Shaken babies? I can almost understand how parents get to that point. I understand how a mother might be so sleep deprived, so angry and frustrated that she might do something so unthinkable.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I excuse it.
That doesn’t mean I would ever (ever!) harm my child. What it does mean is that I know that moment of dark desperation – the panic, frustration, and confusion that set in after hours of struggling to calm a fussy baby.
When my daughter was born, I was recovering from an unplanned C-section and battling postpartum depression. Motherhood made me feel like a fish out of water. My body ached, breastfeeding was painful and endless, and I couldn’t – for the life of me – connect with the strange creature in my arms. I felt guilty and ashamed. I was convinced my baby didn’t even like me and, truth be told, there were moments when the feeling was mutual.
Read more: The new mom advice I wish I’d received
To make matters worse, my daughter was colicky, meaning she was inconsolable for the better part of the day. For the first months of her life, she was not so much a baby, but an open mouth that just screamed and screamed. But bit by bit, mothering a fussy baby got easier, my depression abated, and I was able to truly bond with the child in my arms. Now, almost two years later, I’ve become the sort of alien mom who actually misses her kid during nap time.
Why am I writing this? Because somewhere there is a woman pacing the nursery floor at 3 in the morning, a red-faced baby in one arm and her phone set to Google in the other. She’s looking for connection, comfort, and direction. She’s looking for a lifeline. If you’re that woman, this one’s for you:
How to survive a colicky baby
Believe in a silver lining: Now that I’ve seen the lowest lows of motherhood, I can truly appreciate the amazing, joyful, and funny little being my daughter is turning out to be. Of course, colic or not, I would’ve always noticed the magic spark in her – but after so many tough months, I am too thankful for these good days to take much for granted. Enduring a colicky baby taught me patience, kindness, and strength. In the end, when those screaming days were over, I could look back with a newfound confidence, too. As a seasoned mom of a fussy baby, I delight in calming the babies of my friends and family. After all, I had five solid months of training for this sort of thing! I’ll admit, I’m a master.
Know that it gets better: There’s a reason everyone says this line, and that’s because it’s true. Most cases of colic take a turn for the better at three months when baby’s digestive system matures. If all else fails, hang in there and bide your time.
It’s OK to feel angry: I can’t think of one single person who could endure hours and hours of high-pitched screaming without wanting to snap. It’s OK – dare I say even normal – to wrestle with weird feelings about your fussy baby. You love him or her, absolutely. But you’re also feeling defeated, guilty, annoyed, confused, frustrated, and about a million other emotions we’re taught moms just aren’t supposed to have when it comes to their babies.
Know when to walk away: Speaking of that angry feeling, when it reaches peak levels, know that it’s time to put baby down in a safe place and walk away. There will certainly be times when all your best calming efforts do nothing but make your child even more upset. If you feel like you can’t soldier on with patience and gentleness, lay your little one down in his or her crib, close the door quietly, and give yourself a breather. Make yourself a cup of tea, call your mom, burst into tears, whatever you need to do to blow off a little steam for a few minutes. When you’ve regained your composure, get back to your son or daughter and try, try again.
Read more: Breastfeed your way to a calmer baby
Seek out support: In the first months of my baby’s life, the two of us spent nearly every day at my sister’s house. She had a one-year-old and there was something about being around a seasoned mom that made me feel like everything would be OK. Call a good friend, find a therapist, even look up parent support groups online. Erickson University in Chicago, IL has a Fussy Baby Network that sends specialized counselors out for home visits to help you cope. If you’re not in the area, they have a free, national hotline for parents who need a listening ear and some fresh techniques for calming their kids.
Invest in a baby carrier: If your fussy baby is the type who never wants to be put down, then get thee to the baby store. I tried every carrier on the market and found that carrying my baby in a stretchy wrap allowed for a snug, customizable fit that made her feel comfortable and secure. Most babies are calmed by gentle movements, so wearing your little one while you do household chores, run your errands, etc may make for a more blissed out baby.
Take your time: Now that our daughter is a toddler, my husband and I often look back and laugh at the outrageous things we did to calm her. It was a stroke of luck that made me realize she was instantly calmed by the sound of the hairdryer. There were many nights I spent running up my electric bill while I swayed her back and forth in the dark with the blowdryer on low across the room. (Pro tip: The Sound Sleeper iPhone app has a host of sounds ranging from hairdryer to vacuum sweeper to car ride just for this purpose.) We did lunges, we bounced on an exercise ball, and we found just the right swaddle to help calm her. The point is, experiment. Treat this situation like a challenge and eventually you’ll find the little tweaks and techniques that offer soothing comfort to your little one.
Read more: Genius strategies for calming your baby