It takes a village to handle colic

When I want to annoy my younger sister, I remind her of how as an infant it took nearly an entire village to get her to sleep at night. The little girl would cry and cry religiously between 11pm and 2am and would be lulled from one hand to another until my grandmother, who lived 200m or so away, would walk to our home in the dark to give a hand.
Good thing is that babies eventually grow up. And that is what I am reminding myself every time I find my back aching and my nerves raw from trying to calm an infant who is bent on screaming the walls of the house down at 1am every night.
Colic for us checked in at four weeks. I guess I should have been relieved we got a whole month break as normally, colicky babies start acting up at two weeks.

My daughter will get her bath at 9.30pm, breastfeed and doze off, then sleep for about 30 minutes, only to wake up wailing uncontrollably. Nothing I do will calm her down, not even giving the breast. We pace up and down the house for an hour while she wails, eventually dozing off. Mosquitoes meanwhile have been feasting on us. But the moment I try to put her down, she wakes up like someone who had never fallen asleep. The crying starts afresh.

My husband is now awake.
“Are you sure she’s not sick?” he asks.
I give him “that” look and move into another room.
Thirty more minutes of trying to soothe a baby who does not want to be soothed. The crying has her all worked up and she’s sweating. We shed all clothes save for a vest and a diaper.
At this point I am close to tears out of sheer frustration and fatigue. My husband, as if sensing the moment, finally gets out of bed and comes and picks the baby without a word. I get into bed. He switches off the lights and paces up and down the corridor, humming in the darkness.

I do not know how long he’s out there but eventually she drifts off into sleep. He places her on her cot.
This scene is replayed night after night, with a few variations of when the crying starts and when it stops.

A baby is considered colicky once they show signs of excessive crying continuously for three or more hours, three or more days in a week for more than three weeks. A baby with colic appears to be in discomfort and will often cry with clenched fists.

As to what causes it, that remains a matter of contention even among the medical community. Some say it is caused by gas, stomach discomfort from an immature gut, allergies from proteins passing through the mother’s milk and the superstitious among us will say “mtoto anakataa jina.”
My mother had no Google to tell her that baby was dealing with colic or that there are things she could do to offer relief. She just thought she had a baby who loved to cry a  lot at night.

I too have been telling myself I have a high needs baby. Even the women in church know that woman with the baby that cries a lot. All babies are fussy but mine seems to be that one who is hard to please, a little too sensitive to external stimuli, and who has no qualms expressing her discomfort.

“Anaumwa na tumbo,” the women tell me. I try togive her the breast. She slaps it and turns her ehad away. I try to make her stand. She pauses for a few moments then picks up the crying. She wants me to stand up and rock her. Thank God that nursery is sound proof.
“Try placing her on your laps on her stomach,” they advise.
I oblige them. I know people can’t hep trying to be helpful when a baby cries. She screams louder. I undress her. She calms down a bit but is still whiny. We finally walk out of church to stand in the parking lot. She’s happy being outside. May be she was hot.

To manage the crying, I have had to stock up on simethicone drops called Infacol that I give each time before a feed to help her pass out gas easier. If Infacol could grow in the stomach, my daughter would be having a tree. My mother-in-law has also  won me over to try a herbal concoction from India called Bonnisan that has dill oil as an active ingredient. At least I know dill helps relieve gas in babies. So far  I have not been able to get dill seeds from supermarkets and health store shelves, which I am supposed to boil, sieve and drink up the juice to boost milk supply and calm gas in the little one.

Tummy massage does seem to give temporary relief as does doing cycling motions with the baby on her back.
I’ve had to forego lots of foods like cabbage, legumes like beans and njahi, broccoli, sour porridge and chocolate. I’m starting to feel as if eggplant will grow in my stomach.

 I know they say cow’s milk is often the main culprit when it comes to colic but oh, I will not give up my cup of tea. I remember the consternation by my mum’s elderly house help when i couldn’t take the traditional fermented uji that is specifically loved by mother’s because it boosts milk production.
“Women have been taking this for years and they were fine,” she nudged me while placing a cup of the uji  before me God knows I love that uji. But when i think of my daughter wailing hands clenched for hours on end like someone who has pins pricking her insides, I stop myself from picking the cup.

There are nights I have even found myself praying in desperation in the middle of the night when the little girl just will not settle down and every muscle in me is begging for some rest. May be I should have bought a rocking chair. I have read stories of mums who strap the cranky tots in car seat and drive on aimlessly until the baby falls asleep and the exhausted sleep-deprived mum can get some rest.

For us, walking around with the baby and rocking motions are what finally get us sleep after four or so hours of pacing up and down. At such times, I would have appreciated all those village hands I could get to lull baby to sleep.

This article was first published on


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