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What is the Period of Purple Crying?

For normal, healthy infants crying is a very common occurrence, especially during the first 12 weeks of life. Between 2 and 6 weeks of age a baby's crying steadily increases and can put a lot of strain on parents.

Crying is the number one reason why parents shake and hurt their baby. Shaking a baby is very dangerous and can cause: blindness, seizures, learning and physical disabilities, and even death. Shaken Baby Syndrome is the most common form of child abuse seen in children under one year of age. It is also the number one cause of death in infants (30 percent of deaths) and upwards of 80 percent of infants who survive suffer permanent life-long brain abnormalities.

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The Period of PURPLE Crying is a concept developed by Dr. Ronald Barr, MCDM, FRCPC, as a new way to explain colic by educating parents about normal crying behavior and the dangers of shaking babies. The program uses positive messages for parents, rather than negative warnings about detrimental consequences, to improve their relationship with their baby.

Mother holding infant

During this period there are many characteristics that are better explained through the PURPLE acronym. All babies go through this period – some babies cry a lot and some far less, but they all go through it.

P: Peak of crying – Your baby may cry more each week; the most at two months, then less at three to four months.

U: Unexpected – Crying can come and go and you don't know why.

R: Resists soothing – Your baby may not stop crying no matter what you try to do.

P: Pain-like face – A crying baby may look like they are in pain, even when they are not.

L: Long lasting – Crying can last a much as five hours a day, or more.

E: Evening – Your baby may cry more in the late afternoon and/or evening.

The Period of PURPLE Crying is based on almost 50 years of early infant development and crying research by an international cast of scientist and pediatricians. Related studies were done on non-mammalian (breast feeding) species, like chimpanzees, and found that their babies have a similar crying curve. Crying is a normal part of child development.

Comforting your baby

There are several things you can do to try to comfort your baby when he/she cries, including:

  • Check to see if he/she is hungry, tired or needs changing.
  • Increase your carry, comfort, walk and talk activities with your baby.
  • Rhythmic motion: Take your baby for a walk or ride in the car, or dancing with your baby.
  • Rhythmic sound: music, lullabies, white noise, dripping water, etc.
  • Touches that delight: a warm bath, skin-to-skin contact, a massage.
  • Sights that delight: mirror, happy/silly faces; the TV.

It's important to remember that these may reduce your baby's crying, but may not always work. If you're concerned that your baby's crying is abnormal check with your doctor to make sure there isn't anything wrong.

It's OK to walk away

When you are feeling frustrated, angry or upset it's OK to walk away and take a break from the crying. In fact, by doing so you are preventing yourself from losing control and unconsciously shaking your baby.

Even when you are at your wits-end, remember this period will end, crying is normal and you're doing fine.

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