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Research Shows the Emotional Toll Having a Colicky Baby Takes On Parents

Becoming a parent is a monumental moment in one’s life. Luckily, parents have months to prepare for their little one’s arrival, but despite the time you have to put together a crib and buy baby clothes, when the day comes, it seems like all of the preparation goes out the window. And maybe even more so for parents who have a fussy or colicky baby. According to the Mayo Clinic, colic is defined as the frequent, prolonged, and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant. Colic can be particularly frustrating for parents because the baby’s distress occurs for no apparent reason and no amount of consoling seems to bring any relief. These episodes often occur in the evening, when parents themselves are tired, and this can take a large emotional toll on a new parent.

A recent survey from Perrigo® Nutrition, in conjunction with OnePoll, revealed that nearly half of moms (49 percent) worried most about not finding a solution or relief for their baby with colic and/or cow’s milk allergy (CMA) within the first year, followed by worrying their baby’s growth and development would be affected (33 percent). In addition, most moms (68 percent) reported experiencing “mom guilt” mainly because they felt helpless and couldn’t fix their baby’s problem, and one in three moms (36 percent) felt guilty needing or asking for help. And when you pile on these feelings of guilt, stress, and frustration, many parents soon begin to doubt their ability to take care of their child.

“When we do have a colicky baby, we absolutely doubt ourselves even more in our ability to care for this baby, which could lead parents to feel a sense of failure.” — Paige Bellenbaum 

“Every single parent, both mother and father, experience either some doubt or a lot of doubt in their transition to parenthood,” Paige Bellenbaum, social worker, postpartum depression survivor, and founding director of The Motherhood Center in New York tells SheKnows. “In regard to moms with babies that are colicky, I think this reinforces and multiplies that self-doubt because they are being exposed to a romanticized version of motherhood.”

“It’s very rare in this social media world for mothers to post about their colicky baby,” adds Bellenbaum. “When we do have a colicky baby, we absolutely doubt ourselves even more in our ability to care for this baby, which could lead parents to feel a sense of failure.”

This is only exacerbated by the physical toll of caring for a baby with colic or CMA takes on parents. Nearly half of moms (47 percent) reported getting only 4-5 hours of sleep each night, while nearly one-third (31 percent) reported getting only 2-3 hours of sleep. More than half (59 percent) of moms were also too tired to maintain a social life.

“If we do not protect ourselves and care for ourselves, we’re not going to be in the best form or in any form to care for our baby or our children.” — Paige Bellenbaum 

When trying to soothe a colicky baby, you should first start by changing your feeding practices. One tip provided by the Mayo Clinic suggested to bottle-feed your baby in an upright position and burp frequently during and after a feeding. Using a curved bottle will help with upright feeding, and a collapsible bag bottle can reduce the intake of air. Other soothing strategies include using a pacifier, swaddling your baby in a blanket, giving them a warm bath, and providing white noise with a white noise machine or vacuum cleaner.

If those tips don’t do the trick, then you may, unfortunately, start to feel a financial burden associated with trying to soothe a baby with colic or cow’s milk allergy (CMA). Four in ten moms surveyed were fearful they wouldn’t be able to afford the appropriate relief for their baby, with 76 percent of moms agreeing they would have paid anything to relieve their baby’s colic and/or CMA. On average, these moms ended up spending $230 on various potential solutions or products such as gas drops, probiotics, different bottles, and specialty formulas for their suffering baby (just to name a few).

The price of name-brand hypoallergenic infant formulas exceeds $200 a month, costing parents as much as three times more than standard or routine formulas.¹ So it’s no surprise these moms also reported their number one complaint about hypoallergenic infant formula was price. More than half of moms (52 percent) would have purchased a lower-cost, store-brand hypoallergenic infant formula option that was just as effective and provided complete nutrition if it were available.

If you find that none of the above seem to help and he or she has any other unusual symptoms (blood or mucus in their poop, vomiting, not gaining weight, fever, rash, or other unusual behavior) it may be time to call your pediatrician.

According to Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, board-certified pediatrician and parenting expert, “In most cases, colic only lasts until around 14 weeks, so if your baby is continuing to struggle with extreme fussiness and crying after three months, that may be another indicator you should schedule an appointment with your baby’s doctor.”

If you end up having to feed your baby hypoallergenic formula, there’s good news. Perrigo Nutrition, makers of all Store Brand Infant Formula, has launched the first and only U.S. store brand (generic) hypoallergenic infant formula that provides complete nutrition, is clinically tested to manage cow’s milk allergies (CMA), and helps babies avoid colic due to CMA.² Parents can save at least 22% compared to leading name brands when purchasing store brands like Parent’s Choice Hypoallergenic Infant Formula, which is exclusively sold at Walmart. That’s at least $75 per month or $900 per year.³

“As a pediatrician, I have seen the emotional, physical, and financial tolls a child with CMA and colic-related symptoms can have on families struggling to provide relief for their baby,” says Trachtenberg. “A generic [store brand] hypoallergenic infant formula is a huge win for parents because they now have an effective and affordable option that provides complete nutrition, just like the more expensive name brands. In fact, the clinical study revealed 98.3% of children with confirmed CMA did not have an allergic reaction when using Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula, demonstrating it to be effective in managing CMA.”²

Since a colicky baby is more of a life stage rather than a long-term diagnosis, knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel may be comforting to some parents. If not, Bellenbaum says there’s nothing wrong with getting the emotional support you need.

“It’s okay to not be okay,” says Bellenbaum. “It’s very common for women to feel irritable and angry after they have a baby. These emotions can be attributed to sleep deprivation or the fact that your hormones are doing backflips inside you. Regardless, sometimes it’s really helpful to talk to a therapist or join a support group with other new and expecting mothers who are struggling too.”

Forty-two percent of moms looked for groups with mothers in a similar situation to seek relief, according to the survey, but no matter the method, parents must not feel guilty for acting with a sense of self-preservation.

“If we do not protect ourselves and care for ourselves, we’re not going to be in the best form or in any form to care for our baby or our children,” says Bellenbaum. “If it feels like you’re not worthy or if it’s hard to carve out space, remember that when you care for yourself, you’re actually allowing yourself to be an even better parent to your child.”

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This article was created by SheKnows for Perrigo.

¹ Hypoallergenic Infant Formulas. Committee on Nutrition. Pediatrics Aug 2000, 106 (2) 346-349; DOI: 10.1542/peds.106.2.346

² Barber, C, Prieto, P.A., Wallingford, J.C. (2018). A Double-Blind, Randomized, Crossover Allergy Study of an Extensively Hydrolyzed Casein Formula. Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. This randomized, single administration DBOFC showed Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula is effective in managing cow’s milk allergy and satisfied established AAP criteria for hypoallergenic formulas.

³ Calculations based cost per pound with average weekly usage of 1.5 pounds of powder the first year using Perrigo’s MSRP for a 12.6oz container of Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula compared to pricing for Nutramigen® 12.6oz container based on June 2021 IRi Market Advantage annual retail sales data of powder infant formula. MSRP is manufacturer-suggested pricing only, retailers alone set pricing, cost savings may vary.

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