Crying in babies is normal. It is their way of communicating. They could be hungry, tired, bored, cold, hot or in pain. It is also their way to relieve stress, and sometimes, it is their way to wind down and settle. Often it is suggested that crying babies in the early weeks may have colic or reflux, but more often than not, in this 0–3-month period, they are just experiencing a normal phase in their development.
Parents generally expect some crying throughout the first few months, but many do not expect their babies to cry as much as they do. When it is then suggested that their baby may have colic or reflux, this reinforces the idea that their baby is not normal when they are entirely normal.
Dr Ronald Barr, a developmental paediatrician who has extensive experience and research in crying babies and other infant mammals, created an acronym to describe what is happening to these babies at this time. He calls it the period of PURPLE crying;
PURPLE stands for:
Peak crying usually occurs between 6 and 8 weeks. I like to describe the first eight weeks to parents like the babies crying time resembles a bell curve; from about 2-3 weeks, their crying period starts to increase each week until they peak around 6-8 weeks, where you will then begin to notice the crying period may begin to reduce each week until the 3rd or 4th month.
Unexpected Babies will often become unsettled around the 3rd week of life, and it appears to come out of nowhere.
Resists soothing During this period, you can try every tool in the book, and your baby may still resist all your attempts at settling. This can be frustrating and exhausting. Below I will give you some tips on how to get through this challenging time.
Pain like face Almost every parent we see is convinced that their baby is in pain during these crying sessions. There is no evidence to suggest their baby is in pain.
Long-lasting This means your baby can cry for hours in the evening. Ensure you take time to look after yourselves and each other and share the load because this can be extremely tough at the end of the day when everybody is tired.
Evening Usually, these periods of crying occur in the evening but can happen at any time of the day or night.
How you can support your baby during this phase?
- Ensure your baby has adequate feeds and is gaining sufficient weight- see your local Child Health Clinic regularly to review and ensure your baby is gaining weight.
- Sometimes, babies, are feeding a little too often, and their tummy is uncomfortably full. This is probably best discussed with your Child Health Nurse first before you start reducing your bubs intake.
- Enjoy the time when your little one is awake, quiet and alert. Use this time to interact and build your relationship.
- Rest when your baby is sleeping. Many mothers look at me as if to say, ‘yeah, right, I don’t have time to rest.’ This is when I say let’s schedule it into your day, just for these first few weeks. There is plenty of time for routines and schedules later. For now, caring for yourself and your baby should take precedence.
- Just because the PURPLE acronym suggests that your baby will resist soothing, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Try to find a reason for their crying and eliminate that as a factor.
If you have eliminated all possibilities try some of these ideas below:
- Bathing or showering with your baby- babies enjoying the warmth of the water surrounding them or the sounds of running water. As a bonus, they love skin to skin. If you find your baby is more unsettled because you are breastfeeding and looking to latch, maybe your partner can try this instead, allowing them to bond and build their relationship with bub.
- Carriers and Slings- sometimes, babies can get so overtired at this point, which adds to the already stressed state they are in. They may have some tummy pain, so being upright and close to their parent is sometimes all they need to start to settle.
- Go for a walk in the pram. Your baby may still cry in the pram, as this may be an adjustment for them, being away from you. They will learn to settle, and most babies will love the pram’s rocking motion.
- Put some gentle music on; this can help relax you, which may, in turn, soothe your baby.
- Dim the lights or go to a quiet darker part of the house. This will help lower the stimulus for your baby. Babies can become overtired and overstimulated very quickly.
- If all else fails and you have used your entire tool kit, we need to give your little one patience, be there ‘with’ them, and let them know you understand that they are having a rough time and that you will be with them supporting them through this.
- It can be tough to do nothing and ‘be with’ them, but sometimes all they need is you doing nothing and allowing them to cry and release their tension.
- If it gets too difficult for you to tolerate or hear them crying and you are finding it difficult to regulate your emotions, it may be time to sub out of the game and ask someone else to take your little one.
- If there is nobody to sub in, it may be time for you to place your little one in a safe place like their bassinet and walk out of the room for a short period. You may need to take ten deep breaths or make yourself a cuppa and give a support person a call. This separation will hopefully help you clear your mind and regulate your emotions so that you can then focus back on helping your little one regulate their emotions.
- Every baby is individual and will experience and interact with the world so differently. Some babies will experience this time intensely, and others will cruise through this time. Use this time to learn how your baby adjusts and experiences the world.
- Remember that this is time-limited. It is hard to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel are in the middle of it. Reach out for support, talk about your little one’s hard times, speak with other mothers, and see that this part of your little one’s life is short-lived and that there is so much joy to come.
If you find your baby’s crying intolerable or if your baby is crying all day and night and not just for an evening, reach out to your Child Health Nurse, GP or call the 13 HEALTH for more information and support.
For parental emotional support, please visit:
PANDA - supports women and their families suffering from perinatal anxiety or depression. https://www.panda.org.au/ 1300 726 306
COPE- Providing support for the emotional challenges of becoming a parent. Becoming a parent. https://www.cope.org.au/
White Cloud- TeleHealth Mental Health Service - https://whitecloudfoundation.org/ 07 3155 3456