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Calming the Beast

The results of last week’s poll are in, and this has to be the most evenly-voted poll yet!

I was interested in hearing how you all dealt with that newborn fussiness, and every item I listed was voted for pretty consistently; there was no clear winner.

What does this mean?

It means when you’re desperate, you’ll try anything, and no amount of baby gear is too much if it buys you five minutes of peace.

Seriously, though, I’ve never seen one magic bullet for the colic thing; it’s the sort of problem that has to have a variety of solutions periodically rotated through. And while we’re on the subject, “colic” is sort of a made-up term that is medical jargon for “we don’t know why your baby cries.” Many babies who are dismissed with colic actually have either a food allergy which is being triggered either through something that the mother is eating and passing on through her breast milk, or by formula; or it’s infant reflux, which is diagnosable and treatable.

The accepted definition for colic is unexplained crying that lasts for at least three hours, at least three days a week, for at least three weeks. By the time you’ve gotten to that point, of course, you don’t give a rat’s butt that you’ve earned the definition of colic, believe me. You just want it to stop.

Newborn colic usually kicks in somewhere between 2 and 4 weeks old, peaks around 6 weeks, and should dissipate around 13 weeks. When Maddie started her uncontrollable crying at 2 ½ weeks, a friend comforted me with those numbers.

Thirteen weeks! That was six times as long as she’d been alive! I was pretty sure I’d be dead by 13 weeks. Just reading back through an early blog about this period with Maddie made my blood pressure go up. Good times.

Classic colic should strike at about the same time every day, usually late afternoon or early evening. It shouldn’t be tied to a baby’s eating pattern; that is, baby shouldn’t be crying after or during every meal. If he is, you should talk with your doctor about the allergy or reflux possibility. And though it doesn’t seem possible while your child is heading into his third straight hour of red-faced screaming, it will end. The crying periods will get shorter, I promise. Meanwhile, here’s what worked for me, and for the people who voted last week:

Movement Your newborn’s been rhythmically rocked by you for the past nine months; chances are it will definitely help now. Wearing your baby in some sort of soft carrier will save your arms and probably help your baby fall asleep. We used the Baby Bjorn to great success; we heard tales from our friends Graham and Rebecca of wearing the baby in the Bjorn and pacing for hours on end while the spouse read books out loud. So we put Maddie in, and it worked well. We walked endless loops of figure eights around the living and dining rooms, often at 2 a.m. while half awake. We also programmed a couple colic playlists on Brian’s MP3 player, which kept us bopping steadily – if halfheartedly – for hours at a time. The music and movement combination really helped, and she had definite opinions about the music selection, trust me. I also have a sling  that I really loved if you’d prefer to go that route. My girlfriend Bev was a pro with the sling, but her son Danny preferred to ride in the Bjorn if his dad Todd was the pack mule. Todd spoke stoically of many nights walking Danny in the Bjorn around the neighborhood at 1 a.m.; I’m sure the bar crowds in their area enjoyed the floor show. I added a big exercise ball to the mix; wearing Maddie in the Bjorn and sitting and bouncing on the ball was aces for her and allowed me to sit down every once in a while.

Artificial Movement I can’t say it enough; if you buy one piece of equipment for your newborn, make it a bouncy seat. We put Maddie in the bouncy seat starting almost immediately with swaddling blankets rolled up on either side to keep her from falling over. It’s semi-reclined, and you can strap ‘em in while your arms get the circulation back. The vibrating setting is GOLDEN. Believe me, you do not want to run out of batteries. You can also try the portable swing; it’s a bit more reclined than a regular upright swing so can be used earlier. Some people swear by the car; the motor vibration is a guaranteed sleeping potion. And the best part is, baby can fall asleep in the car seat, you can carry her in, and let her sleep there! We never tried it; I was too worried she’d get hooked on it and we’d need to drive her every night to get her to sleep. But it’s a life-saver for many people.

Distractions White noise is a big thing for infants; I don’t know why, except that perhaps it sounds like the womb or shuts out all the over-stimulation going on around them. We’d sit in the bathroom with the water running to bring her back from the edge sometimes; my girlfriend Renee also suggested running the hair dryer, which worked well. Just put it on cold air, or don’t point it at your baby . . . White noise machines work well too, and some people make CDs of white noise. Don’t go for the Rainforest or Woodsy Evening sounds; they aren’t scrambled enough. Go for the CDs with such hits as “Car Engine” and “Washing Machine”. You can also do the “shushing” thing. It’s crazy, but shushing loudly and firmly in your newborn’s ear will help. I promise.

Soothers And finally, look for ways to help the baby soothe himself. After several rejected pacifiers, we found one that worked  bought 20 of them, and placed them all over the house. Sucking will comfort almost any newborn, and if you’re not interested in being a human pacifier consider an artificial one. Many babies will outgrow them naturally in the first few months; Maddie used hers a ton right up to three months, but when she was coordinated enough to get her thumb to her mouth she switched herself. We also found swaddling to be very helpful, especially at night.

My girlfriend Bev recommended The Happiest Baby On The Block to me, and it was a lifesaver. It discusses proper swaddling techniques and offers several great soothing suggestions for newborns. I know I raved about it in an earlier blog  but it bears repeating. I think it should be required reading for all parents-to-be.

As I said earlier, your newborn’s crying may not be simply colic. If you’re concerned, keep track of your baby’s patterns: when she cries, what it’s during, what she looks like, and so forth. Talk about it with your pediatrician, and if your gut says it’s something else, go with your gut. Maddie had reflux and was a different baby once we got that figured out. But that’s a blog for a different day.

If it’s “just” colic, give the suggestions above a try. And know that you’re not alone. Just look around; if you see another haggard, sleep-deprived adult taking funny bouncing, dancy steps while shushing loudly in her newborn’s ear, give her a sympathetic smile of camaraderie. But for heaven’s sakes, don’t say hi; you might wake the baby. 


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