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MamaLA: Fears for Tears
When you have a baby with colic, motherhood is anything but blissful
Yasmine’s youngest, Malala, was born last November. Shortly after her birth, Yasmine began writing this blog for Los Angeles magazine, chronicling her life with her newly expanded family. One experience she didn’t write about: living with a baby with colic. Every week, she wanted to detail her constant struggles, but it was just too much. If she acknowledged it, Yasmine felt, it might not ever go away.
As Yasmine and Soraya sat down to create this piece, they went through old photos to find the perfect image to represent that period in Malala’s young life. As Yasmine looked at the pictures, she felt a surprising and overwhelming sadness. She tried to pinpoint the feelings and realized that, in many ways, she barely remembers that tiny girl. Those early months of just trying to get through another day made it a challenge to absorb the experience, or even bond with her daughter in the way Yasmine had with her other children. That’s not an easy sentence to admit to, let alone write, so hold your judgment, please. Yasmine knows that any mamas who have (or have had) a baby with colic will understand.
Let’s start with the basics. What is colic? There are lots of theories and nothing terribly conclusive. Colic is typically associated with digestive issues but it can also describe a baby that cries for hours on end for no apparent reason. There is no way to understand how hard this is on new parents until you have experienced it firsthand. It typically starts around two weeks of age and will last until the baby is around three-and-a-half-months-old. When you have a colicky baby, that feels like an eternity.
At first, Yasmine noticed Malala cried more often than most babies. That soon turned into nonstop four-hour stretches. Since she was nursing, Yasmine immediately cut dairy, caffeine, sugar, spicy foods, gassy foods, and anything else that might cause discomfort from her diet. The cries did not stop; they continued incessantly for three plus months. If Malala was awake, she was most likely crying. Once she was asleep, she conked out—not always the case with colic. Getting her to sleep required a pitch-black room, a sound machine, being held, and absolute stillness.
Yasmine shared her woes with Soraya. One evening, Soraya and her kids came over to give Yasmine a bit of support. To be honest, Soraya was still unsure whether her young niece actually had colic. Maybe she was just a baby who fussed more than others? Maybe Yasmine was just spent with four children and a husband with a hectic schedule? Soraya offered to put Malala to sleep. Yasmine gave her the specifics: go upstairs, turn out all of the lights, hold her still and keep the sound machine on. Twenty minutes later, Yasmine heard her young nieces and nephew cooing in the family room. She saw Malala on the large ottoman surrounded by her cousins. Soraya smiled, as if to say, “See, she’s fine.” Yasmine froze, knowing what would happen next. Within minutes the wails began. Soraya, who is a super capable caregiver and absolutely adores babies, still says she’d never witnessed anything like it. Malala was beside herself. Soraya looked at Yasmine apologetically. Yasmine looked back with a “Now, you get what I have been talking about?” slump. Soraya whisked the baby upstairs and within moments Malala was quiet.
Why write about this now, after the extreme crying has stopped? To tell any mama who might be in the thick of it now that a) it really will stop one day and b) you are not crazy for feeling crazy. Also, to put it out there that the best thing you can do to support a mama with a colicky baby is just be there for them—and do not question whether the baby has colic. Trust us, mama is questioning herself non-stop; she doesn’t need any outside doubt. She needs support and probably desperately needs a break.
In Malala’s case, relief came over a weekend. Each day she cried a bit less, until Monday came and she was literally a different child. In the months that followed, Yasmine found herself suffering from something she termed PTCS, or Post Traumatic Colic Syndrome. She in no way wants to be “cute” about something as serious as PTSD, but the after effects she experienced were very real. If Malala began to cry or fuss, as babies do, Yasmine felt overtaken by fear those tiny grunts might evolve into unstoppable wails. Over time, she began to trust that Malala was past those tough days and they continued to strengthen their blessed bond.
Other mamas: know there are remedies out there. Cutting questionable foods is an easy enough thing to try; if nothing else, you’ll feel like you’re doing something. Pregnant mamas: some suggest taking probiotics during pregnancy to prevent colic. Talk to your doctor about this option. The jury is out on whether it’ll actually help, but there’s a 5% to 25% chance your baby will have colic, and anything to lower your odds is worthwhile. Friends of mamas with colicky babies: visit, empathize, take the baby, let mama walk around the block, just be there. It helps to know you’re not alone.
With seven children ranging in age from ten months to seventeen years between them, sisters and bloggers Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Soraya Delawari Dancsecs are experts at parenting in L.A. They take a break from PTA board meetings, cooking, and producing films to blog at CityThink each Thursday.