The Period of PURPLE Crying, Explained
Baby’s first cries after birth likely warmed your heart. They were, after all, the first sounds you heard your infant make. Fast-forward a few weeks and the crying might not be as reassuring. In fact, it may be downright difficult to endure some days and could leave you wondering if the constant sobbing and screaming is normal—or even healthy.
The good news is your baby is probably perfectly fine. The bad news? The crying may get worse before it gets better. At around two months of age, babies start crying so frequently that experts have dubbed this stage as the Period of PURPLE Crying and developed a whole program around the concept. Some more good news: Understanding what the PURPLE program is all about can help the whole family get through this teary time.
The name didn’t come about because some babies turn the shade of a plum after extreme bouts of wailing. PURPLE is actually an acronym that was developed to help parents better anticipate and understand this stage of life where babies cry around the clock (or at least it feels that way to exhausted moms and dads). The letters stand for:
- P eak of crying. Baby is wailing a lot. The most crying may happen in baby’s second month, with less crying in months three to five.
- U nexpected. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why baby starts and stops crying.
- R esists soothing. Rocking, singing, bouncing, swaying—you may not be able to do anything—we repeat, anything—to help soothe baby and ease the sobbing.
- P ain-like face. Baby may appear to be in pain when crying, even when he’s not.
- L ong lasting. The crying can seem never ending. In fact, baby may cry for five hours a day or more.
- E vening. The late afternoon and evening may be when baby cries the most.
When experts looked at how much babies cry during the first months of life they found that peak periods of crying correlated with the increased incidences of shaken baby syndrome (SBS), brain injury and head trauma caused by forcibly shaking an infant. Experts believe the reason for the correlation is some parents find themselves unable to manage the endless crying and shake their babies in an attempt to get them to stop. Tragically, the complications associated with SBS can be deadly.
The PURPLE program was developed to help parents manage during this high-crying stage and reduce the cases of SBS, says Julie Noble, program director for the Period of PURPLE Crying at the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. “It was a priority that the program take a child developmental approach that aimed to support caregivers and increase their understanding of normal infant crying.”
Trained health professionals, such as nurses and pediatricians, deliver the program to new parents and caregivers in medical settings. Parents typically leave the hospital with a booklet and DVD that further explains the PURPLE period, and they can also go to PurpleCrying.info to learn more.
Some preliminary research shows the implementation of the program has reduced SBS-related hospitalizations, and one survey found that 91 percent of parents agree that the PURPLE program helped them feel less frustrated when baby was crying.
Doctors actually aren’t entirely sure why crying increases during this period, but they have found that humans aren’t the only ones that go through this stage. Other breasted species also whimper, mewl and bleat more during the first months of life, says Adam Zolotor, MD, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina.
What experts do know is the increased crying is normal during this stage of life. That said, if the crying seems excessive or if you have a gut feeling something more serious is the matter, see a doctor. “Babies have a limited way of communicating, and crying is a way to let us know something’s wrong, whether the child has a fever, is constipated or has an intolerance to formula,” Zolotor says.
If your infant is wailing, first make sure there’s not an obvious reason for the cries, like a wet diaper that needs changing or a hungry tummy. Then, try these techniques to help ease the tears:
- Swaddle baby. Use a big, thin blanket to securely wrap up your infant. You can ask a nurse or your pediatrician to show you how to swaddle correctly if you’re not sure how to do it.
- Aid digestion. Hold baby so she’s on her left side and gently rub her back to help her digest her food.
- Rock or sway. Hold baby in your arms and walk, sit or stand while making these calming motions, which may remind babies of how they felt in the womb.
- Use noise. Calming sounds, such as white noise machines or the whir of a fan, can soothe crying babies.
- Try a pacifier. The act of sucking can help soothe many babies.
If none of these methods work, don’t panic. According to the PURPLE program, about 10 percent of the time there’s nothing that can be done to ease baby’s crying—and that’s okay.
“As a parent, we feel like we always have to do something, but sometimes there is just nothing you can do and it’s best to walk away, especially if you’re getting frustrated or angry,” says Christine Baker, the program coordinator of the Period of PURPLE Crying at Seattle Children’s Hospital. If you find you’re feeling too exhausted or stressed to deal with your newborn’s cries, ask a partner, family member or friend to hold baby while you take a break.
If you’re watching baby by yourself, don’t feel guilty about walking away either. Place your infant in a safe space, such as a crib or bassinet, and go into the next room until you’ve calmed down. Remember, while the crying may seem endless now, there is a light at the end of this tear-filled tunnel and your little one will soon grow out of this sobbing stage.
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Published March 2018