Colic Manifesto

Cindy Laundrie Marshall essays

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Underdeveloped digestive system? Underdeveloped nervous system? Something more serious? Something less serious? Who knows? I still don’t know.

I became obsessed with trying to find out why both of my babies were colicky. I had stacks of reference books on subjects like sleeping, child development and books for new parents, but unfortunately there wasn’t a book written specifically for parents of colicky babies. With frazzled nerves, I would skim through every article and website I could lay my hands on that hinted of solutions for “fussy” babies only to feel even more futile when reading recommendations for Gripe Water (didn’t work for us) or singing the baby to sleep. I swore that if I ever survived this, I would write a book for other sufferers or at least start a support group. But when I finally found relief from my hellish existence, the PTSD from the whole ordeal sort of kept me twitching and a bit terrified of babies and new parents in general. My daughters are now 7 and 8-years-old and enough time has finally passed. The soul shredding cries of colicky babies feel safely buried in the past.

If you are a parent of a baby with colic, you are “in the trenches” right now and my utmost sympathy is with you. The days and minutes are the longest I have ever experienced. Congratulations on what you have accomplished so far. I wish I could give you a trophy. We all deserve trophies, badges and metals of honor. Or at least a paid night’s sleep in a remote hotel, far away from any children including your precious baby. This colic business is some of the toughest work around.

I understand completely if you think that something could be really wrong with your baby, but chances are that they will outgrow this and be perfectly normal. I still feel guilt that I was unable to help my babies with the pain that kept them crying inconsolably for 7-10 hours a day. Lord knows my husband and I tried everything in our power to console them and to search for the possible root cause. In my experience, I found doctors to be of little help because colic is still a mystery—a maddening mystery for the parents and for the baby. My doc did give me one great suggestion: eliminate dairy from my diet. It did help some of the time.

In the end, it seemed there was no perfect solution to make the baby consistently happy, just a piecing together of little tricks, techniques and solutions that can make it more tolerable for everyone. I understand how hard it is to keep hearing (and trying out of desperation) suggestions from other parents (with “dream babies”) or outdated and simplified advise from elders and older doctors. Even I have forgotten some of the advice that I fantasized I would share with the Colic World if I ever survived but I have done my best to create a list of what worked for our family.  

I recently talked with a neighbor who also survived colic and she asked me if I knew where all the creaks were in the house. Just from that question, I knew she had truly experienced what I had. If I or my husband got up in the night to use the restroom we had to walk so carefully and so, so slowly. We trained ourselves to cough into our pillows, to always leave doors slightly ajar with a towel weighting them in place (without the towel, the door could be shut by a breeze.) We learned to put weight into the hand rail when going down the stairs so as to take weight and sound off of the creaks underfoot. The microwave door had to be held in while you pushed the release button then slowly hand opened. The sign on our outside door read, “DO NOT DISTURB, BABIES SLEEPING”. Any little noise that could penetrate the sound of the multiple white noise machines placed around the house, could be cause for hours of inconsolable crying. Never attempt to turn pages of a book or even worse, a newspaper, near a sleeping baby with colic.

My husband and I came up with marriage saving rules like “Don’t talk to the person holding the baby” (because of the crying they won’t be able to hear you and you’ll have to keep repeating yourself and both will end up frustrated) or “If the baby is happy, don’t change anything” (so many times we would move the baby from one location to another and then all hell would break loose…why did we move her?) It’s hard not to turn on your spouse. You start to see your once “partner in life” as your “only relief” from the blood curdling screaming and back arching baby.

There is nothing worse than not knowing why your child is endlessly crying. I think it is especially hard on the Mom because we are programmed to respond to those painful cries and when we cannot help them (no matter how many ways we try) it can be so exasperating. I was so lucky to have a friend who also had a colicky baby during my second child’s colic because I (and my husband) felt so alone with it during our first daughter’s colic. Finding the right support or even validation is key.

When you have a child with colic you have to become hyper aware and sensitive to every nuance regarding what works and what doesn’t. You’re on egg shells. Then throw an unpredictable toddler or one of life’s many stressors into the equation and it’s enough to make one “crack”. I remember trying for over an hour a day to get baby Carson to nap while trying to keep my toddler, Phoenix, interested watching a video or busy with a quiet activity and then right when I got the baby to sleep, Phoenix would start crying or scream and wake Carson up and I would have to start all over again. You may be asking yourself, “Why keep trying to give her a nap if it is so hard?” Because sleep begets sleep, every parent learns that one and if she didn’t take a nap, the night would be even more hellacious.  

