What Is PURPLE Crying?

Learn how to identify normal crying patterns in your baby

Baby girl lying in crib crying

Katie Rollings/Cultura/Getty

If there is one thing that all babies do, it’s cry. While the time of day, how much they cry, and why they cry may vary, all parents can agree that getting through those first few months of high-pitched screams takes a lot of patience, wisdom, and support.

For some parents, it doesn’t take long to settle into a rhythm and begin to notice a change in how often their baby gets fussy. But for many, this crying stage seems to go on forever, and the persistent screams often hit at very specific times of the day.

Experts call this stage the Period of PURPLE Crying, and no, it’s not because your infant turns all sorts of colors when they scream at the top of their lungs.

PURPLE is an acronym used to describe specific characteristics of an infant’s crying.

What Is PURPLE Crying?

For decades, many experts and parents believed that one of the main causes of steady, inconsolable crying in a healthy baby was colic. A colicky baby is considered a healthy baby that has persistent crying for three hours straight, beginning before three weeks of age, occurring at least three days a week, and ending around three months old.

However, recent findings point out that persistent crying episodes before the age of five months don't necessarily mean that anything is wrong with your baby. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that this stage is perfectly normal and even expected during the development of your infant.

This stage, according to experts, can begin around two weeks of age and generally continue until your baby is about three to four months old. To help support parents during this time, the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome created a research-based education program called PURPLE Crying. 

The PURPLE Crying Program came about in an effort to help educate parents and caregivers about the typical periods of persistent crying that happen during the early weeks and months of a baby’s life. It provides education on the standard crying curve that babies experience and the dangers of shaking a baby.

What Do the Letters PURPLE Mean? 

Healthy babies cry a lot after they are born. It’s their way of communicating to you that they need to eat, be changed, burped, or held. These bouts of frequent tears often continue until your baby is five months old. If you’re struggling to make sense of this stage, use the following acronym to get a better idea if your baby’s mood change is normal and falls in the realm of PURPLE Crying.

The letters in PURPLE stand for:

  • Peak of crying: During these months, your baby may cry more each week, with the peak happening during month two. This typically begins to taper off around the third to fifth month.
  • Unexpected: The persistent crying is unexpected and unpredictable. That means your baby’s episodes can come and go, without any explanation as to why they are happening.
  • Resists soothing: Even after repeated attempts at soothing your baby, crying may still continue.
  • Pain-like face: During the PURPLE Crying phase, your infant may look like they are in pain, even when they are not.
  • Long-lasting: The persistent episodes of crying can last anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes at a time to multiple hours. They can also and go on for days at a time.
  • Evening: Otherwise known as the “witching hour,” the late afternoon and evening hours seem to be when crying peaks or lasts the longest.

What Can You Do to Soothe Your Baby?

Knowing that this stage will pass gives many parents peace of mind. That said, it’s helpful to have tips and techniques to soothe your baby when their cries seem never-ending. Finding the right method that works for you may take some time, so try to be patient, and give these techniques a try before moving onto something else:

  • Skin-to-skin contact. Placing your baby (with only a diaper on) directly on your chest, skin to skin, can help to calm their cries and ease any stress your baby may be experiencing.
  • Swaddle your baby. Wrap your baby snugly in a blanket. Swaddling can often help a baby feel safe and secure, which may lead to fewer tears.
  • Move with your baby. During a long crying spell, try holding your baby while walking, rocking, or swaying.
  • Give your baby a warm bath. If bath time is typically a soothing experience for your baby, try bathing them in lukewarm water when they are upset.
  • Get outdoors with your baby. Sometimes a combination of a change of scenery and fresh air can help calm a baby when they are crying. Go for a walk or sit on a blanket.
  • Check all of your baby’s physical cues. Check your baby’s temperature for fever, change their diaper if it needs changing, burp them, or feed your baby if it’s been a while between feedings.

What to Do If the Crying Doesn’t Stop

If you find that the soothing techniques are not easing your baby’s cries, and you’re feeling frustrated or upset (which is normal), set your baby down in a safe place and walk away. Take this time to calm down before returning to your baby and repeating the techniques above.

The amount of time you need to calm down before returning to your baby will depend on you. It may only take a few minutes, but it can also require you to step away for longer. Reach out to your partner, family member, or other trusted caregiver for help.

If you still cannot soothe your baby, consider talking with your doctor to find out if an underlying problem or health condition is causing the persistent cries.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding that your baby’s crying spells are a normal part of development can help you cope with these stressful times. Remember, just because you’re baby is crying, doesn’t mean there is something wrong. All babies experience fussy times during the day, which is why it helps to have tools like the PURPLE Crying acronym to help you assess the situation and determine if you need to do anything other than just get through it.

Finally, if you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s important to assess your needs and find ways to care for yourself. Self-care is a critical component of parenting that often gets neglected. Taking care of your health means you will be in a better position to care for your baby. Some ways to do this include eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest, exercising regularly, spending time outside of the house, socializing with other people, or doing other activities that feed your body, mind, and soul.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. What is the Period of PURPLE Crying? (n.d.). http://purplecrying.info/what-is-the-period-of-purple-crying.php

  • Seattle Children's Hospital. Period of PURPLE Crying. 2019. https://www.seattlechildrens.org/health-safety/keeping-kids-healthy/development/purple-education-crying/