When I was pregnant with my first child, I truly believed that my son would be just like all of the babies I had met in my 35+ years of life. I thought he’d sleep a lot and cry a little when he was hungry or needed a diaper change. As the oldest of 30 cousins and an aunt to 5 young kiddos, I’d been around a lot of babies in my lifetime. We love to pass the babies around at family events, and every baby I’ve ever known has simply snuggled up and slept like a happy little baby.
Nothing could have prepared me for the birth of my son.
My baby came out of the womb crying and he never stopped. My mother always warned me that I was a colicky baby, screaming my head off in the evening during the “witching hours.” However, my son’s crying was colic on steroids. He cried all day and all night, sleeping in spurts of 1-2 hours max, and nothing seemed to help.
When you’re in this situation, you’re desperate, and no one understands except a mother who has been there before. Despite multiple pediatricians’ assurances that our child was just fine, he seemed to be wailing in pain. All I wanted to do was find help for him and a bit of sanity for my husband and myself. So, I read everything I could find, I bought everything I could afford to buy, and we tried it all.
Below are my tips and tricks to help you survive those minutes, hours and weeks that seem like an eternity until your little one finally starts to chill out and adjusts to his or her new world
1. Accept that Your Baby is a Crier – Letting go of my expectations was incredibly difficult. I had imagined toting my little guy around in the baby wrap, going to post-natal yoga classes, and getting work done while my son napped, but I couldn’t do any of it! We were bound to our home, unless we were brave enough to take a screaming baby into public (which I wasn’t). You need to accept that your baby is higher maintenance than others. The sooner you accept the reality, the sooner you can focus on survival.
2. Know that Your Baby is Ok – If you’ve seen one or six different pediatricians and they are telling you that your baby is fine, then it’s probably time to accept their expert opinions. In all of my late-night Googling, I came across this incredible resource called “The Period of Purple Crying.” I highly suggest you look into it as it explains this developmental phase that all babies go through. Some babies, like my son, just take it a little more seriously than others.
3. Get Some Help – No mother should have to suffer through this time alone, you need a partner. If the baby’s father is not an option, bring in a family member or hire someone. I don’t have family nearby, but I was fortunate that my husband was able to take some time off work and we hired a part-time nanny from Care.com once he went back to work. Even a few hours of rest or a couple hours of alone time per day can work wonders for your sanity. If you don’t have a friend or family member who can help out a little or the financial resources to hire someone, there are other options. Here in Austin, we have a thriving Facebook community of mothers called “Austin Mom’s Network.” From time to time I will see a plea from a mother who is at her wits end and needs a little help. I am proud to witness dozens of fellow moms step up and answer the call to volunteer.
4. Sleep in Shifts – if you are fortunate to have help, specifically the help of a husband or partner, a lot of us make the mistake of everyone waking up during the night every time the baby cries. This results in a lot of wasted energy that needs to be conserved. Instead, try sleeping in shifts. I would sleep in our bedroom from 6 p.m. to Midnight and then switch with my husband who would sleep from Midnight to 7 or 8 a.m. Depending on my husband’s schedule, I would sneak in a 1-2 hour nap after he woke up. Then, we would take on the day. My husband would get the better, longer sleep slot because he was our breadwinner and typically had to go to work the next morning. It’s important to make your bedroom a sanctuary with blackout curtains and a white noise machine, as you need to be able to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. The other parent/partner can take the couch (or guest room or nursery) during his shift with the baby. Of course, if you are sleeping in shifts and breastfeeding, you will need to start pumping into bottles so your partner can feed while you’re sleeping.
5. Buy Noise Cancelling Head Phones – My husband ordered these noise-cancelling headphones after a couple weeks of torture, and at first I thought he was nuts. What kind of “horrible” parent would block out her baby’s cries? As it turns out: me! There will be so many hours spent with your baby crying in your arms, so pop on your Bluetooth headphones and tune into a calming station and get some Zen. Or, put on some workout tunes while you bounce that baby to sleep on an exercise ball. You can even catch up on your favorite Netflix shows with your baby screaming in your arms. The headphones won’t drown out the baby’s cries entirely, but just enough to make a difference for your mental health.
6. Learn the Magical 5 S’s for Soothing – Did one of your friends tell you about Dr. Harvey Karp’s “The Happiest Baby on the Block?” These are incredible soothing techniques…for normal babies. However, you can modify them to make them work for your super fussy baby. Remember, the goal here is to recreate the womb:
Swaddle: your little crier is probably a fighter too, and you’ve tried swaddling, but he keeps breaking out of the swaddle or acts like he doesn’t like it. In the womb, your baby didn’t have much space. He was tucked up in a little ball, all warm and cozy. He wants that sensation back. Rather than fighting to swaddle him in a blanket, try one of these ready-made swaddles like these from SwaddleMe. Then, use a muslin blanket and traditionally swaddle him again very tightly. It’s unlikely that the perfect swaddle will be the only “S” you’ll need to soothe your baby, but it is step 1 in the equation.
Side or Stomach Position: according to Dr. Karp, the back is the worst position for calming a fussy baby, and I would have to agree. We found that the side position worked best. Just watch some of the YouTube videos of the 5 “S’s” and be amazed (and jealous) as some babies simply stop crying after being swaddled and then turned to the side. Please note that “back is still best” for sleeping once your baby finally dozes off.