What I am trying to convey is that you aren’t alone in this and you will survive this. It may seem like it will never end and things will never improve but they will! Having colicky babies was definitely the hardest experience of my life. It was especially difficult because I have always been great with children. I went into teaching as a career and through hard work I usually excel at everything I do. With colic, no amount of skill or effort ever seemed to make things better. There is no way around it, so you must go through it. You are forced to survive the sleeplessness, frustration, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and rage. It’s a miracle when you can actually meet your own (diminished) needs for food or a shower. It’s hard to do it all one handed and with partial sanity and probably all while bouncing your about-to-cry baby on your hip. People wondered how I lost the 60 pounds I gained during pregnancy. The other book I should write is entitled: Bounce Those Pounds Off, A No-Cost Weight Loss Plan for New Mothers.

These were things that helped me through both of my children’s severe colic. My first daughter was “colicky” until age one! My second daughter was colicky for five months. I believe her colic was less severe only because of the knowledge I had gained from my previous experience.  Like I said, it’s still a mystery to me but the following is a list of things that worked for me for at least a part of the time. Good luck to you and when you survive colic, maybe you could pay it forward by writing a book for the next unlucky parents. One more thing, it’s true that colicky babies turn out to be extraordinarily intelligent individuals. The best is yet to come!

• Happiest Baby on The Block DVD or book. I prefer the DVD because it has a special feature which includes sounds to make a baby stop crying, sounds to help the baby fall sleep after they’ve stopped crying and sounds to keep them asleep once they have fallen asleep. We pretty much lived in front of our TV with those sounds on (they are the most unusual sounds you have ever heard but they really work!). Anytime she would start to rage cry, we would turn it on.


• Hush Baby CD. Basically sounds like a hairdryer but not quite. We could not have traveled without it because both of our kids would scream hysterically in the car without it. We also used it at home.

• Cranial Sacral for babies. The days that we had this done for my daughter Phoenix, she would actually sleep 3-4 hours straight at night which for us was a miracle.  Look for a chiropractor who can do this.

• Powdered high-potency acidophilus and digestive enzymes. I purchased high potency acidophilus as well as digestive enzymes after a brief evaluation and consultation. I also had both of my kids tested for allergies. Like I said earlier, eliminating dairy was also key.


• Invest in a good swing-one that swings side to side and front to back as well as swings fast and vibrates. Bouncy seats that vibrate can also be life savers. If your baby is one that likes to ride in the car, you can buy a device online that hooks onto the bottom of their crib and simulates a car going 60 miles an hour down the highway. It’s pretty pricey but could be a life saver depending on your child.

• Post-Partum Support Groups. Find one in your town! It’s an opportunity for moms to get together and talk about the ups and downs of motherhood. Babies are welcome.

• 5 S’s Cuddle Cure. Do in this order: Swaddle tightly. (The “how to” is on the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD.) You will need a good, square, stretchy blanket for this. Turn baby on its side or stomach and lay across your lap or hold baby in the air, Shush or play white noise- loudly at first, Swing or jiggle (not shake) baby vigorously, Let baby suck on your pinky or a binky.)

• Give baby a warm bath. (Both of mine liked.)

• Go for a walk in the stroller or baby carrier. I liked the Ergo Carrier.

• Go for a bumpy drive in the car while playing white noise. (Didn’t work for me but I’ve heard others had success.)

• Lie on your back and place the baby (belly down) on your chest. (Good position to get baby to fall asleep at night, unfortunately it was the only way Phoenix would sleep for a long time…with my pinky in her mouth!)

• Bounce baby in your arms or in a swing (vigorously).

• Switch hands. Sometimes handing the baby to someone else changes the energy and calms baby.

• Go stand outside with the baby on the porch or walk around the yard when you can’t get them calm. This almost always worked for me.

• Let the baby lay naked on a blanket or under a gymini. (I called it Naked Time.)

• Before lying baby down in bed, heat the bed up first with a heating pad then unplug and remove before you lay baby down. With Phoenix we heated up a sock filled with rice (in the microwave) then we would lie her next to it in the co-sleeper and she would think she was next to me and sleep for a while.

• Lower the lights and noise volume in the house an hour before bedtime to signal to the baby that it is nighttime.

• When your baby gets older, you might like the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. I found it to be helpful.

About the Author

Cindy Laundrie Marshall

Cindy Laundrie Marshall grew up in a large family in Green Bay, Wisconsin. After living in Missoula, MT for the past twenty years, she considers it home. She spends most of her time raising her two daughters ages 7 and 8 and in her spare time she teaches art, makes large paintings, works at the restaurant her and her husband own and plays guitar in a rock band.

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