Fatherly Advice: How to Comfort a Baby With Colic and Not Go Insane

Not all problems can be solved. That's why self-care matters so much.

“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.

 

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Fatherly,

Every since my wife delivered our baby girl a couple months ago she’s been pretty emotional. Not in the normal way she usually is, but a bit worse. It’s kind of hard to explain. Is this just the baby blues or should I be really worried?

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Malik,
Houston, Texas

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It sounds like you’re already really worried. And frankly, you should probably trust your gut. If you feel like your wife is acting markedly different, or is more emotional than normal, then that’s likely a real thing that’s happening. The big question, then, is what’s causing it.

The first months of parenthood are notoriously hard. Due to the lack of sleep, changing hormones, and the stress of keeping a tiny human alive, you can bet there will be emotional changes for both you and your wife. You can expect some irritability and anxiety. That’s totally normal. But those general feelings of fatigue and general parenting anxiety aren’t “Baby Blues,” nor are they postpartum depression, which are two very distinct and separate things.

The Baby Blues are marked by sadness, anxiety, and irritability. But they peak at around a week after delivery and resolve on their own within a couple weeks after birth. The Baby Blues are crazy common and affect up to 80 percent of women after birth as their bodies get used to the new gig.

RELATED: Why Fathers Get Postpartum Depression And How To Fight It

The problem comes if Baby Blues symptoms stick around or become more severe. This could be a sign of postpartum depression (sometimes abbreviated PPD). This is another beast entirely. PPD does not generally resolve on its own and may require therapy and medication. If your partner does have PPD, she’s certainly not alone. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show 20 percent of new mothers develop PPD symptoms. Those symptoms include severe mood swings and excessive crying, overwhelming fatigue, intense anger, withdrawal from family and an inability to make decisions. Some parents with PPD might express the opinion that the family is better off without them. This is a giant red flag and should be taken very seriously.

Regardless of what your wife is experiencing, you can help, Malik. Because clearly, you want to. In fact, helping will probably make you feel much better. So, you may need to dig deep and take some extra duties to give her a bit of time to breathe. And when she is emotional, simply listen to her. Let her talk. And remember that you don’t have to give advice or suggest ways to fix anything.

If you really think the problem is PPD it’s okay to gently suggest she speak to her physician. And if you’re having trouble, it’s fine to call in reinforcements. Family members that have a good relationship with her might have a bit more sway than you.

Also make sure you take time to care for yourself, man. Get some regular exercise and eat well. You’ll make it through this.

 

Fatherly,

My four year old got a satin red cape for his birthday 4 months ago and he wears it pretty much all the time. He refuses to leave the house without having it on. Is this a bad thing?

Kevin,
Colorado Springs, CO

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Your kid sounds rad. And you should take the advice of Jim Croce and not tug on your Superman’s cape. That’s because your kid is getting some real-life benefits from his pretending.

First of all, pretend play is basically practice for problem-solving. Everytime your kid puts on his cape, he’s imagining being more than he actually is. This is a bit of barrier-breaking and future gazing, which is good. Being someone else means being free of one’s limitations. Recognizing that as a goal is a good thing. Remember when you felt like you might someday be a really amazing dude? Good times.

If it helps, researchers actually conducted a study looking at the effects of dressing up as Batman. Researchers gave kids a boring task that required perseverance and found that kids that dressed up as Batman were better able to concentrate and stick with the task. We are all Batman even though we are not all Michael Keaton, which is a bummer.

MORE: Why You Should Encourage Your Kid To Dress Up And Pretend

Are there downsides to wearing a cape? Sure. You might feel embarrassed or he might get left out. In those cases, you might get traction by telling him normal clothes are his “secret identity” but don’t push too hard if he doesn’t want to go Clark Kent.

You might, however, want to make sure you’re not raising a supervillain. One study found that as many as 20-percent of children identified with the superhero for their ability to commit violence. So, make sure you’re just playing up the saving people and being a good guy part and downplaying the punching people in the face part.

If you’re confident he’s a hero, consider whether or not he needs a sidekick. If so, buy your own cape.

 

Help, Fatherly!

My baby won’t stop crying and people say its colic. But what the hell is colic and how can I make the screaming stop?

Richard,
Detroit, MI

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I hate to start a response with bad news, but colic has probably the vaguest and most unsatisfactory definition ever. Colic is diagnosed when an otherwise healthy infant who cries for more than three hours per day, more than three days per week, for over three weeks. What’s worse than that definition? Nobody knows what causes it. This is not a joke.

Now, there are some working theories. Most researchers feel like it has something to do with abdominal pain, perhaps linked to gas or inflammation. What’s causing the gas, pain, or inflammation? No one knows.

Sensing a pattern?

I wish there was some help to offer in terms of soothing your baby’s crying, but there are no remedies for colic. There are “remedies” that say they help colic, but rigorous research suggests that treatments like “gripe water” or herbal teas are no better than a placebo (though sugar water seems to work a little).

ALSO: Got a Fussy Kid? Be Nicer to Your Wife.

Is there any good news? Yes. Colic doesn’t last forever. In fact, 100 percent of colic cases are resolved by four months. Over half of all colic disappears by two months.

So, the trick to surviving colic is to take care of yourself and your partner. It’s not for nothing that U.S. Troops use the amplified sounds of crying babies to flush out entrenched enemies. A baby’s cry is engineered to get a response. So, make sure that you and your partner are acting as a team and limiting one another’s exposure to the crying as much as possible. And if you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or angry, there is nothing wrong with putting the kid down, stepping away, and either screaming into a pillow knocking the hell out of a punching bag.

Take care of yourself. Time will take care of the colic.

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