The sound of a baby crying for hours at a time can be heartbreaking. When our son had colic, I remember once thinking that terrible ear-piercing wail was the ultimate sound of failure. I worried that it was somehow my fault and that I was failing my baby right from the outset. They were fears so deep and powerful that I couldn’t have voiced them at the time.
It wasn’t until some time later that I discovered research studies showing that those fears were groundless. I really wished that I’d had that information earlier and so I thought it was important to share it with other parents of ‘fussy’ babies that cry excessively.
Common Worry #1: Is It Because I’m Anxious/Stressed?
Having a baby that screams for hours at a time can leave even the most hardy of souls feeling stressed. For example, I’m a veteran at handling work stress (life as a corporate lawyer will teach you that), and I’ve been through some challenging life experiences that have taught me strong resilience skills, but living with a colicky baby had my stress levels off the charts. My husband is renowned for his relaxed and cruisy nature and even he describes that period of our lives as ‘just horrendous’.
So if you have a baby with colic and you’re feeling stressed out, don’t worry, that is a completely normal response to a difficult situation. Its pretty self evident, but there’s even research that confirms that most parents find having a colicky baby to be very stressful.
However, sometimes people may notice that you’re finding things a bit rough and are not your usual chilled-out self. With the best of intentions, those people will sometimes suggest that your baby would be fine if you could just relax - there is a prevailing urban myth out there that colic is caused by parental anxiety.
It may help to know that this myth is simply unfounded. Researchers have conducted a whole raft of studies investigating whether there is a psychosocial cause of colic and found no evidence that parental anxiety causes colic. For example, even in a study where trained occupational therapists cared for colicky infants, they still cried for twice as long as infants without colic.
Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim to relax as much as you can. Obviously if you can reduce your stress levels that’s going to benefit everyone: you, your baby and your partner. However, you can rest assured that it is not your stress that is causing the colic, and it is very normal for the colic to cause you stress. Sometimes just knowing that can help a little.
Common Worry #2: Am I No Good At Parenting?
The next big worry for parents of colicky babies is that their baby’s excessive crying is because they have poor parenting skills. For example one research study showed that mothers of colicky babies reported feeling less competent as mothers (not that they were less competent, but that they felt that way). Perhaps this isn’t something you’re thinking consciously, but somewhere deep down where those niggling doubts lurk, its common to wonder: “am I a terrible mum (or dad) that I can’t comfort my own baby?” I know that thought occurred to me…
The most commonly accepted medical definition of colic is a baby whose needs have all been met and who is otherwise healthy, but who cries for more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks. A key symptom of colic is that the baby is very difficult/impossible to console by cuddling and soothing.
It is really important to absorb that for a second – practically by definition, a baby with colic will be very difficult to settle. So the fact that you’re finding it hard is simply because your baby has colic, it is not because you’re no good at parenting.
So when you watch a friend or someone in your new parents group quickly and easily calm their grizzly baby, you don’t need to wonder if they share a special bond that you’re missing or if they have some natural maternal/paternal instinct that you lack. The difference is simply that your baby has colic and theirs does not.
Don’t Despair, There are ‘Super Settling Skills’ You Can Learn
Although settling a colicky baby is very difficult, there are specialist skills and tricks of the trade that can help you enormously. For example, there are advanced settling techniques that you can learn that are very effective, even with colicky babies. There are also a whole range of options that you can try that can address the underlying cause/s of your baby’s colic. Once you address the underlying cause/s, you’ll find that settling your baby becomes an entirely different experience. You can check out my book if you want more information about any of this.
Do you have another colic worry lurking that you’d love an answer to? Let me know and I’ll look into it for you.
Take care out there,