Surviving when the crying won’t stop!

It’s the end of the day and you’re looking forward to sitting down and relaxing, if only for just a minute, when it begins … the crying.

She doesn’t want to feed. She doesn’t need to be changed, and none of your regular tricks for soothing her are working. She just keeps crying. You are at your wits’ end, but the screaming continues.

You have entered: The Period of PURPLE Crying.”

Infant crying typically starts to increase when your baby is 2 weeks old and usually ends by 5 months of age. All babies go through this period of crying as part of normal infant development, but some babies cry more than others.

Infant crying can be very stressful for parents and other caregivers, and it’s one of the most common aggravating factors leading to shaken baby syndrome. Young infants are particularly susceptible to brain injury after shaking, which often results in brain swelling and bleedingThis can result in blindness, learning difficulties and in the worse case, death. These injuries can be prevented by learning coping strategies to deal with infant crying.

The Period of PURPLE Crying is a program developed by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Each of the letters in the word PURPLE stands for a characteristic of normal infant crying:

  • P stands for “Peak.” This is the peak of the crying pattern that increases gradually from birth, peaking in the second month of life then improving thereafter.
  • U stands for “Unexpected.” The crying occurs unexpectedly with out any clear precipitating event.
  • R stands for “Resists soothing”. The crying may not stop no matter what you do to calm the baby.
  • P stands for “Pain”.  The infant looks like she is in pain even though she is not.
  • L stands for “Long.” These episodes can last for hours.
  • E stands for “Evening”. Most commonly the crying episodes occur in the late afternoon or evening when the caregiver is most exhausted.

Inconsolable crying can be extremely frustrating for caregivers. The period of PURPLE Crying program provides three “action steps” that can help reduce some of the stress of dealing with these episodes.

  1. Keep walking, talking and comforting your baby, even if she does not seem soothed by this.
  2. If it is safe to do so, put the baby down in a safe place, such as their bassinet, and walk away for a few minutes to collect yourself. Breathe! Then return to your baby to check on them.
  3. Most importantly, never shake or hurt your baby.

These steps may not calm your baby every time (remember, the crying is resistant), but they may help reduce your baby’s crying as well as help you stay calm so you and your baby can safely make it through this challenging period.

Your OHSU and Doernbecher physicians and nurses are here to help. Please call if you are feeling frustrated with infant crying.

Ruth White, Ph.D.
Student, OHSU School of Medicine

Carrie Phillipi, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
Director, OHSU Mother-Baby Unit

Thomas Valvano, M.D.
Medical Director, Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Program
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital


Editor’s note: Noelle Crombia with The Oregonian recently interviewed Dr. Phillipi about the Period of Purple Crying. You can view the article here.


One response to “Surviving when the crying won’t stop!

  1. My youngest, (now 20), did this. It would start 8pm and go for two hours every night. I wish they had known what it was then because the first week I was in tears every night until it let up. I tried everything and nothing worked. I thought he was sick and just as I would get ready to take him to ER he’d quit. Finally I figured out there was a pattern and it was just something he did every night no matter what and I put him in his swing. My husband would sing to him even if he kept crying and within a few months it quit. But yeah, the first week, I thought I would lose my mind. Thanks for this article.

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