Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Living with and Soothing a Crying / Colicky Baby
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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

Buy now

Report 6Living with and Soothing a Crying / Colicky Baby

My son, now 4 months old, had colic. He lacked the ability to fall and stay asleep. He would startle at the slightest noise and required darkness in which to sleep. Sleep, by the way, was only obtained by a very specific rocking/holding motion day and night for three months straight. When you mention “colic” to people, they immediately give you advice on symptomatic GI treatment. When I tried to explain how he was, nobody understood. Nobody. When I told our son’s pediatricians that he would stay awake for eighteen hours a day, they would just stare at me and make me take the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale test once again. It was so very isolating. People would say, “You are spoiling him by holding him so much,” “All babies are difficult; get used to it,” “Just put him down and let him cry.” The degree of isolation and amount of criticism while caring for such a difficult baby cannot be understated. There is no way to describe how it feels to watch your new baby be so miserable. There are no words to fully explain this experience. I have a small but firm support system, and this experience pushed us to our limits. I had to leave my hard-earned career because I could not imagine how daycare could put forth the effort of care our son required.

I think ultimately parents have to experiment to find out what kind of soothing works best for their child at that particular time. I tried everything with my colicky child, who quickly became chronically overtired. We found that her preferred method of soothing changed as she learned to become a better sleeper over the course of one year. In the beginning, she seemed to like the “jiggle-sway.” We would hold her and swing her side to side while simultaneously jiggling her. (I also think that I had an easier time using that method because I was frantic and nervous.) As time went on, she preferred to be held in a rocking chair with quick, jiggle-like rocking. Now she likes to sit in your lap with slow, long rocks while reading a story. Once she’s ready for bed, she throws the book and starts to wiggle. You put her in her crib and she spends some time playing with her hair or pacifier and falls asleep. I also found that in the later stages of sleep training, Dad and Grandma had more success than me. Can’t really explain it because we all use the same sleep routines. If I had to do it over again, I would have read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child before my daughter was born and not four months later. Then I would have understood that her extreme fussing was colic. I could have at least been armed with some tips and techniques to prevent or at least minimize the chronically overtired mess she became. I would also have made sure that I protected her naps and bedtime from day one. I also would have made sure that Dad was more involved and on the same page from day one.

My first child was colicky, too, and we had to do an extreme amount of bouncing also. The rocking chair was absolutely useless! We had to swaddle him and walk around bouncing him. He also preferred the sideways, facing-out position. I definitely wonder if colicky babies need more motion—almost like they need some sort of distraction. I tried rocking with my second baby, non-colicky. But I quickly switched to walking and bouncing because that was what I was used to. I think she probably would have been fine with less motion, but I reverted to what I “knew” worked. With my third, we were able to rock in the rocking chair. She would just sit there in my arms and fall asleep. It was such a weird experience for me!

Here is a story of a child who probably had extreme fussiness/colic, even though the parents wanted to call him sleep-deprived. Remember, these labels might be interchangeable and are far less important than your child’s behavior. There was no quick sleep solution, but improvement did come slowly. Patience is always rewarded if you are reasonably consistent.

When Jackson was 4 months old, he had never been on any kind of sleep schedule. He seemed to cry all the time and would only sleep about four hours at a time (if we were lucky!). My husband and I would spend hours on end, holding, rocking, bouncing, singing, playing, and doing anything we could think to do to get him to stop crying. Our pediatrician said that he had colic and there was nothing we could do about it but to wait it out. Looking back on it all now, I am convinced that he didn’t have colic at all, but was just plain sleep-deprived. At first we were hesitant to allow Jackson to cry without holding him. Given that we are both psychologists, we were scared that leaving him alone to cry would be emotionally scarring and would affect his attachment and self-esteem. But we were both sleep-deprived ourselves, stressed out, and desperate to try anything. Dr. Weissbluth’s belief that to not allow him to learn to soothe himself to sleep was damaging in and of itself was what allowed us to finally take the plunge. The first time I put him to sleep in his crib for a nap, I left the room and he screamed bloody murder. I sat at the top of the stairs and just cried and cried. I was convinced I was the worst mother in the world. After twenty minutes (which felt like an eternity), he finally fell asleep and slept for two hours. Unfortunately, later naps did not prove to be so easy. There were times in which he screamed for the whole hour (and I cried for the whole hour) and we would get him and try again later. Jackson was a bit resistant to the whole idea, and even though we were very consistent, he always put up a good fight. Even now, at 9 months old, Jackson will still cry before most naps and bedtime. Sometimes it’s thirty seconds, sometimes it’s thirty minutes. He sleeps so much better and longer than he ever did. We calculated that before he was averaging ten hours of sleep per day, and after just a few weeks he was sleeping around seventeen hours a day. The best part of all was that he learned how to sleep through the night. Now he goes to bed most nights between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m., and he wakes up usually between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. He takes two naps per day, one around 9:00 a.m. and the other in the early afternoon. My husband and I finally got the sleep we needed, and the stress level went down dramatically. We have our evenings together back, which we desperately needed. And Jackson’s temperament is dramatically improved. I would still say he is a highly active baby, but would no longer say he is fussy. Before, I was certain we would never have another child because it was just too much on us emotionally. But now we are planning to conceive again within the next year.

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