Life with a newborn is full of ups and downs. One day, your kid is a sweet, cooing baby and the next she’s turned into a nonstop crying machine. One thing that can help: familiarizing yourself with the period of PURPLE crying. Here’s what you need to know.
So, what exactly is it? Coined by pediatrician Dr. Ronald Barr, the period of PURPLE crying refers to a normal (emphasis on normal) development stage that typically occurs in the first few weeks and months of a baby’s life. Characterized by persistent crying, this phase usually starts at about two weeks, peaks at around two months and then improves at four months.
And why is it called this? No, it doesn’t mean that your baby turns purple with crying. It’s actually an acronym used to describe the six common characteristics of this phase. “P” refers to peak crying, meaning that your baby may cry more each week, peaking at around two months. The “U” stands for unexpected, since this crying can come and go and you don’t know why (i.e., it’s not related to dirty diapers, feeding or anything else). The “R” means that your baby is resistant to soothing. The second “P” refers to "pain," as in "looks like he's in pain when crying." “L” stands for long-lasting, with crying bouts usually averaging about 35 minutes (but can be as long as two or three hours). And finally, the “E” refers to evening, which is when these episodes often take place.
How can all this help my crying baby? Even if all that prolonged crying is super frustrating, by becoming aware of PURPLE crying, parents can at least feel reassured that what they’re experiencing is normal. “The word 'period' is important because it means that this is only temporary and it will come to an end,” says Dr. Barr. (Typically at around three to five months.) During this developmental phase, experts advise to soothe your baby as best as you can and try not to get frustrated.
Is PURPLE crying the same as colic? Colic is a term that’s also used to describe an infant that cries a lot. “But what’s different is that [colic] is usually considered to be a condition or an abnormality that some babies have and some babies don’t,” explains Dr. Barr. The period of PURPLE crying, on the other hand, refers to a developmental phase that all infants have (although some may experience more than others).
But what if my baby is crying because something’s wrong? A baby who cries because he’s sick will likely have other symptoms (such as vomiting or weight loss). If you’re remotely worried, take your child to the doctor. Then, once you’ve gotten the all-clear from your pediatrician, you can rest assured that what’s happening is normal and will pass.