Updated: Mar 17, 2021
It’s 7 p.m. and again your 6-weeks-old baby has a scrunched-up face and is uncontrollably crying. You’ve fed, burped and change the poopy diaper. You are thinking: what is wrong, why won’t baby stop crying, is baby sick or in pain?
It can be scary being a parent of a baby, especially if it’s your first. An episode like the one described above will worry you, make you wonder what you are doing wrong, and frustrate you because it seems no matter what you do baby won’t stop crying.
Baby is most likely experiencing a period of PURPLE crying. #purplecrying PURPLE is an acronym to help parents understand what is happening when their infant cries up to 5 hours a day. It does not mean your baby’s face turns purple when they cry. The acronym is meant to help parents realize their child is going through a normal phase of development and that there is an end to this tough period.
A period of PURPLE crying is not a statement about your parenting skills. The period of PURPLE crying that babies go through happens all over the world and the signs are the same regardless of which county the baby lives. The acronym PURPLE applies to all babies.
What Is PURPLE Crying?
Let’s take a look at what the acronym PURPLE signifies.
P = Peak of Crying
The first P stands for peak of crying. PURPLE crying fuzziness tends to start around 2 weeks of age and peaks between weeks 6 and 8. PURPLE crying usually ends between 3 and 5 months of age. The good news is PURPLE crying does have an ending to this period of development.
U = Unexpected
The U represents the unexpected and unpredictable nature of the crying. The episodes come and go with no apparent reason for when or why they occur. Episodes occur more frequently in the afternoon and evening.
R = Resist Soothing
The R signifies that babies are not soothed by things that normally would comfort them. Babies cry to communicate. They sometimes cry a lot and normally can be consoled. However, with PURPLE crying, feeding, burping, changing the diaper, holding them close to you has little to no effect on their crying.
P = Pain Like Face
The second P describes the look that parents frequently say they see on their baby’s face. Baby’s face looks like they are in pain even though they are not. This is difficult on a parent especially if your baby isn’t responding to soothing.
L = Long Lasting
The crying can occur in episodes of 30 minutes up to 5 hours at a time. As tough as this is for you, the crying will end at some point today. And remember, it is okay to lie baby down in a safe place so you can take a break to collect yourself.
E = Evening
Evening tends to be the worst period of crying. Crying may start in the late afternoon but evening is typically when the crying peaks and last the longest period of time.
Ways to Soothe Baby During a Period of PURPLE Crying
It helps to know that the crying will end, and PURPLE crying is part of normal development. However, you still need to and want to try to soothe baby as much as you can. One of these tried and true techniques may help calm your baby. Try different ones because what works one day may not work the next and vise versa.
First, check physical ques to make sure baby isn’t crying for a specific reason.
Check for a fever. A baby’s normal temperature range is from 97 to 100.3 degrees. WebMD. (2020, October 20). Fever in Babies. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/fever-in-babies#1
Make sure baby doesn’t need a diaper change.
Feed baby if it has been a while between feedings.
Burp baby to make sure baby has not swallowed too much air during feeding or crying.
Swaddle baby in a soft blanket. Wrap baby snuggly to help them feel safe and secure. Be sure to speak with your pediatrician regarding their opinion of swaddling before you begin this practice. Some pediatricians steer away from swaddling because too tightly wrapping the baby’s hips and legs can cause baby’s hips to dislocate. Ask your Pediatrician to demonstrate the proper way to swaddle if they recommend the practice.
Hold baby next to you where their chest is against you. You can do this using a baby carrier. Good Housekeeping has a list of the ones that they consider the best #babycarriers for 2021. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/childrens-products/g4799/best-baby-carriers. You can also wrap them up in your arms. Feeling the warmth of your skin and hearing your heartbeat will comfort your baby.
Dim the lights and turn on soft music. Spotify has Calm Baby Music: Great Songs for Babies Relaxing, Sleeping and Settling Down playlist already created. Listen to the play list at https://open.spotify.com/album/2QjyFNajETVuIKbsF2BlEc
Movement will often calm a baby. Try rocking baby or walking with them in a baby carrier.
Place them in their car seat and take them for a ride in the car. People of every age become sleeping riding in a car.
Give Yourself a Break from a PURPLE Crying Baby
You may need to step away from baby for a few minutes if no comforting techniques you have tried are working. Being a new parent means you are possibly running low on sleep, mentally exhausted and even have lower patience levels.
It is better to place the baby in a safe spot and walk away for 10 or 15 minutes than to completely run out of patience. Do check on baby at least every 15 minutes to make sure they are safe. Do not pick baby up until you have calmed down unless something is physically wrong with baby. Instead, you should spend another 10 or 15 minutes trying to regroup your composure.
Tips to Help You Stay Calm Down During a Stressful PURPLE Crying Episode
During the break from baby try these tips to help restore your patience:
Take 10 deep breaths inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
Call a family member or friend for emotional support.
Turn on calming music that you enjoy and sing along with it.
Do a simple household chore to distract yourself, and do one that will give you a feeling of accomplishment.
