Purple Crying, Colic and What it Means for Your Family
The information we share anywhere is always shared with an eye to evidence-based education, backed by pregnancy professionals. It does not matter if you are pregnant or a new mom; our goal is to bring you science-based facts to help you better understand the relationship and health of both you and your babies.
That being said, when it comes to purple crying and colic, even science can’t explain everything. All babies have some degree of “purple crying” but some have a condition called colic which is excessive crying. Colic is usually defined as crying more than 3 hours a day and more than 3 days a week and often isn’t diagnosed until it is resolving. This cry is usually high pitched and baby may be stiff or arch his or her back. Purple crying is similar to colic but less intense. Both phenomenons start at around 2 weeks and cease at about 3-4 months with absolutely no explanation as to why it happens.
First, let’s define purple crying.
Your new baby, normally happy and content, starts crying in the evening and just will not stop. We’re not talking about fussing, or wails of discontent from a belly full of gas or messy diaper, either. We’re talking about full-on, heartbreaking cries like your baby is in terrible pain.
What You Should Know; It’s Not You
What scientists do know is that all babies go through this stage of development, all over the world. Some go through this stage of uncontrollable crying more than others, an otherwise happy and healthy baby who just can’t be soothed and cries for hours at a time.
You should always talk to your practitioner about your baby’s uncontrollable crying to rule out them being in any sort of medical distress. In some cases, adjustments in feeding and soothing can help.
Feeding Techniques that May Help Purple Crying
If your baby takes a bottle or is breastfed, changing the positioning can help. Feeding a bottle in a more vertical position may help. We include Dr. Brown's bottle in our Third Trimester Essentials box because they used science and extensive research to create a bottle that may reduce fussiness while preserving nutrients.
If you are breastfeeding, having a consultation with a lactation specialist may also be helpful. They can check positioning and latching, and can provide support that you need.
Your practitioner may also suggest dietary changes for you if you breastfeed or a change in formula. Do not add rice cereal or other foods to your baby’s diet; always talk to your practitioner before making any changes to your baby’s feeding.
Soothing Techniques to Try to Reduce Purple Crying
Some babies will respond better to soothing techniques than others. And what helped your first baby may not help your second. Try these techniques alone or a combination of them.
- Take a deep breath, go into a warm, dark place with the baby and rub their tummy in a smooth, rhythmic pattern
- Give the baby a warm bath
- Minimize the visual stimulus and motion
- Change the scenery; go for a walk outside or a ride in the car or stroller
- Try a pacifier
- Try a secured infant swing
- Swaddle the baby, being sure to leave room for hip movement
Taking Care of Yourself During Purple Crying
This constant crying can be exhausting, especially when you are already sleep-deprived, and navigating the care and feeding of this new human in your life. The cries of a purple cry often mimic the high pitched distress cries of pain and are very difficult to “just block out.” The good news is that it is known as “the purple period” because it will end!
Removing yourself from the situation and tag-teaming with your partner or another trusted caregiver may help you cope. It’s important to remember that this does not make you a neglectful parent. Again, remember that this “fight” part of your brain that is being activated is biological and can be really hard to overcome in the moment.
Many parents express that they never understood someone harming a baby until they went through the days and hours of continual crying that purple crying or colic can bring. If at any time you feel out of control, you need to take a break from the baby and hand them off to other helping hands.
If you do not have someone in the home with you when you feel hopeless or overwhelmed and cannot reach your practitioner, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. This 24/7 hotline will have a professional counselor who can help you.
Your Baby is Not Rejecting You
Feelings of failure in the grips of your baby’s purple crying episodes can lead you to feel that you have not connected deeply enough with your baby, and that’s why this is happening. If your baby is otherwise healthy and happy other than these episodes and you’ve consulted with your practitioner, this simply is not true. Remember that feelings are not facts!
Purple crying does not appear to affect long-term cognitive development in babies and spontaneously resolves in 90% of babies by 9 weeks of age.
As hard as it can be to go through it, for some babies, purple crying is just a season of their lives that they won’t remember, but you surely might! Take care of yourself and those around you, seek help, and take those breaks!