Your new baby is a few months old now. You had finally gotten settled into a routine, and then something changed. Suddenly, your little bundle of joy is crying all evening, every single night. What happened? Is this the dreaded colic you’ve heard of?
And let’s be honest, there’s a good chance that your hormones have not shifted back to normal yet, and your emotions are still all over the map. So having a baby cry and scream at you for hours on end can make you frazzled and send you totally over the edge!
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I remember this stage with all three of my babies, but I especially remember it with my oldest. My husband and I had no idea what to do. Was this colic? Were we doing something wrong? Were we bad parents?
It turns out, the answer to all three of these questions was a resounding “no.” And by the third child, I had a huge realization that completely changed my outlook on this stage and made it SO much easier! Of course, I’ll share some tips with you on how you might be able to comfort your baby during this stage, but ultimately I want to tell you the perspective shift I had so that it can hopefully help you the way it did me.
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But first… What is purple crying?
Okay, so calling it “purple” crying does not mean your kid is screaming until they turn purple. It’s actually just an acronym. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear this acronym until after my third child had already gone through this stage. It would have been really helpful to know up front!
According to purplecrying.info (man, they have a website for everything now!), PURPLE stands for:
- Peak of crying
- Resists soothing
- Pain-like face
- Long lasting
So let’s break this down a little further.
Peak of crying
Purple crying tends to start around six weeks of age and last until about three or four months. When you’re in the middle of it, that sounds like a really long haul.
But the main point here is, purple crying is a developmental stage, just like tantrums in toddlers or moodiness in teenagers. You’re not doing anything wrong, your baby is just growing up.
There’s no real “reason” for the crying. Your child isn’t hurt, he’s been fed, changed, and burped. But he still won’t stop crying. It’s weird, because he was fine during the day, but once evening rolls in, everything falls apart.
No matter what you do, your baby still cries. You rock, you bounce, you sway, you feed, you sing, you try everything. It can be really stressful!
A lot of times in this stage, it looks like your baby is in pain during these crying bouts. People will tell you your baby has gas, or you’ve fed him too much, or not enough, or something. But none of those things may be true.
This crying will often last for hours. I remember my oldest would fuss from probably 6-9 at night, finally go to sleep, and then wake up and cry for an hour or two in the middle of the night. Granted, I don’t remember much of this stage because I was exhausted, but I do remember dancing with her in the dark and humming snatches of songs from Ocarina of Time (okay, fine, I’m a Zelda geek).
As I mentioned, this crying usually starts somewhere between 5:30 and 6:30 at night. So if you’ve gone back to work and are coming home to a fussy baby, it can be especially draining.
What do you do for purple crying?
The short answer is just get through it. But of course, I have several tips here to help (as well as the big realization I had that changed everything about purple crying with my third child).
But first, a note about shaken baby syndrome…
Ugh, no one even wants to talk about this, do they? I feel sick to my stomach just bringing it up. But this discussion could save a child’s life, so I feel compelled to mention it.
Shaken baby syndrome is a real thing. You may ask yourself, What sort of monster would do that?
But the scary answer is, it’s not mean, evil parents who do this. It’s desperate, overwhelmed parents. People who have done everything they can to make the baby stop crying and it just won’t. Sometimes otherwise good parents can just absolutely lose it, and that’s when shaken baby happens.
Bottom line: If you’re feeling over-the-edge frustrated with your baby, put her down and walk away. At that point, it’s okay if she’s still crying. Call someone and get help right then.
If you need to cry, scream, whatever it takes to let the frustration out, that’s better than accidentally losing control with your child.
Take care of yourself
Speaking of keeping yourself from being totally overwhelmed…
I know, I know. You have a newborn who screams at you for hours every night. How do you take care of yourself?
But seriously. Purple crying is such a draining stage. You have to have emotional reserves to be able to deal with it.
Let someone else hold the baby while you go take a shower all by yourself. And during that shower, don’t worry about anything other than how nice it feels to have hot water running over you and to be clean. Drop any other agenda entirely.
Go to bed at eight at night if you need to. Sleep deprivation makes such a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. Trust me, I’ve seen what happens when I’m running on no sleep taking care of a newborn. It isn’t pretty.
And give yourself empowering messages. Seriously, telling yourself that you are capable of remaining calm in a situation like this can make all the difference.
Feed on demand
This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding. Your baby will likely be fussy and want to nurse a lot. Let her.
Even if your baby starts nursing constantly, nothing is wrong with your milk supply. Breastfeeding and the close contact it provides is as much about emotional nourishment as it is about physical nourishment.
