How to Cope When Your Baby Has Colic

Colic. The mysterious and seemingly never-ending crying can drive you nuts. Here's how to cope with the stress and frustration of a screaming baby.

crying baby Alexandra Grablewski

Everyone knows that newborns cry. A lot. Usually, feeding, changing, or rocking the baby helps to calm the fussing. But if a baby has colic, it's not that simple. "Colic is when a baby cries intensely for three or more hours at a time, usually during the evening hours, on at least three days of the week, for longer than three weeks in a row -- for no apparent reason," says Mary Ann LoFrumento, M.D., author of Simply Parenting: Understanding Your Newborn & Infant.

Colic usually begins around week 2 or 3 of the baby's life and peaks at around 6 to 8 weeks. Unlike with regular infant crying, attempts to stop colic-induced sob sessions by feeding, burping, rocking, or changing the diaper aren't successful. If you think your baby has colic, check with her pediatrician to make sure there isn't something else going on, such as reflux, a string of hair wrapped around Baby's finger, or an illness. The good news: If it is colic, it's short-lived, and your pediatrician can also help find ways to help the colic. Colic usually goes away by 2 or 3 months. Until then, these tips can help you maintain your sanity.

Drop the Mommy Guilt

It can be a real kick to your parental self-esteem when your baby cries for hours at a time. Try not to get too down on yourself. Colic is simply one of those things that happens to some infants. "It's very important to know that colic is not your fault; it has nothing to do with you, your feeding, your parenting, or anything else," says Dr. LoFrumento. Though the exact cause of colic is a mystery (and the theories about it are up for debate), one thing experts do agree on is that parents aren't to blame. Neither is your baby. The baby isn't crying because he's "bad," says Dr. LoFrumento. He is crying because he is uncomfortable and may be having pain. Also, don't beat yourself up about any negative feelings. "Accept your feelings of anger, resentment, and, sometimes, even rage," says Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of The Center for Well-Being: Psychological Services for Children, Youth, and Families in Los Angeles. The feelings are normal, as long as you don't act upon them.

    Share the Load With Others

    Though you may think all "good" moms take on the bulk of the baby tending, it's fine (in fact, it's recommended) to get help. Have your partner deal with the crying baby while you head to another room or head outside for a break. Better yet, split the caretaking days. You take care of the baby one evening; your partner gets her the next (while you relax with some earplugs). Other family members and friends can pitch in, too. If you know your little lady will cry between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., ask your mom to prepare a meal for the family, or ask your sister to babysit for a few hours while you clean the living room earlier in the day.

      Let Out Your Frustrations

      Don't hold in your feelings of annoyance, fear, or disappointment. Call a friend or two when your baby is going through a crying spell and you simply need to talk. Join a support group, post on an online forum for parents of colicky babies, or write your feelings down in a journal. "Anything that you can do to express your pain and frustration ... will be beneficial, whether it's related to feeling inadequate as a parent, being tired and angry because your child isn't sleeping, or managing fights with your partner that occur as a result of the incessant crying," says Dr. Mihalas. Sometimes just knowing other parents have been there (and survived) or venting your stress can relieve you.

        Treat Yourself Once in a While

        Even though you're frazzled and probably down in the dumps about the continuous crying, take care of yourself. Eat properly, get enough sleep, and make time for physical activity. Throw in some self-pampering, such as getting a pedicure, going to a spa, or curling up on the couch to watch your favorite show. Focusing on you and maintaining some of your usual routines will help preserve your energy and ease tension. It's also important to pay attention to your mental state. If you think you might have postpartum depression or you're worried about your ability to care for your baby, contact your health care provider for additional support.

        Savor the Good Moments

        When your baby has been crying for two hours straight, it's hard to think about the good times you've had with him, but try it anyway. Remember how excited you felt when he flashed his first grin. Imagine his sweet little baby smell. Think about how he puckers out his tiny lips when he sleeps. When you take time to appreciate the joyful or "good" moments with your baby, it can make dealing with the difficult ones a little easier.

          Manage Your Anger Better

          Remember to keep your anger in check, no matter what. Don't shake, spank, or yell at your baby. If you feel yourself getting too worked up or losing control, hand the baby over to someone else immediately or put her in the crib and step away for a few minutes. You don't have to go far (and definitely don't leave the house). "Even decreasing the loudness of a cry by being on the other side of a wall or door can lessen the tension," says Dr. LoFrumento. Always seek help through your pediatrician, family doctor, or local crisis intervention services if you feel any violent urges towards your baby or yourself.

            How to Relieve Colic

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