A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Parents: Don’t let PURPLE Crying make you blue

Purple Crying 6-08 inside

Remember, it is OK to let a baby cry in his or her crib if you need a break.

New parents, hang in there. Babies cry, a lot. It’s not your fault, and it’s normal.

The Period of PURPLE Crying® describes a stage in a baby’s life when he or she cries for long periods of time without an obvious reason.

PURPLE is an acronym describing this period of crying. The peak of the crying period is around two months old, the crying can be unexpected, the baby may resist soothing, the baby may make a face like he or she is in pain, the crying may be long lasting, and the crying may be most intense in the evening.

Babies experience the Period of PURPLE Crying from three weeks to four months old, said Dr. Jamie Peterson, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician.

“Sometimes you can soothe the baby, but they can be inconsolable,” Peterson said. “And it might be for no apparent reason.”

Try these steps

Peterson said when a baby is crying, first do the basics: change their diaper and feed and burp them. If that doesn’t work, try the Five S’s:

  • Swaddle the baby.
  • Hold the baby on his/her side, stomach or over your shoulder.
  • Make a shushing noise. This soothes the baby.
  • Swing the baby in your arms.
  • Allow the baby to suck on a pacifier.

If nothing seems to work, check the baby’s temperature to make sure he or she doesn’t have a fever. Peterson said a warm bath also may help soothe your baby.

The Period of PURPLE Crying exists on a spectrum. Some babies cry more and longer than others, but almost all babies cry without an underlying reason for some period of time.

“The irritability is higher for babies during this period of time,” Peterson said.

Peterson said babies can cry intermittently for as long as three consecutive hours. It’s not unusual for a baby to cry five hours out of a 24-hour day while in the Period of PURPLE Crying.

Keep cool, parents

Those in multi-parent households have the ability to take turns caring for their baby. When one parent gets exhausted or frustrated, the other can take over.

Single parents face a tougher challenge. Peterson said it’s important for single parents to have a support system and to ask for help when needed.

It is OK to put a crying baby down in the crib and let him or her cry for a while if you need to go to a different room and calm down. You should not pick the baby up until you’ve calmed down.

“A crying baby in a frustrated parent’s arms is not necessarily going to stay safe,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t make you a bad parent if you get frustrated. You’re a good parent if you know when to put the baby down.”

Shaken baby syndrome is a brain injury that babies suffer as a result of being shaken. Parents who are frustrated and sleep deprived are at risk for losing their cool and shaking a baby in a moment of frustration or anger.

“In the vast majority of shaken baby cases, the parent did not set out to harm the baby,” Peterson said. “It happens because crying babies can be very frustrating.”

Marshfield Clinic offers Clinic patients access to a Nurse Line service 24 hours a day, seven days a week if they need assistance. Families can simply call the number for their child’s primary care provider, and, if it’s after hours, that number will forward to the 24-hour Nurse Line.

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