Period of Purple Crying

April 03, 2023

Memorial Staff

mom holding crying baby

As a new parent, you expect your crying child to cause some sleepless nights. But it can feel overwhelming when your child cries for no reason and resists soothing.

Iris Tilley-Smith, RN, a clinical educator with the Memorial Family Birthplace maternity unit, says this type of crying is a natural part of a child’s early behavioral development. Called the Period of PURPLE Crying, many children experience a brief time in their early life when they cry for no apparent reason.

Tilley-Smith describes what to expect during the Period of PURPLE Crying and what parents and caregivers can do to help their child and themselves.

What is the Period of PURPLE Crying?

The Period of PURPLE Crying is a brief time, usually between two weeks and three or four months of age, when a child cries more than normal. Their crying may get more pronounced each week until it finally begins to lessen. During this time, children also tend to resist soothing.

“Crying during this period isn’t due to any illness or other medical issue,” says Tilley-Smith. “It’s just a normal part of a child’s early development that happens in most babies.”

But what exactly is “purple” crying? “PURPLE” is an acronym that describes this type of crying:

  • Peak of crying, which means the crying eventually peaks.
  • Unexpected, because crying may start for no clear reason.
  • Resists soothing, despite your best attempts to help.
  • Pain-like face, even though a child is not in any actual pain.
  • Long-lasting, meaning a child may cry up to 5 hours at a time.
  • Evening, meaning a child may cry more in the late afternoon or evening.

Is colic the same as a Period of PURPLE Crying?

You’ve probably heard the term colic when referring to babies who cry a lot. While these terms have been used interchangeably in the past, Tilley-Smith says the term colic can lead to some misconceptions, and providers have pushed for the term PURPLE crying in recent years.

“For many parents, the term colic suggests something is wrong with their child. That’s misleading because there is nothing wrong with children during this period. That’s why we prefer the term ‘Period of PURPLE Crying,’” says Tilley-Smith.

What can you do when your child is in the Period of PURPLE Crying?

Inconsolable crying can leave many parents feeling frustrated. “Every parent wants a smiling, happy baby,” says Tilley-Smith. “It can feel frustrating or overwhelming when they can’t soothe their baby.”

Tilley-Smith recommends trying the following strategies if your child is in their Period of PURPLE Crying:

Change a Baby’s Position

If your child is lying in their crib, try picking them up. If you’re holding them in a cradle hold, try holding them upright.

Move Around

Most parents have heard that movement can feel soothing to children. Whether you take them for a walk, a drive in the car or carry them in a sling, motion is a good strategy.

Use White Noise

Background noises, ranging from the sound of rain, running water or even a vacuum cleaner, could feel soothing for a child.

Offer Pacifiers or a Child’s Own Hand

It might help letting your child suck on their own hand or offering them a pacifier. However, Tilley-Smith says to be careful with pacifiers.

"If a child is breastfeeding, it’s important to make sure it’s a well-established practice and going well before introducing a pacifier,” says Tilley-Smith. “It could affect their breastfeeding and ability to latch.”

Hold Them Close

Feeling your body temperature when close to you, or even hearing and feeling your heartbeat, can be calming.

What if nothing helps soothe my child?

Tilley-Smith says feeling overwhelmed and discouraged when you can’t soothe a child’s cries is normal. That’s why focusing on yourself as a parent or caregiver is equally important.

“This is just a phase. It will come to an end. But for parents, it can still be frustrating. It’s OK to feel that way,” says Tilley-Smith.

“So, if you ever feel overwhelmed, it’s OK to set your baby down somewhere safe, such as their crib, and walk away. Let someone else be with the baby, if possible.”

It’s also important to make sure whoever watches your baby is educated about the Period of PURPLE Crying. You want to make sure caregivers understand what your child is going through and can respond to them appropriately.

Sometimes, parents may become frustrated because they don’t understand why their child is crying. This leads them to shake their baby. In these moments, it’s important to step away. Shaking a baby can be extremely harmful.

“Vigorously shaking a baby can kill them. Infants have weak neck muscles and can’t really support their heads. Shaking them is similar to experiencing a whiplash injury,” says Tilley-Smith.

Shaking a baby can lead to Shaken Baby Syndrome, often causing brain bleeding, blindness, seizures, developmental disabilities or even death.

What if I’m concerned that something else is wrong with my child?

We always encourage parents to use their parental judgment when seeking medical care for their children during the Period of PURPLE Crying.

“If you’re ever concerned about your baby’s crying, visit your child’s pediatrician to make sure there’s nothing else going on with your baby,” says Tilley-Smith. “A pediatric healthcare provider can evaluate your child and let you know if there’s something else causing them to cry.”

How can the Memorial Healthcare Family Birthplace help?

The providers at Memorial Family Birthplace are dedicated to providing parents and children with the best possible care and resources. We offer a range of education and services for new and experienced parents, both after birth and after you’ve left the hospital. These services include education about safely soothing your baby and safe sleep habits. These efforts have earned each Memorial Family Birthplace location a Gold Safe Sleep certified hospital status — the highest national certification for hospitals that teach safe infant sleep practices.

Learn more about the resources available at the Memorial Family Birthplace to help support you and your family.