Diary of a Night Nanny: life with a newborn

Georgie Bateman visits baby Polly to reassure a nervous first-time mum

I’m caring for Polly, who is only five days old and has been out of hospital for two. When I turn up for my third night with Laura and Mike, I go into the sitting room to find Laura peacefully feeding Polly.

But as I sit down and ask how her day has gone, her face crumples into a worried frown. “My antenatal group met for tea this afternoon, and although Polly had been so good this morning, she just wouldn’t stop crying. One of the other mums said it could be colic – that sounds awful, I really don’t want her to suffer such pain.”

Of the many things that can affect a newborn, colic is a parent’s worst nightmare. It’s no help to be told that it passes within four to six months – it’s hard enough listening to your baby cry for four to six minutes.

My first job is to reassure Laura, whose worry has already transmitted itself to Polly; the peaceful scene I had come in to a few moments ago has changed, Laura is worried and Polly has pulled away from her breast and is grizzling.

“See,” says Laura, urgently. “And my sister’s baby son had colic – it’s horrible for everyone, and lasts forever.”

“Yes, I do see,” I say reassuringly. “But one afternoon of grizzling doesn’t necessarily make a colicky baby. I always suggest you apply the Rule of Three before labelling your baby with something like colic.”

“The Rule of Three?” queries Mike, who has brought us both a cup of tea.
“Yes. If it doesn’t exceed three hours a day, three days a week, for three weeks then it isn’t colic.”

There is a moment’s silence while they both digest this. Then Laura gives a relieved smile.
“Are you saying I’ve over-reacted?” she asks.

“Well, you are a little premature in your assumptions,” I smile back at her. “Polly is
only four days old!”

We discuss how Laura might recognise colic if Polly is unfortunate to develop it. It is different to normal crying in that it happens in the evening, it can last for several hours and Polly would draw her knees into her tummy or arch her back while crying.

But I caution Laura again. “Do be aware that these signs are not terribly different from normal crying – most babies, like most adults, get tired and fractious in the evening and many will arch their backs, too. So don’t leap to label your baby as colicky.”

Laura told me some of the things her sister had done. She had been advised to swaddle her baby, to hold him over her shoulder or on his tummy along her arm, to wind regularly during a feed and to rock him. She had also been advised to keep him upright during a feed. “Which was tricky as she was breastfeeding him,” laughs Laura, whose equilibrium seems to have returned.

It’s certainly easier for a bottle-fed baby than a breastfed baby, but breastfed babies tend to take in less air than bottle-fed babies. And if you are breastfeeding, be careful of your own food intake. Caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods will all make their way into your breastmilk.

Keeping calm is also a huge help to your baby, but it is easier said than done. And if you find that you, too, are literally crying in frustration, put your baby down and leave the room for a while. If you can hear her crying, she isn’t in any danger, and sometimes the peace of her own cot will help her fall asleep.

It helps if you can learn how your baby cries, because then you can respond accordingly. You will learn the difference between cries that mean, ‘I’m tired’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘I’ve got a wet nappy’ or ‘My tummy hurts’. Or even, sometimes, ‘Leave me alone, I just need a break’!

For more details, contact Georgie Bateman at Night Nannies on 01794 301762 or georgie@nightnannies.com.

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