Have you heard about “The Period of Purple Crying?” Have you already experienced it? If not, consider yourself lucky. If you are reading this in the midst of such a period, you have my greatest empathy.
The Period of Purple Crying is something that most parents will experience at some point and I want you to know what it is. I also want you to understand that it’s a temporary situation that will get better. And that even if you’re baby does a little or a lot of purple crying, they won’t grow into insufferable children. Purple crying is just a normal developmental process that babies go through. Having realistic expectations about this might make it easier to get through it than if you have no idea what it is until your stuck in the middle of it!
Does this mean that your baby will be crying so hard that they turn the color purple? No. The word “purple” is used as an acronym to describe this period of normal development for newborns.
P – Peak of Crying: It begins about week two and continues until about months three-four. It can increase with every week peaking at about month two, then lessen during months three-four.
U – Unexpected: Your baby’s crying can come and go without any reason.
R – Resists Soothing: Your baby may not stop crying no matter what you do to help them.
P – Pain-Like Face: Your crying baby may look like they’re in pain, even when they aren’t.
L – Long-Lasting: The crying can last as much as 5 hours a day or more.
E – Evening: Your baby may cry more in the late afternoon and evening.
Sounds fun, right? I know – it sounds terrible. But read on, because there are some things that you can do that will make this slightly less challenging.
They call it a “period” so that you understand that there is a beginning and also (blessedly!) an end to this behavior. I think people are still wanting to label this as “colic” and that might make you feel better – for a little bit. But sometimes that same “diagnosis” might make you feel like there’s something wrong with your baby or that they need to be treated medically, when they’re perfectly healthy and just going through a normal stage of newborn development. (It’s always a good idea to talk with your provider if you feel that your baby might be in pain or not feeling well. They’ll be able to rule out any medical issues.)
But, what are you supposed to do with a newborn who is having periods of purple crying? First, recognize that any attempts to soothe your baby might work some of the time, but nothing works all of the time. Your baby is a brand new little human being and they can be unpredictable little buggers sometimes.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to soothe your baby, you should. But try not to take it personally if after all of your lovely attempts, your baby still does not soothe. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or that you’re a bad parent. It just means that for this period of time, your baby will not be able to be soothed, no matter what you try. Frustrating? Absolutely! But at least you can stop thinking that you suck at parenting.
What soothing behaviors can you try so that you feel like you’re doing something?
Change the baby’s position: Sometimes this will be enough for them to settle down because of their different perspective or something distracts them. Maybe they’ll get a better look at your face or feel your body against theirs which can be very comforting.
Repeat something over and over again: Try soft little pats on the bum or back to the beat of your favorite song. Engage their senses and create a rhythm out of whatever it is you’re doing. My husband had a different “Daddy Dance” that he created for each of our babies – the same movement over and over – when our kids were newborns. It was soothing for them and gave him a little bit of a workout at the same time. Win-win!
White noise (even a vacuum, or fan can work in a pinch): Some babies will respond really well to white noise. You might have to start it quite loud depending on their crying and then gradually turn it down. This can be super helpful for some babies. Our friends had the cleanest house in town with their first newborn! We’d come over for dinner and take turns holding her and vacuuming various rooms in the house. It really worked!
Keep your baby close to you: Try wearing them around the house in a sling or some other type of baby carrier. You might have to find “the one” that this particular baby likes. (We had a different carrier for each of our babies. Try to get them second-hand, they are not cheap!) But if they’re having a particularly hard time soothing, maybe add some skin-to-skin contact. That will help to fire up the oxytocin for both of you!
Try to engage all of their senses for even more impact: But keep it human, not mechanical. Babies will always respond better to human voices, features, touches and smells than the most expensive toy or baby gadget ever created.
None of this probably sounds like rocket science to you. Cultures all over the world have employed these same soothing techniques for their babies since the beginning of time. But here’s something you might not know.
There is such a thing as using soothing activities or techniques in advance of crying episodes to lessen the amount and duration of crying jags overall. There are countries where babies are worn almost 24/7 and they don’t have the same levels of purple crying that our babies do in the West. Hmmmm….
You might try and track the actual crying episodes for a few days to see if there is any rhyme or reason to them. It can feel incredibly overwhelming if you feel like your baby cries “all the time.” But if you see in your notes that your baby is happy during the daytime and only inconsolable between the hours of 6-11 pm, you’ll see that he doesn’t cry all the time.
It doesn’t change that your baby cries non-stop for five hours straight, but at least it prepares you and allows you to create a strategy for how to effectively deal with this purple crying until it ends.
Because, it will end. I promise you that. At about 12 weeks (sometimes a little bit earlier, sometimes a little bit later) your baby “wakes up” for lack of a better way to describe it. They become more like the baby you had imagined, and those periods of purple crying will become something of a war story for you to share with other new parents.
But please – remember in that sharing to always let those poor parents who are still in the middle of it know that it will get better. It always does.
Want to read more about The Period of Purple Crying? Check out this website. And if you are a crafty person who loves to knit, there’s a campaign called Click for Babies to help spread the word about purple crying to new parents and help lower the risk of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Did your baby go through this? If you’ve experienced this first-hand, what was it like when it ended? Let’s try to provide some hope for those who are still in the middle of it.