Do an exercise like jumping rope to get rid of the pent-up frustration or try a yoga pose that requires you to concentrate to maintain the pose.
Do an online active distracts your mind from the current situation. E.g., Pinterest, social media, or read a chapter of a book.
Try journaling to express your feelings. Writing your feelings down on a piece of paper calms the mind. You can also go back and read them the next time PURPLE Crying happens. You will see what coping strategies worked previously for you.
Pray and read your Bible. A bible verse for parents struggling to stay calm is Galatians 5:22. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things, there is no law." Another verse is Ephesians 4: 2. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ask God to give you gentleness and patience. God will grant you these things.
A Period of PURPLE Crying Can Result in Shaken Baby Syndrome
Shaken baby syndrome #shakenbabysyndrome is known by several different names. It is also known as abusive head trauma, inflicted head injury, shaken impact syndrome, or whiplash shake syndrome. The Oklahoma State Department of Health estimates there are 1,200 to 1,400 cases of shaken baby episodes each year in the United States and 300 of those babies die. Oklahoma State Department of Health. Shaken baby syndrome. https://oklahoma.gov/health/family-health/improving-infant-outcomes/injury-prevention-for-babies/shaken-baby-syndrome.html
Episodes of shaken baby syndrome most commonly occur out of frustration of a baby continuously crying. Parents who shake their children typically do not have a history of violence. They are normal people whose patience has snapped.
It can take as little as 5 seconds of violently shaking a baby to cause brain damage. Shaking a baby is a form of child abuse. The baby may stop crying while being shaken but this is because the shaking has caused brain damage. The baby has not learned to stop crying because baby was shaken.
A baby’s neck muscles are weak and cannot support its head while baby is being shaken. Shaking causes the baby’s brain to bounce up against the inside of the baby's skull. This trauma results in the brain bruising, swelling, and bleeding. It can result in death.
The long-term effect of shaken baby syndrome is irreversible brain damage. 80% of surviving babies suffer permanent brain damage. A baby may experience severe complication that include partial or total blindness, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, seizures, and a permanent loss of vision. These are not conditions you want your baby to suffer for the rest of their life.
“Any parent or other person who shall willfully or maliciously engage in child abuse shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections not exceeding life imprisonment, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) nor more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or both such fine and imprisonment. As used in this subsection, "child abuse" means the willful or malicious harm or threatened harm or failure to protect from harm or threatened harm to the health, safety, or welfare of a child under eighteen (18) years of age by another, or the act of willfully or maliciously injuring, torturing or maiming a child under eighteen (18) years of age by another.
B. Any parent or other person who shall willfully or maliciously engage in enabling child abuse shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections not exceeding life imprisonment, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) nor more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) or both such fine and imprisonment. As used in this subsection, "enabling child abuse" means the causing, procuring or permitting of a willful or malicious act of harm or threatened harm or failure to protect from harm or threatened harm to the health, safety, or welfare of a child under eighteen (18) years of age by another. As used in this subsection, "permit" means to authorize or allow for the care of a child by an individual when the person authorizing or allowing such care knows or reasonably should know that the child will be placed at risk of abuse as proscribed by this subsection.” 21 O.S. § 843.5 (OSCN 2021), Child Abuse. https://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=455672
Cutting through the legalese, If the abuser is arrested, convicted, and sentenced, they may serve a sentence up to life in prison and be fined no more than $5,000. Additionally, any parent or other person who willfully or maliciously enables child abuse can serve up to life in prison and be fined no more than $5,000 if convicted.
Do not allow the frustration of a crying baby make you to loose your temper. Shaking your baby can permanently harm the baby and potentially send you to prison. Place baby in a safe spot and try the above tips to regain your composure.
Is It PURPLE Crying or 4-Month Sleep Regression?
PURPLE crying and 4-month sleep regression #sleepregression have distinct attributes that help distinguish which issue baby is having. Both PURPLE crying and 4-month sleep Regression are normal parts of development, but they do have multiple differences to help you determine which one your baby is experiencing.
PURPLE crying is attributed to inconsolable crying that occurs primarily in the late afternoon or evening. 4-month sleep regression happens mostly during the night, even though they may have more problems napping during the day.
PURPLE crying happens out of the blue starting as early as two months. 4-month sleep regression tends to happen between 3 and 4 months old during a time baby is learning a new skill, like learning to turn over. Baby is eager to perfect this new skill and this causes them to wake up during the night. Baby no longer is following the sleeping pattern they developed. They are too excited about the world around them to want to sleep and this may also be stressful period for baby. Think of this time as a growth spurt.
Purple crying can last for several months. 4-month sleep regression normally ends in less than two weeks.
Whether baby is going through a period of PURPLE crying or 4-month sleep regression, it is important to contact a pediatrician if baby is eating less than normal during the day and isn’t gaining weight, there is a decrease or increase in the number of wet and poopy diapers, or baby is running a fever.
Regardless if it is PURPLE crying or 4-month sleep regression, remembering both are normal patterns of development in healthy babies and that both will end over a period of time. To learn more about issues parents face, such as Purple Crying, enroll in evidenced based parenting classes and continue to check out our blog post for tips.