Having a newborn is really, really hard. Having a colicky newborn straight up sucks. Not to mention the fact that new mom hormones cause you to switch in mere minutes from pure amazement at this tiny being you’ve created to uncontrollable sobbing because you are just so, so tired (and this cycle repeats all day).
Having had no experience with newborns before our daughter Carla May was born, Chatham and I would often ask each other in the thick of it, “Are all babies like this?” (By this we meant crying constantly if not sleeping or being fed.) “Of course,” we’d say, anything to keep ourselves from breaking down. Looking back, our daughter absolutely had colic, no doubt about it.
For those of you who may not know, colic is “a frustrating condition marked by predictable periods of distress in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby.” Basically, it is a situation in which a healthy baby cries for no reason during the first few months of her life. This period is often called the “fourth trimester,” in which some babies are not quite ready to face this big, scary world and crave the safety, warmth, and comfort of mommy’s tummy (who can blame them??).
Surviving (and I don’t use that word lightly) three months with a colicky newborn taught us a lot about parenting and a lot about each other. Through trial-and-error we learned the preferences of our tiny human creation. Each day got a little better and a little better until the colic stage was finally behind us. We are stronger as parents for having gone through the experience together, and our baby girl is now as sweet and happy as can be!
Anyway, I wanted to share with you some things that helped us tremendously to get through the fourth trimester without breaking our spirits:
Many of you will go to the Dockatot website and look at the price tag and say, “HELL NO!” Trust me on this, you cannot put a price tag on sleep. The Dockatot is basically a big pillow nest with breathable side rails that holds your infant snugly in place. It prevents your baby from startling herself or rolling over and waking up.
The first few nights at home with Carla May, we put her down to sleep in the bassinet by our bed that had a padded mattress in it that seemed pretty comfortable to me. Apparently it wasn’t as comfortable as it looked – Carla May did not sleep one minute the first three nights at home. Thankfully, the fourth night Chatham remembered the Dockatot and shoved it in the bassinet (fit perfectly). If my memory serves me correctly, I believe we got a five hour solid stretch of sleep that night (!!!!!).
The Dockatot has been incredibly helpful in getting CM to nap in places other than our home. We went to a party one night and brought her with us (this was at the very end of her colicky stage when she started sleeping well at night). We set up her Dockatot and white noise machine in their guest room and put her down at her regular bedtime. She slept peacefully, and we got to enjoy visiting with our friends! I’ve mentioned before how I bring CM to work with me three days a week. Naps would not be possible without the Dockatot set up in our conference room. AND I’ve forgotten it at the office and had to drive back to get it before bedtime only one time!
Mom Tip: For the first few months, CM had a lot of diaper blowouts because she had such skinny legs. We covered the Dockatot with a muslin swaddle to protect it, since the Dockatot cover is so difficult to take on and off.
When I was pregnant, I replaced my office chair with a big exercise ball because it felt more comfortable to me. I suppose Carla May got used to the rocking and bouncing motions while she was in my belly, because when she came out, bouncing on the exercise ball was the only way to keep her from crying (if she wasn’t eating or sleeping, anyway).
I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was when I discovered her liking for being bounced. I also can’t tell you how many hours I spent on that thing, but I would estimate 12-16 hours per day for three months. People ask me, “How did you lose your pregnancy weight so quickly?” Oh, approximately 1260 hours of bouncing on an exercise ball holding a fussy baby. I wouldn’t recommend it….
Baby Bjorn Bouncer
Quick Question: If your baby cries when you put her down, what do you do when you need to take a shower?
Answer: Just don’t, duh!
Another Quick Question: What do you do when you have to pee?
Answer: Put her in the Baby Bjorn!
Honestly, the Baby Bjorn is something you will love, and your colicky baby will tolerate. Carla May would put up with sitting in the Baby Bjorn fuss-free for a maximum of 15 minutes, but if you haven’t gotten off the exercise ball all day long, those 15 minutes of time for yourself are crucial!
Muslin swaddles are soft and beautiful and multipurpose and blah, blah, blah… BUT if your colicky baby is also a squirmy worm who busts out of traditional swaddles like a tiny Houdini, you’re gonna need to get something a little stronger. I actually call Swaddle-Me’s “baby straight jackets” because that is exactly what they look like and how they function. The velcro is fool-proof, so even sleep-deprived parents can swaddle baby up tight without having to desperately look up YouTube instructional videos in dead of night (yes, we did this).
On our baby registry, I asked for a starter pack of the most highly-rated baby bottles out there. Unfortunately, Carla May refused to drink out of that particular type of bottle. I asked around and a friend recommended we try Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Anti-Colic bottles, because they feel similar to a real breast for the baby and prevent baby from swallowing as much air as other bottles. Finally, we found a winner! They have a ton of parts which is annoying for washing and assembly, but since CM takes only four or five bottles a week, this was not a big issue for us.
I have been a big fan (haha) of Dohm machines since before I even got pregnant. The Dohm is a box fan that emits pure white noise that drowns out any background sounds. Chatham and I have had one in our bedroom for as long as I can remember. We got one for Carla May’s nursery and one for my office conference room/nap station. The Dohm, in addition to the Dockatot, create consistency that make for much better naps.
Before you have a baby, I recommend making as many meals as you can in advance and then freezing them, because you never know if your newborn will let you put her down long enough to make dinner. (And if you aren’t expecting, make a bunch of freezer meals for a new mom you know! What a great gift that would be!) In my “nesting” phase of pregnancy, I made and froze about 20 dinners. When Carla May was born, I was so glad that I had options in the freezer that I could throw in the oven or the crockpot in my 15 minutes of Baby Bjorn time..
At one point the in our first month home with baby, Chatham said to me, “Marilu, you cannot survive on coffee and wine alone.” The argumentative part of me wanted to say, “Watch me!” but the reasonable part of me knew he was right. At that point, I tried to take better care of myself. This included taking Carla May on a walk in the stroller every morning, taking my gummy vitamins, and trying to eat healthier.
For reference, here are some nutritionally dense foods you can eat with one hand while bouncing on an exercise ball: apples, spoonfuls of peanut butter, whole wheat Ritz crackers, glasses of milk, string cheese, cashews. Also, drink LOTS of water!
The most important things for your mental health are to keep your head up, stay as positive as possible, and ask for help! The first few months with a colicky newborn are so, so hard, but they also go by really fast. It helps to know that you are not the only one who is going/has gone through this. One day you’ll look back and laugh (or cry? or both??) at this special and insane time.