Shush: There is a huge misconception that babies need peace and quiet. In fact, the womb is a very noisy place. Mama’s blood is racing through to the beat of the heart, “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh,” and the baby has a front row seat to the concert of our bodily functions. Dr. Karp recommends “shushing” with your mouth, “shh, shh, shh…” Soooo, that doesn’t work with super fussy babies, it just leads to a really sore throat for mama. Instead, try a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner. The hair dryer was the only thing that worked for our son, and we would let it run even after he went to sleep. We burnt through several hairdryers during those first few fussy months. (One important note, make sure your hairdryer has a very cold setting to prevent fire or burns.) You are welcome to try the many digitally recorded options out there; we didn’t find that they worked as well for us as the real thing. It was a big day when we finally retired the hairdryer and transitioned to a more traditional white noise machine. Currently, we use the Marpac Dohm Classic, and my son still calls it his “shh, shh, shh.
Swing: unless you were confined to a straight jacket on a bed for the past 9 months, your baby is used to movement. Your womb is a very jiggly place, and your baby has been along for the ride. The swinging, when combined with the other S’s, was the only way our little one would go to sleep. If you are going to swing him manually, which is the only thing that worked for us, I highly recommend that you watch Dr. Karp’s DVD or you watch some instructional YouTube videos as it’s very important that you never, ever shake your baby. When our arms would get too tired of swinging, we would use our legs and place the baby on his side on a pillow on top of the knees and then windshield wiper our legs back and forth (I nearly had 6-pack abs after a couple months – bonus!). Once the baby was sleeping, we would move him to a vibrating bouncer like this one from Fisher Price.
There are tons of difference swings on the market, and I certainly cannot speak to all of them. We had received the fancy 4Moms mamaRoo as a gift, and it did nothing for our baby – he hated it. Needless to say, I was hesitant to spend a bunch of money on something else that didn’t work. I just recently purchased the Graco Duetsoothe for our second-time-around baby. This swing has 2 different motions, including side to side, plus vibration. I’ll update this post once we see how it goes.
The truth is: every baby is different. Some kids will go to sleep driving around in the car seat (not mine!). Some kids love a traditional swing. All you can do is try, but be aware that what works today may not work in a couple weeks (sigh with me here…).
Suck: do you remember all of that judgment you passed before you had your baby? “Oh, I won’t be THAT mom.” Let’s take a moment to laugh at ourselves as we become THAT mom. You are in survival mode, and you need to do whatever it takes (and is safe). So, if that means introducing a pacifier before you are ready – do it. If that means sticking your nipple in the baby’s mouth every time he starts crying – do it. If that means that you’re pumping breastmilk into bottles so you can take turns with your partner putting baby to sleep – do it. Those baby books and schedules weren’t written for moms like us, we need a survival guide.
7. Will ________ Work for my Baby? – You name it, and we probably tried it. We cleaned off the shelves at Walgreen’s and I spent hours searching the internet for a “magic cure”: Gripe Water, Colic Calm, baby probiotics, the Happi Tummy belly wrap, gas drops, the Windi, herbs and teas. I went on an elimination diet and ate nothing but brown rice, avocado and grilled chicken for a month. For us, none of these things worked. But, let me stress that every baby is different, and I don’t want to stop you from trying. Just please don’t read the positive reviews and pin all of your hopes on one of these “cures.” I should mention that our baby was diagnosed with acid reflux, so he was also taking an antacid. However, in retrospect, I think to some extent our pediatrician just gave us an antacid because we had convinced ourselves that something had to be wrong with our baby. The antacid didn’t really seem to make much difference.
8. Know When It’s Time to Put the Baby Down & Walk Away – When you combine the fact that you just gave birth (the equivalent of running a marathon or having major surgery) along with lack of sleep and a whole shit ton of hormones, frankly, you aren’t thinking straight. Our emotions can go haywire. Crying everyday was my new normal. In fact, I remember texting my sister after a few months, I was so proud because it was the first week that I hadn’t cried once the whole week. Frustration, anger, sadness, desperation, these are all feelings that you’re probably having. I did too. It’s not fair, is it? Why did I have to get the baby that cries all the time? What’s important is recognizing those feelings and know when they’re getting beyond your control, especially anger and depression.
Anger & Frustration: never shake your baby; never throw your baby. You may not be able help but feel these urges when you’re exhausted and you’ve been trying to soothe your baby for hours. If you ever get the urge to shake or throw your baby, lay him down in a safe place like the crib or on the floor and walk away. Go outside and get some fresh air. Call someone you trust. Cry it out in the bathroom. Do whatever you need to do to help the feeling pass. My husband would often remind me that our baby wasn’t crying on purpose, he was just so fresh and so new, and he is just adjusting. Put yourself in your baby’s little shoes, the world is a big scary place compared to where he spent the last 9 months.
Depression: mama, please know that you are not alone. If you’re depressed and having a hard time bonding with your baby, then you need to talk to your doctor. If you are having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby: get help now. Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Post partum depression is very common, and there are solutions, especially during this difficult time as a new mother. Please don’t lose hope.
The first year of my son’s life is a blur for me. I won’t lie, his crying was a traumatic experience, and one that took a good amount of time to recover from. My eyes still swell with tears when I hear a baby crying in public, and my heart goes out to the new mama who is flustered and doing her best to calm him.
One mantra I have kept on repeat since day one is, “the days are long, but the years are short.” I tried to keep this in mind as I was counting the minutes. As time goes on, this mantra has only become more and more true. Believe it or not, one day you may yearn for the days of soothing your crying infant, and you might even be brave enough to have another one (I’m due in December!).
As you sit at home right now with crying baby in one arm, and your other hand on your phone desperately searching the web for solutions, I want you to know one thing: you are NOT a bad mother. In fact, you are a great one. Your job right now is to keep your child safe and healthy, and give him love. As long as you are doing that, you are doing a great job – even if he just won’t stop crying.