Suddenly I could hear the car radio clearly for the first time in months. I glanced back with hesitation not wanting to disrupt this new found peace: he was awake, but not crying. This was a small miracle. My son cried for most of his first few months of his life.
His crying bouts seemed longer and more intense than other babies his age. As new parents we tried everything to soothe him, but nothing seemed to work. Could a red-faced, wailing baby with tightly-clenched fists and knees tucked into his belly really be healthy? I would often debate this question with my husband during the nightly crying episodes.
During a routine baby visit, my doctor hesitantly suggested my son had colic. At first I was thrilled to have a label, because that meant there may be a solution. However I quickly learned this “condition” is highly debated and rarely agreed upon. The cause of colic is unknown. Some experts believe the central nervous system is still fine tuning itself, and others think it has to do more with the baby’s temperament.
When a baby cries long and hard (without a break), even though he’s been fed, changed, cuddled, the baby is said to be “colicky.” New information suggests that colic is actually a “normal part of a baby’s development” (Caring for Kids, 2014). It seems colic is now thought to be just the high end of normal crying. I quickly learned that crying peaks at around 2 months of life and its frequency and intensity usually taper off around 3-4 months. Some babies cry because of other underlying reasons, so call your doctor if you have additional concerns about your baby.
In our home, the intense crying got worse in the late afternoon and evening. This seemed to be common with many young babies. We were relieved to learn our son was otherwise the picture of health, and I was reassured to know he was meeting his developmental milestones.
It also felt great to know you can’t spoil a baby when responding to their cries, because it’s one of the ways they communicate with you. Responding in a prompt, warm and sensitive way is actually building attachment. It was a good thing we were doing a lot of responding!! I discovered that the daily amount of crying decreased the more I held my little guy. (This effect is now actually backed by some good research.) When he wasn’t all crinkled up and red faced we would peacefully admire each other, hand-in-hand on the sofa. Some days that wasn’t possible, so I learned how to babywear, and it was a lifesaver for both of us. Moms are almost always right (wink, wink) and mine said “at times babies cry and we don’t always have a solution, and that’s alright.” So perhaps he just needed to exercise his lungs.
Please don’t feel defeated and hopeless if your baby is like mine; you are not a “bad” parent, and you haven’t brought this on. If the crying gets the best of you, and likely it may, take a break. It’s perfectly OK. You are key to this relationship thriving. Put baby down in a safe spot, like their crib, and find some needed emotional relief by listening to a favourite tune, grabbing a few minutes of fresh air, or by taking up an offer of help from a friend/family/doula.
Admittedly, for 2 months I avoided public spots. I felt overwhelmed because of his unexpected and inconsolable outbursts. One day, feeling brave, I attended a parent/baby drop-in group at our local Ontario Early Years Centre. That day everything changed. I met some other parents who had babies that also liked to exercise their lungs! These weekly outings gave me heaps of needed support and confidence in my parenting. I also learned about a few new ways to comfort my baby, including the benefits of “white noise”. The more we went out, the more I was able to manage the crying outburst.
This period in my life taught me a lot about my relationship, my parenting and myself. I found a new respect and admiration for the challenges new parents face. It was truly trial by fire. I now have a happy, healthy and resilient twelve year old who just giggles when we tell him about his first few teary months of life: “wow that really happened” he says with a smile on his face.
Trust me… you too will get through this trying time!
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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.