Everyone knows the cliché, "Enjoy your kids when they are young, it all goes by so fast." I would have to agree as my daughters today are young women and I wonder how the years have passed so quickly. However, I distinctly remember thinking at the one-year birthday celebration of my identical twin daughters that their first year of life was the longest year of my life. I was unprepared to deal with fussing and crying, as are many new parents, even though I recognized that these are the most important means by which infants communicate needs and desires.
Recently, I was talking to my pediatrician colleague and friend, Dr. Lauren Martin, and she shared her story with me and I could relate to much of it. In turn I wanted to share it with all of you, along with helpful tips. Here is Dr. Martin's story:
I went into motherhood with a certain arrogance. I knew a lot about babies. I could soothe her cries, deal with less sleep (after all I had just finished residency!), and our new life would go on seamlessly.
In fact, I was lucky. My pregnancy was relatively easy; my birth was quick and beautiful, and the first couple weeks were a blissful, adrenaline-filled dream.
Then the fun started...
My daughter developed significant fussiness. The crying was long and intense. I searched for solutions: we started medication for reflux and a probiotic and I eliminated dairy and soy in my diet as I was breast-feeding. But still my daughter was nearly constantly "unsettled" with interspersed inconsolable crying spells.
I have memories of walking back and forth across our living room for hours with my husband, one of us with her in the wrap and the other making a loud shushing sound to produce white noise. When we stopped, the crying would start again. I remember holding her for every nap because if I put her down, she would wake up with a shrill cry. I also declined many needed social engagements as she hated the car and feared screaming.
Our life became focused on keeping her happy (or asleep). When the colic calmed around four months, she went on to have a series of health issues that caused ongoing irritability, poor sleep, and resulted in two surgeries. I wondered if she would ever be happy. The sleep deprivation that seemed initially like an inconvenience became severe and all-consuming.
A wise neighbor told me during the thick of the crying that I was "earning my mommy wings." That resonated with me at a time when it felt like I was accomplishing nothing. I realize now how much I learned about myself and my daughter, who is now a very happy, yet feisty, well-adjusted toddler. The experience also left me with some tried-and-true advice.
Here are ten practical tips on dealing with a fussy infant:
1. Keep an open and honest dialog with your medical providers. They are there to help you and your baby especially if you think something is not right with your baby or if you are feeling down or anxious. The perspective of my pediatrician was invaluable during a time when I had absolutely no objectivity.
2. Ask for and accept help from others. If a friend offers to come hold your baby while you shower, say yes. If your mother offers to do the dishes, say yes. If a neighbor asks what they can do, ask them to bring dinner.
3. Remember it is okay to put your crying baby down when you are frustrated. Allow yourself time to recharge. More than once, I found my infant was overstimulated and actually calmed when put down.
4. Recognize that you are in survival mode. I was constantly worried that I was "spoiling" my baby by holding and rocking her. Admittedly it took a while and required some sleep training, but she sleeps well now and we look forward to our sweet bedtime routine.
5. Remember that your baby won't remember this, but you will! There is no evidence that colicky babies are less happy later on. My daughter is joyful and loving, and often looks at me while playing to say "Mama, I happy!"
6. Be careful what you read on the internet. Even as a pediatrician, I found myself drawn to websites and message boards looking for reassurance, but leaving with more self-doubt and anxiety. Remember, these posters do not know you or your baby.
7. Find time for yourself. Go for a walk and get fresh air. Get together with a friend. Get a massage.
8. Network with others. Find a mom's support group in your area. Meeting moms who are living and breathing the newborn life is refreshing and comforting.
9. Find time for your partner. If suppertime is crying time, consider having breakfast together. If you have the luxury of someone watching your baby, go out and have dinner or watch a funny show. Lean on each other as your partner might be the only person who really knows what you are going through as you are living it together.
10. Remember time is your best friend. This one was hard for me to believe as one problem turned into the next throughout the first year, but it is true what they say that the days are long and the years (months) are short!
Now go and earn your mommy wings!
Vanita Braver, MD is a mom, a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, children's book author of the "Teach Your Children Well" series (see www.drvanitabraver.com) & Ellen DeGeneres fan.
Lauren Martin, MD is a pediatrician at Children's Pediatricians and Associates at Foggy Bottom in Washington, DC. When she is not taking care of her patients, she is happiest spending time with family especially her feisty and active 2-year-old.