Baby Crying Patterns
Babies often cry, and at times to the point where parents become worried and upset. The good news is that crying during the first few months of life is common and part of a baby’s normal development. Indeed, some babies seem to cry a lot and nothing helps. During this phase of a baby’s life, they can cry for hours and still be healthy and normal. Parents often worry that there is something wrong. However, even after a checkup from the doctor that shows the baby is healthy, baby continues to cry for hours, night after night. In extreme situations, a crying baby can be a source of tremendous frustration for parents and caregivers. Sadly, at times, a parent or other caregiver may shake their baby out of desperation or even anger. Please remember: never shake a baby as this can cause serious brain damage or even death.
The PURPLE Period of Crying
If parents understand that bouts of crying, especially during the first few months of life, are normal, they will be less frustrated and be more comfortable with their infant. In fact, all babies go through what is called the PURPLE period of crying. This concept was created by a mentor and colleague of mine, developmental pediatrician, Dr. Ron Barr. Dr. Barr’s approach is to explain this phase to parents of newborns to encourage them so that they know it is normal and that it will end. This knowledge can reduce parental frustration, anger, and any tendency to shake a baby.
The acronym “PURPLE” is used to describe specific characteristics of an infant’s crying during this phase. The word “period” is important because it means that this phase is temporary and will end eventually. Each letter of the word “PURPLE” stands for something that describes this period of crying, something that is essentially seen in all babies to some degree:
P: Peak of Crying—Baby may cry more each week. They tend to cry more at two months and then less at three to five months.
U: Unexpected—Crying can come and go, and you do not know why.
R: Resists Soothing—Baby may not stop crying, no matter what you try.
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 as much as five hours a day, or more.
E: Evening—Baby may cry more during the late afternoon or evening. I refer to this as a crying shift.
Almost all babies go through this period when their crying peaks at about two months of age. Yet every baby differs by the intensity of the crying during this period. Some babies cry more intensely than others do during this time period, while others cry, but less intensely. Excessive crying can be seen in all babies, no matter if they are breastfed or formula fed.
If your baby is crying a lot, it is important to understand that in most cases, this is normal. Knowing more about your baby and the period of PURPLE crying will lessen your frustration and worries, and allow you to fully enjoy your new family addition! For more information, please visit www.purplecrying.info.
In addition to the above, crying may be a way babies express their needs such as being hungry, being tired, or needing a diaper change. Different types or sounds of crying mean different things. Parents will soon discover this and understand what to do. As babies grow older, and become better able to express themselves through other forms of communication, they will cry less often, and for shorter periods of time.
Coping With Crying
Although crying is not usually a cause for alarm, it can be stressful for parents, caregivers, and the baby. Keeping baby’s environment peaceful and calm, particularly around feeding time, and in the late afternoon and evening may help prevent or minimize crying episodes. When your baby does cry, be sure to respond. Don’t just let baby cry. Babies who are left to cry may begin to feel abandoned and insecure, and are often harder to calm. They need TLC for their brain to develop normally, so don’t worry—babies can’t be spoiled at this age.
Strategies to Calm a Crying Baby
- Wrap your baby snugly in a blanket. Many babies find this soothing. But remember, never put your baby to sleep with a blanket wrap.
- Gently pick your baby up and rock her in your arms.
- Singing softly or gently massaging their tummy or back seems to soothe many babies.
- Babies love gentle rhythmic motion. Go for a walk outdoors together using a stroller, baby carrier, or just your arms—it may calm your baby while providing some much needed stress relief for you too! Or, strap your baby into the car seat for a ride in the car; this may help calm or lull him or her to sleep.
When Nothing Soothes Your Baby
Sometimes, nothing will soothe a crying infant, and the episode will need to simply run its course before crying will subside. Though it may be difficult in these circumstances, it’s important that parents try to remain calm, both for their own sake and for the sake of their baby. Babies can sense their parents’ anxiety and nervousness, and this may upset them further, leading to more intense crying. If your baby’s crying is leaving you feeling stressed or burned out, leave the baby in the hands of a competent babysitter, and take time out for a movie, a dinner out, or just a few hours of quiet relaxation! You’ll come back revitalized, better able to cope, and feeling like you’ve missed your baby.
When Is Crying a Sign of Something Wrong?
Sometimes, crying indicates a serious problem. If your baby’s cries are unusual (they don’t follow the usual pattern) and are accompanied by fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or other signs of being unwell, you should seek medical attention immediately. The same is true of a baby who normally does not cry much, but suddenly has an episode of sustained, high-pitched crying, or screaming. These signs could indicate a serious medical problem needing immediate attention.
Ontario-based pediatrician Dr. PAUL Roumeliotis, Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics, McGill University and Associate Faculty Member at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, is a writer, publisher, and producer of multi-format health and wellness resources. Dr. Paul’s first published book, Baby Come Home – A Parent’s Guide to a Healthy and Well First 18 Months, focuses on early child development support and its effects. For more information: www.drpaul.com. Copyright Autograph Communications Inc.