Sunday, February 16, 2014

Coping with Colic

When I was pregnant I was amazed at some of the things people would say to me about parenthood... that I would never be able to go to the bathroom alone again, that I'd never have time to go for a run, and that I should, “Enjoy my sleep now...” (which by the way I think is one of the meanest things you can say to a pregnant woman who has to get up 5 times a night to pee, can’t sleep on her back or stomach, and feels generally huge and uncomfortable).  I was told repeatedly that I would hate my husband, that my body would be unrecognizable, and that it would be really, really hard.

It has been hard at times.  Any parent of a colicky baby would be insane to tell you otherwise.  At the hospital when she was less than a day old our pediatrician told us our daughter was “a fussy baby.”  Around three weeks, our darling daughter started crying around the clock anytime when she wasn’t eating or sleeping.  Without any point of reference, at first Mike and I thought it was normal.  People always tell you being a parent is hard, so we thought this was why.  She would be inconsolable, and no amount of cuddling, bouncing, or love made any kind of a difference.  We tried a swing, we tried a vibrating chair, we tried a pacifier (although I resisted for three weeks because I was worried about nipple confusion). I went to a lactation consultant, eliminated gluten and dairy from my diet, and started putting cabbage in my bra to slow my milk supply.  We swaddled, we rocked, we gave her baths, we changed her diaper, we put on a white noise app, we put her in an outfit warmed in the dryer.  I reread The Happiest Baby on the Block.  I walked laps and laps and laps around the house.  We tried colic tabs, gas drops, probiotic drops, and a Zantac prescription (heartburn medicine, not Xanax the tranquilizer... although at times I might have thought about it).  I Googled and soaked up every word I could read of anything that might possibly work or any parent who had gone through the same thing.

Still she would scream.  Her mouth was wide open, her eyes slammed shut, her face would turn bright red, and her fists clenched tightly and shaking.  She would just wail.  Sometimes we could laugh it off... we called her “our little Mussolini.”  Other times (usually when I was particularly exhausted, like the night she was up screaming from 4 to 7 a.m. and the only thing that finally got her to stop was swaddling her arms down, shoving a pacifier in her mouth, and shh-ing in her ear as loudly as we could) it was just heartbreaking.  I felt like my daughter didn’t love me, and like I was a terrible mother because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.  I just wanted to fix it.  She couldn’t tell me what was wrong and I couldn’t figure it out, and I was so tired.  

I was afraid to leave the house with her because it was winter and we didn’t want her to get germs.  I wasn’t allowed to work out, and it took me more than 6 weeks to stop bleeding after she was born.  My stitches really hurt, and it was hard to sit in certain positions to feed her or get her up or put her down because of them.  She often didn’t want to go to bed before 1 or 2 a.m.  When I was up with her in the middle of the night I felt lonely, and it usually took at least an hour and a half to get her back down.  When I put her back down she would often wake up 2 or 3 times, and then I’d have to start the process all over again to calm her down and put her back again.  Breastfeeding was painful.  I could never tell whether she’d had enough, and sometimes she would have projectile spit up that would cover us both and scare her so much she’d start crying again.  I had a major oversupply issue, and if I dared to change her diaper before I fed her I would leak through my t-shirt and make a giant puddle on the hardwood floor.  I dreaded the nights because I had no idea when she would wake up or how often, or how hard it would be to get her to go back to sleep when she did.  A ride in the car or a walk in the ergobaby would usually knock her out, but sometimes even that was hopeless, plus it was incredibly sad to feel like everytime my daughter woke up, all I was doing was trying to knock her out again.

We had pediatrician appointments at least once a week, if not more often.  On one particularly awful afternoon we waited over an hour for our appointment (which is tough when you’re trying to keep a colicky baby occupied) and then when they suggested I breastfeed her through a vaccine she projectile spit up all over us both, which only made her cry harder.  None of the doctors could help, they just said it was colic and we had to deal with it and that it should go away when she was 3 or 4 months.  That broke my heart even more because I knew it would be right when I would be going back to work.

Writing about it now I realize that I forgot so much already.  She’s 2 months old today and things have gotten so much better.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism.  You forget the issues of one month so you’re prepared to face the problems that might be lurking right around the corner.  I'm sure that if I'm lucky enough to become a grandmother, the wonderful parts of motherhood will have long since painted over the sleepless nights and the days of screaming.  I honestly have never been happier in my life, and as cliche as it may be, being a mom is the best thing I've ever done.  I love my child more than I ever thought possible and her crying has gotten so much better.

