” we asked. “No, need. We’ve checked her and she’s fine. It’s just colic,” the nurse said.

“Just colic?” I thought. Wow. This woman has clearly never had a baby with colic because “just” and “colic” are a pair of words that should never be used together. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Oh, it’s just a compound fracture of the leg resulting in the bone sticking out of the flesh of your thigh.” It’s not a “just” situation by any stretch of the word.

We tried feeding her, rocking her, singing to her, and nothing worked, the cries not only continued, they escalated. And so, without any idea what to do to get our little baby to stop crying (and ourselves from self-destructing), we turned to Dr. Harvey Karp’s DVD “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” for help. We wanted our baby to be the happiest one on the block, too. We watched the video and after twenty minutes we’d learned about the fourth trimester and how babies really didn’t want to be out here in the real world and wanted to be back in the womb. We learned about how to create a “womb-like” environment with the five “Ss” – swaddling, shushing, swinging, side-lying, and sucking. And the next time Emily started her battle with herself, we put the S’s to the test.

I swaddled her, Craig held her on her side, with her belly pressed against his wide forearm, and he softly rocked her up and down, with a Soothie pacifier in her mouth. She cried harder for a few seconds, but then suddenly there was quiet. It was as though someone turned off the “WAIL” switch in her brain. There she was wide-eyed and calm, looking at us with her little head poking out of that burrito swaddle. She looked ridiculous, but we were thrilled! Karp was right. After about ten minutes her eyelids got heavy and closed. She was asleep! Voila! We felt great. We had conquered the colic! We walked our little angel into her room and put her down into her crib, and then, just as we were about to high-five in victory, "WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!" She was up. She was mad. “Are you trying to trick me?” she seemed to be saying. “I know you want me to sleep and I am not going to sleep. I want to be rocked and swaddled and shushed. No break!” So we started the rocking and shushing, and side laying and the sucking again and she was quiet, and after 15 minutes she was asleep, eyes closed in la-la land, or so we thought. But just as we laid her down in her crib, her eyes would spring open and her mouth would let out another shrill. We were doomed.

And so we came to the unfortunate realization that while we could calm our daughter, we could not stop moving her, or change her position or the calm would be lost. We tried the electronic swing, but she was having none of that. Eventually, at around 4 months, she did love the swing, but at six weeks it was not doing it. And so Craig, who was the only person who could master Karp’s position—he called it his “sleeper hold”—spent every night, for probably six weeks, for four to five hours at a time, awake with Emily, her little body pressed against his forearm.

To distribute the sleep we both needed, we decided to divide and conquer. Since he could calm her better than anyone, he got her during the 8-12 shift when she was most colicky, and I got the midnight to 5am shift. Lucky for him, his brother had gotten him the MLB package as a gift, and while I slept from 8-midnight he watched West Coast baseball games as evening grew to night, in our living room, with a six week old baby bobbing up and down on his forearm, her blue-gray eyes wide open, watching Papelbon save the game in the bottom of the 9th.

At midnight, he’d come into the bedroom and wake me, passing her off to me like a pudgy baton in some warped baby relay race, and I’d be with her for the rest of the night. By then her screams had usually calmed down and she would eat, then sleep for a few hours and then eat again. I’d try to sleep a few hours while she did, and when she woke up to eat, I’d watch Project Runway or In Treatment with her sucking on my boob until the sun came up over Smith Street, flooding our living room with light. Another night was over. Now I just had 12 more hours of daylight to go until it all started again.  

Emily, we realized through her persistent bouts of nightly colic, was one determined little baby. She seemed perfectly content to continue on with her Witching Hours for weeks, happy to have a forum for venting her frustrations and emotions. But Craig and I were fading fast. We couldn’t go out at night because we feared leaving her with anyone else, so we had no time to ourselves, no break. And as every day passed, I seemed to get more and more tense, counting down the hours until the colic would start, dreading the arrival of night. The days were bliss and the nights, well, not so much.

After about four weeks of these nighttime colic spells, we were really getting raw nerves. Emily was our little love, and she needed rest, and so did we. All this crying and screaming was no good for anyone. While we were assured it was normal, we really needed to find a way to make it stop. At 10 weeks, our pediatrician suggested something called “Sleep Training,” something you might know as “Cry it Out.” When we heard what she wanted us to do, we were not exactly sure we could handle it. But that’s another story, one we’ll get to next week.

Practical Tips for the Fussy/Colicky Baby:
  • Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block DVD
  • Swaddle Blankets: Giggle makes a great basic swaddle blanket in their Better Basics line that is the right size (and the right price) for infants. The Miracle Blanket or Woombie are also great. Have at least four swaddle blankets on hand to rotate through.
  • Soothie Pacifiers: These are sold at Duane Reade or your local drug store and they were the only ones Emily would take. They are the kind you put your pinky finger in so she chews on the nipple and nibbles on you at the same time. Very effective at soothing babies.
    Stroll: Babies respond well to motion. Since Emily only really got cranky at night, that wasn’t an option for us as we didn’t want to walk the streets until 2 am. But if your baby seems to get fussy during the day, try a nice long stroll weather permitting.
  • Swing: A cradle swing is key for babies. We used a Fisher Price model, but anyone with different speeds will work well.
  • Patience with yourself and your Partner: A baby’s cries are hard to take in general, but when it’s your own baby, it’s like a vice grip on your heart. You are in pain emotionally, you are sleep deprived, and cranky yourself. Believe me there were times I just wanted to curl up in Emily’s crib and be swaddled and rocked to sleep myself. You are functioning under a very high level of stress. Tapes of crying babies and sleep deprivation are both methods of torture. So take it easy on yourself and your partner as much as you can. Be patient, be loving, and get help from friends or family who have experience.
  • Talk: Talking to other parents who have been through it is probably the best medicine. They can relate and they can give you advice and hope.
  • Take care of yourself!
Here's to our mothers.

<< previous   next >>
RSS Feed

“Hang in there!!! ”

My nephew also went through a terrible bout of collic during the first several months after he was born. Hang in there!!! It's definitely not an easy thing to go through for baby or mom & dad. You will get through it though, have faith!

Advertise on the
StrongBuzz site and emails.