How to cope with a colicky baby

Sometimes babies cry for no reason, for hours, nearly every day, for months. Welcome to hell.

Dad holding crying baby with Colic

All babies cry. This is one of the immutable laws of parenthood – your little bundle of joy will frequently become a very noisy beast.

They switch from happy little gurgles or gentle snores to “I can shatter every ear drum within 100 feet” with decibel defying ease.

It’s natural and, as a dad, it’s just something that you have to stay calm and work through.

Start with the ‘normal crying’ checklist:

1. Has it crapped in its nappy?
2. Does it want a boob or a bottle?
3. Is it tired?
4. Did it hurt itself?
5. Does it need to fart?
6. Did someone look at it funny?

All of these things are fixable, and you’ll have your mini-Satan settled down reasonably quickly.

But sometimes – and I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily – your baby will start to cry for no reason at all. And it won’t stop. For hours. And hours. And hours.

Welcome to the world of colic – a mysterious malady that has threatened the very sanity of many, many good men and their even better halves around the world.

So … what is colic?

Colic is the medical term for when an otherwise completely healthy baby cries excessively, and can’t be soothed. It is considered ‘colic’ if your baby cries for more than three hours in one day, for more than three days in one week, for more than three weeks.

It normally starts when your baby is 3-4 weeks old, and peaks around 6-8 weeks old.

It normally stops when bub’s 4-6 months old.

It affects about 1 in 5 babies, and it’s widely believed to be one of the major causes for what’s known as either the Witching Hour or Arsenic Hour.

Arsenic Hour gets its name from the urge that some parents get to either administer, or simply take for themselves, a dose of something lethal because life has become an unendurable nightmare, thanks to all the screaming and tears.

The crying itself normally kicks off in the mid-to-late afternoon, and will continue all the way through dinner time, until bub decides to stop – all the while sounding (and often looking) like ageing Axl Rose struggling to hit a high note.

In short, it’s a months-long, tortuous nightmare.

Keep calm, and if you’re really worried, call a doctor

If your baby is crying excessively, then it’s a good idea to have it checked out by a doctor, to rule out any other causes.

These include a skin condition known as eczema, and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which is when junior’s stomach acid starts making its way out of their stomach, causing pain.

If the usual suspects that cause lots of crying are ruled out and the doctor says it’s colic, then – and as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news – there’s often literally nothing you can do, other than ride out the tempest and hope it stops a little earlier in the day (or night) the next time.

It can be absolutely devastating to you as a dad – not being able to soothe your baby can be a blow to your confidence. This is normal, but worrying about that doesn’t help.

When to soothe, and when to walk away

It’s likely you’ll have feelings of helplessness, and sometimes even anger – both of which are normal, and both of which are things that you can fix, because they’re happening to you and not the baby.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, say something. Don’t just dump the baby on your missus.

Talk to her about your feelings – she’ll probably be feeling much the same way – and figure out strategies (such as taking 30 minute shifts during the worst of it) that will help.

If your’re alone, make sure there’s always a safe place you can put your baby down and walk away for a few minutes if you need to.

Angry, desperate and sleep deprived is no state to be handling a baby – and in rare cases can lead to some parents unintentionally shaking their babies.

This momentary slip can have devastating consequences, and can leave your baby with permanent disabilities, or much, much worse.

If you feel yourself getting angry, put the baby in that safe place (such as its crib), leave the room, close the door and walk away. Your little one will be fine on its own for a little while. Especially if all the cuddles, bouncing, shushing and rocking weren’t really making much difference anyway.

If you’re really struggling to cope, call for help. Get a relative or friend to come over to assist, while both of you take a time out.

‘Pro tips’ from a dad who survived

I got through my share of the crying times, by sussing out a pretty good method of staying sane.

It involved one of those large, inflatable Pilates exercise balls – I’d sit on the ball, with Blake snuggled in close – and gently bounce up and down.

Sometimes, I’d have an iPhone parked on his belly, connected to noise-cancelling headphones, so I could watch a downloaded TV show while he bellowed and carried on like a lamenting widow.

(If you haven’t already invested in a set of noise-cancelling headphones for your home, I suggest you look into it. They are worth their weight in White Rhino sperm when it comes to getting much-needed relief from the incessant noise.)

Mostly, I tried keeping him upright but cuddled to my chest – mainly because babies tend to swallow a lot of air when they cry, and when they get gassy they’ll end up with a bellyache, which leads to more crying.

So, every now and then, bring the baby up to your shoulder and give it a gentle burping.

Handling “advice” from other people

If baby’s grandparents are in the picture, then prepare yourself for a barrage of advice on how to ’treat colic’.

Some of it will be good advice, such as trying not to overstimulate the baby in the lead-up to when the crying normally starts, and keeping bub’s room darkened during daytime naps.

But, if they start suggesting that you give the baby something to calm it down, it’s probably best to thank them politely for the suggestion, and chat with your doctor.

Old timey ways of dealing with colic included giving your child alcohol. This is a spectacularly bad idea, and should be ignored.

Likewise is trying to ‘gently sedate’ your baby with pain medication (even baby paracetamol) unless it’s on advice from your doctor.

You might also be told that gripe water is a useful tool in the anti-colic arsenal. The problem with gripe water is that there’s absolutely zero scientific evidence that it works.

It’s sold as an over-the-counter remedy, and usually contains sodium bicarbonate (the same stuff you’d use if you’ve had a big night on the turps and your stomach’s upset the next day).

It also usually contains all manner of hippy-dippy herbal stuff, like fruit, vegetable and herb extracts – all of which are claimed to fix colic.

At the end of the day, though, there are some people who swear by it – and provided you talk to your doctor before you start trying it, there’s probably no harm in giving it a go.

If it works for your baby, then congratulations. If it doesn’t, hang in there … colic generally only lasts a few months. In the meantime, there’s no harm in asking for help if it all gets too much.

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