What Your Doctor Wants You To Know About PURPLE Crying, Every Parent's Nightmare

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Babies can't tell you what's bothering them, so when they are crying inconsolably, it can cause you to pull out your hair and want to cry inconsolably yourself. Is it gas? Are they in pain? Are they hungry? Is this normal?!? I remember nights with my son where I'd pace the apartment with a screaming baby until my feet hurt and I'd attempt to breastfeed him until my nipples were sore. Nothing I tried worked. It turns out there is a name for this phase and actually things your doctor wants you to know about PURPLE crying.

The phase of daily crying without a seeming end has been called "PURPLE crying." In a term coined by developmental pediatrician Dr. Ronald Barr, PURPLE is an acronym for:

Peak of crying

Unexpected

Resists soothing

Pain-like face

Long-lasting

Evening

In a nutshell, your baby may cry incessantly, without ceasing, every evening for a period of time from when they are about two weeks old till they are three to four months old. You need to get a good pair of earplugs and a boatload of patience to endure this, but it's helpful to know two things: it's normal and it will eventually pass. Dr. Jarret Patton, a pediatrician and consultant in Pennsylvania, assures parents the intense period will only last around a month. "However," he cautions in an email to Romper, "a parent must go through the normal investigative steps of determining if the cry is from hunger, thirst, dirty diapers, attention or fatigue. If it doesn't fall into those categories, parents often default to pain as the cause. Although the cry can seem like it is due to pain, if there is no immediate apparent cause, including a hair tourniquet, it is ok to let them cry."

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It's Normal, But Patience Is Key

Knowing that the intense crying normal and knowing that after eliminating certain causes they are not in pain and the crying itself will not harm your child, can theoretically give you peace of mind, but it doesn't mean that it's not extremely difficult at times to live through it. Especially if your baby is keeping you up and night and you aren't sleeping enough, dealing with the screaming while you are exhausted can push you over the edge. The big concern in the medical community is that in a parent's frustration with non-stop baby screaming, they may lose control and shake the baby to get it to stop. This can result in Shaken Baby Syndrome, where severe jolting can result in brain damage or even death to your baby. If you are experiencing PURPLE crying and feel like you are losing control (and even if you haven't reached that point yet), it's important to take a step back and collect yourself.

The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome has put together some great resources to help you, including this video:

purple NCSBS on YouTube

You're Not A "Bad Mom"

The New Hampshire Children's Trust has put together some tips on soothing a crying baby. These include trying warm baths, skin to skin contact and rocking the baby, either in a swing or in your arms. Taking a walk in the stroller is good for parent and baby as the motion could help quiet the baby and the fresh air and exercise could help relieve some stress in the parent. Because it's so easy to reach a breaking point, it's really, really important that you get support. If possible, they suggest you ask your partner or neighbor or relative to give you a little break here and there so you can take a nap or just have some relief from the noise. If you need to walk away and leave the baby crying in their crib, too, that's okay. As Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Missouri tells Romper via email, "You are never a "bad mom" if you put your baby in a safe place and let them cry on their own for a bit so you can get a break."

They Might Just Be Sleepy

"For some babies, crying is a necessary step prior to sleeping," says Patton. It's so tempting to immediately pick your baby up to comfort them when they are crying, but sometimes your mom-instinct will tell you that they just need to sleep. If you let them cry for a few minutes, you may find that they end up falling asleep on their own, and everyone will finally get a little respite from the crying.  

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It's OK If You Cry, Too

Dr. Darcia Narvaez, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame, worked with several other mental health professionals to add another acronym to PURPLE — CRY. In their paper published on the Psychology Today website, they urged parents to add these tips to dealing with a crying baby:

Calm the baby, perhaps with skin-to-skin contact, quiet singing or gentle movement.

Remember that the baby's rapid growth requires your support.

Yourself. As in take care of yourself and make sure that if you are overwhelmed you have someone there with you to help care for the baby.

New evidence is showing that adding probiotics to a baby's routine may decrease the amount of crying in babies with colic, according to Dr. Burgert.

A month can seem like an eternity of your baby is crying night after night, but it passes. Hang in there, seek help when needed and know that the next phase is around the corner.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.