According to a new study from Penn State University in the US, mums with more support during pregnancy, and in the weeks and months after birth, are less likely to report colic in their babies.
The NHS describes colic as, “excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy.” It says that up to one in five babies are affected.
For anyone who has been at the sharp end of a colic-ey baby, that description doesn’t really do it justice. Babies with colic can cry for hours, fuss incessantly, and drive their parents semi-insane with worry, frustration, and exhaustion. Colic can undermine parental health (mental and physical) and jeopardise relationships. Extreme cases can be hellish.
Which is why any research that helps understand the condition is to be welcomed. The Penn study’s basic conclusion is that dads play a key role in lowering the risk of colic in their new born children. Dads who provide better ‘maternal social support’ can help keep this upsetting and little understood condition at bay.
Colic – bad luck or bad dad?
That’s not quite how the conclusion has been interpreted everywhere, however. Some outlets think the study might be used as a stick to beat men with. The idea seems to be based on an interpretation that goes something like:
a) dads can help reduce the incidence of colic,
b) but there’s lots of colic around,
c) ergo, dads aren’t doing enough.
That’s not really what the study is saying, though. To us, it simply seems to be reinforcing a theme we come back to again and again on DaddiLife; that an involved, supportive dad is good for everyone.
It’s good for the baby’s development, it’s good for the family, and now it appears to be good for reducing colic too.
So what does ‘maternal social support’ actually mean, and what can dads do to make sure they’re supplying it. Marie Howes of Cry-sis, the only UK charity offering help and support to parents with babies who cry excessively, says that keeping lines of communication open is vital.
“Due to circumstances it’s often only mum that has to respond all day to the needs of the baby,” says Marie. “If you are feeling bad about how you’re coping, your partner is probably feeling worse at her inability to help her baby.
“Keep talking to each other about how things are going. If you are struggling too, don’t be afraid to admit it, none of us are perfect and you can support each other.”
Tips for dads – how you can offer better colic relief
There are ways to help cope with a colic-ey baby. Here are Marie’s top tips for dads.
- When you come home try and keep your cool, even if you are stressed after a day at work. Mum will have had a bad day too.
- Practical help is always useful. Be prepared to cook a meal at the end of the day and clear away after, maybe cook extra so that mum can just heat it up when she has a moment the next day or leave a packed lunch ready in the fridge. Put a wash load on, tidy up, ask if there’s anything you can help with.
- If you have an older child take over the bedtime routine or look after the baby while mum spends some time with your other child if she prefers.
- Take the baby for a short walk in the buggy or ride in the car to give mum a break. Time for a shower, bath or just to read a magazine or take a nap goes a long way to easing stress.
- If you’re at work, a text or email just to say ‘Hi’, and an occasional bunch of flowers or other kind gesture to show that you love her and understand how hard life is at the moment could make a real difference to her day!
- Cry-sis is here to speak to any mum or dad that is finding it difficult to cope. We offer tips and advice but most importantly a listening ear from someone who understands how you feel.
The Cry-sis helpline is open from 9am to 10pm every day on 08451 228 669.