All newborn babies cry, as this is how they communicate their needs. However, sometimes the crying can be intense and long-lasting, prompting many parents to worry that something is wrong with their baby.
Such babies often get labelled as having colic, but this can imply something is abnormal about your baby’s crying behaviour, when in fact excessive crying is very normal in all babies. The term ‘Period of Purple Crying’ was coined by a baby expert who wanted to reassure parents that long-lasting crying is a normal phase of babies’ development.
The problem with the term ‘colic’
Being told your baby has colic can be very confusing, especially as there is no firm understanding of what causes colic, or a specific treatment to ease the symptoms of it. Further still, the term colic suggests that something is medically wrong with your baby, and being offered medication to treat the symptoms of colic reinforces this idea. Developmental paediatrician Dr Ronald Barr coined the term Period of Purple Crying because he wanted parents to feel reassured that this period of crying was a normal part of their baby’s behaviour and would not go on forever.
Read more about crying babies:
- 8 ways to soothe your crying baby (that will calm you down too)
- Science confirms cuddles really DO help ease babies’ pain
- Soothing a crying baby: Why this natural calming technique really works
The Period Of PURPLE Crying
First things first: it’s not called PURPLE crying because your baby turns purple from all the wailing. PURPLE is the acronym for describing an array of symptoms that make up the crying behaviour you might see in your baby. It’s described as a ‘period’ of crying because this group of behaviours tends to be a phase, commencing at around two weeks and continuing until about 3-4 months of age.
Purple Crying is NORMAL
Dr Barr also notes that crying behaviour during this period occurs in all babies. It’s a spectrum of sorts, with some babies crying very little, and others a whole lot. This is all part of normal baby development and shouldn’t be seen as problematic behaviour. He also points out that it’s not just human babies that go through this period. Research has suggested that all mammals go through this developmental stage in the first few months of their life.
The PURPLE crying acronym
The PURPLE acronym offers a reassuring way for parents to understand their crying baby and know that the period won’t last forever. By describing specific characteristics of babies’ cries, this helps parents see the phase as a normal part of development:
P is for PEAK of crying. This means your baby may cry more each week, with a peak at about two months.
U is for UNEXPECTED crying. Your baby might be inconsolable at specific times in the day for no apparent reason.
R is for RESISTS soothing. It can seem like no matter what you try, your baby continues crying.
P is for a PAIN-LIKE face. Your baby might look like she’s in pain, even though she’s not.
L is for LONG-LASTING, as the crying might last for several hours at a time.
E is for EVENING. It’s common for babies to cry in the late afternoon and evening.
What causes PURPLE crying?
Babies diagnosed with colic have often been treated for digestive disorders and other medical conditions, but there’s not enough research to say what the cause is for sure. Treating the crying as a medical issue also leads parents to believe there’s something wrong with their baby. The reasoning behind the term ‘Period of Purple Crying’ is so mums and dads can be assured that persistent crying – although tough to handle – is normal and won’t last forever.
Coping with PURPLE crying
While persistent crying is normal in healthy babies, it can be an incredibly distressing time for parents who are going through it. It’s important to access as much support as you can while you’re dealing with the Period of Purple Crying. Here are some tips for surviving it:
- See your GP. It’s a good idea to rule out anything medical first so you can then focus on getting through the Period of Purple Crying, knowing that your baby is healthy and normal.
- Tag team with your partner so you each get a break from the crying.
- If you know your baby cries at a particular time of day, aim to be in a place where you can manage it. For example, avoid the supermarket in the afternoon if that’s the time of day your baby becomes inconsolable.
- Try all the settling tricks you have to console your baby and go with whatever works, even if that means extended walks with the baby carrier or offering extra breastfeeds.
- This is not the time to be worrying about bad habits or spoiling your baby. Do whatever works and feel free to give your baby plenty of attention if it helps ease the crying.
- Ask family members and friends to help. Having the moral support around you while you deal with persistent crying can make you feel less alone. You can also utilise their help so you can take regular breaks.