Of course, I wish I'd known during the worst of the colic what I know now.  If you're dealing with it with your child I know there is nothing worse than having strangers make "helpful" suggestions of obvious things that you've probably tried 100 times as if they're new and revolutionary and you're some idiot who didn't think to try burping your child or changing her diaper when she cried.  That said, below are the things that ended up being helpful... some immediately, and some on the 101st try.  Some worked one day and didn't the next, but we'd keep cycling through them during each freakout until she finally snapped out of it.

Things that DID seem to help us:

Breastfeeding in Bed-- For the first few weeks I would scoop the baby up as soon as she made a peep, take her downstairs to feed her, and try to keep her as quiet as possible so that Mike wouldn’t have to wake up.  Then I’d have to take her all the way back upstairs without her waking up, which she often did.  It added stress to the situation and made me feel lonely.  When I realized Mike didn’t mind if I fed her next to him, it helped a lot.

Zantac and Probiotic Drops-- The jury is still out on whether they really made a difference, but they certainly didn’t hurt.  The Probiotic drops (which are made by Gerber and are available without a prescription at most pharmacies) were expensive at $30 a bottle but promised to reduce crying by 50% in two weeks, which felt like a promise of a winning lottery ticket to us at the time.

White Noise App--We downloaded the “sleep4baby” free app on our iPhones and at first it didn’t seem to make a difference.  The sounds (vacuum, hairdryer, and blender) might seem like odd choices, but if you turn it up and put it right next to her ear it would often calm her down, especially with the help of the pacifier, and sometimes would knock her right out.  Now we put her down with my Ipod on “Conch Shell” and she’s been sleeping like a champ.

Halo Sleep Sack-- Our little girl seemed to love her hands and get them out of anything we tried to swaddle her in, but on one particularly bad night Mike swaddled them in tightly and it seems to help her sleep so much more soundly!

The Ergobaby-- Whether I’m walking laps, bouncing in place, vacuuming, or bouncing on an exercise ball, this has calmed her down or knocked her out far more often than not.  It also let me get some exercise and have my hands free, which was a huge gift.  I think the couple nice days we had so I could go on walks really helped me survive those first few weeks.  She also liked to walk without the Ergobaby with her head looking over my shoulder.

Car Rides-- She’d cry at first, but soon she usually feel asleep.  The more bumps the better.

The Zanzibar Bouncer on Vibrate-- This only worked for a couple minutes at a time, but it would often be long enough for me to run to the bathroom or throw a little make up on my face.

Shh-ing-- So loudly with my mouth literally on her ear.

Bouncing--Holding her under her armpits and bouncing her until she fell asleep or my biceps couldn’t handle it anymore.

Hitting the "Reset Button"-- I would hold her under her armpits and slowly lift her over my head as high as I could and then bring her down again.  Sometimes it only worked for a second, but it seemed to break the cycle a little bit. 

Eating-- This was hard at the beginning when breastfeeding was really painful and I was very worried about "overfeeding her" and making her sick, but it often settled her down, even when she wasn't "supposed" to be hungry.  Often she would only eat for a minute or two, but it seemed to comfort her.

Things that DID NOT seem to work for us--

The Swing--If she was already crying (which was always) there was no chance the swing would calm her down.  It has come in handy now that she's a little older.  I often put her in it when I know she's tired and the swaying helps her fall asleep.

A Playmat-- Screaming.  Always.

A Vibrating Chair or Bouncer-- If she was screaming she would keep screaming.

Cuddling-- All of those sweet baby moments that I thought we'd have cuddling, rocking, snuggling didn't do a thing.  If anything, they made her more angry.

Diaper Changes-- My poor little girl didn't seem to care whether her diaper was empty or full, and when people suggested that a change might be all that was needed to stop the tears, it was hard not to scream in frustration.

"Putting Her Down for a Nap"-- I'm not even sure how that is done.  If she wasn't already asleep and you put her down, she'd scream.

Reading to Her-- We would never make it through a book.  Not even Goodnight Moon or Pat the Bunny.

The Dog Howling Along-- Ugh.  Awful.

Singing-- Maybe this was a comment on my vocal abilities?  I hope not.

Rocking-- The rocking chair that we so carefully assembled in the days before our little one arrived?  Not helpful unless you're goal was a rocking, screaming baby instead of a stationary one.

Anything Gentle, Soft, or Quiet

Anything the First, Second, or Third Time-- We just had to keep taking deep breaths and keep trying until she finally wore her little self out.

Hang in there... it WILL get better!  As a friend told me, no 10 year old cries around the clock.  Just be patient and kind to yourself and take a break when you can... even if it's just 10 minutes in the shower when someone else is holding him or her.