Make sure you’re comfortable while you’re breastfeeding. If you don’t have a nursing pillow yet, now would be a great time to have one. You’ll be spending a lot of time breastfeeding your baby, and you don’t want to mess your back and shoulders up from leaning down to her. The My Brest Friend pillow is great because it’s flat and your baby won’t roll down in a gap between you and the pillow (unlike another popular brand you typically find in stores).
Use a hands-free baby carrier
Having a wrap to carry your baby in makes such a huge difference. Your arms will get much less tired while bouncing and swaying your baby if you have a wrap to help support him.
I’ve got a whole article on how awesome baby-wearing is, but for now I’ll just mention the two styles I like most for newborns.
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First is my favorite for newborns, the Boba wrap. This is a stretchy style wrap that you can tie on yourself and then pop your baby in and out of without having to redo the tie every time. I have memories of all three of my little ones snuggling up and falling asleep against me in their wrap.
And yes, I know there are other brands of stretchy wraps that you can buy easily in local stores, but the reason I like Boba the best is because they are not nearly as hot as other brands I’ve tried. And trust me, we lived in Georgia for the first year of our oldest baby’s life, so I know what it’s like to be in hot weather with a stretchy wrap. I’ve found that the Boba holds its stretch a little better too, making it a little easier to use.
My second favorite carrier (and my husband’s favorite!) is this one. This is more of a “structured carrier” with adjustable straps and whatnot, so if you’re not comfortable with tying a wrap yet, this is a good alternative. And this style of carrier can last your child into toddlerhood and beyond! (Another post for another day, but you do have to be careful about the structured carriers you get. The wrong ones can actually promote hip dysplasia in your baby, not to mention give you a sore neck and shoulders. So while the Manduca is pricier than what you might see at your local Walmart or Target, but I promise it’s worth it.)
I’m not a huge proponent of swaddling because I prefer having close contact with baby, but for some people, this is what does the trick. I recently discovered the Sleeping Baby Zippy Swaddle and I love it.
The Zippy Swaddle design allows plenty of room for baby’s hips to be free (which protects from hip dysplasia) while keeping baby’s upper body securely and easily swaddled. And if you prefer for baby to have arms out, you can just tuck the straps under her little arms. And one of the biggest pluses? The zipper starts at the bottom so you can handle nighttime diaper changes easily.
Get help from others, but don’t worry about their comments
Yes, accept that casserole from your friend! Let your sister-in-law come do laundry for you. Whatever help someone offers, take it.
And if you’ve been given a vague “Let me know if I can help!” from people, take them seriously and direct them to what you actually need from them.
Do you need someone else to hold the baby because you just can’t take the crying anymore? That’s okay! Give the baby to your partner or your mom or whomever (okay, not just anyone, but you get the idea) and just go for a walk.
At the same time, well-meaning family and friends can sometimes be the biggest source of your self-doubt as a parent.
He’s gassy. What did you eat?
You’re feeding him too much.
You just need to put him down and let him learn to self-soothe.
Are you sure he’s getting anything when he’s on there?
Maybe he’s allergic to your milk!
All these comments are excellent opportunities for you to practice the smile-and-nod approach to parenting. You’re doing fine, and your baby is fine. He is just going through a developmental stage.
And the biggest lesson I can give you about this stage…
Your job is not to make your baby stop crying. Your job is to help your child get through the crying.
I think what stresses us out the most about the relentless crying is that we take it to mean we’ve failed somehow. But that’s not the case. Your baby is simply crying because he’s going through a normal developmental stage.
Should you leave your baby alone through this transition? Of course not! (Unless you’re about to completely lose it and are afraid you could accidentally hurt your child. If so, put her down, get some help, and go somewhere to cool off). Your calm, loving presence, letting your baby know that he’s acceptable even when he’s upset, will make a difference.
Think about yourself: When you’re really upset, do you want someone to offer solutions and try to “fix” the problem, or just to be there with you and help you weather the storm? It’s the same for your baby.
And as your child grows, the practice you get here, of being with him when there are no easy answers, will be invaluable later. Because I know the days of heartache with no easy answers are coming.
So use this perspective shift to help you through the weeks of purple crying. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s just a (normal, healthy) stage. Practice your own emotional self-regulation, and in turn, you’ll be the first model of this important skill that your child will see.
Conclusions on purple crying
Repeat after me: I’m not doing anything wrong. This is a normal developmental stage and the best thing I can do is be there for my baby.
Any immediate concerns on your (seemingly) colicky baby? Or have you already been through purple crying with another child and have some experience to share? Comment and let me know what you’re thinking!