This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about since July 16th 2017. You may be wondering why I have such a specific date in mind, and that is because July 16th was the day that Mira entered her ‘Period of Purple Crying’ Of course, we were in denial about it for a good long while. It wasn’t until we were out of it that we really determined what we had experienced. Before I talk about this really difficult experience and a hard thing that my baby girl, her dad and myself had to go through, let me share a couple REALLY cute photos of her…
Now the reason I chose this photo is intentional. It’s because in Mira’s 15 months of life I can count on one hand the amount of times she has fallen asleep on me without crying, for some extended period of time, beforehand. This moment was beautiful, she was tired, she fell asleep, and that was it. I definitely savored the three times it happened.
But I digress, because although I believe sleep (without intense crying) is harder for a purple baby, that’s just my own experience speaking not scientific fact. And after months of sleep training Mira is an AMAZING sleeper (on her own, in the dark, with a noise machine)
Alright, back to the topic at hand. First off I want to explain what the ‘Period of Purple Crying’ is. Previously the term ‘colic’ has been used to describe many babies that go through this period; however, there is now a shift because ‘colic’ can lead people to believe something is ‘wrong’ with the baby or that there is an ‘illness’ present. Often medicine is prescribed to ‘colic’ babies and that creates this cycle of thinking ‘something is wrong.’
The ‘Period of Purple Crying’ can starts around 2 weeks of age and can last until 3-4 months. The characteristics of this period are described by the acronym “PURPLE.”
P: Peak of Crying – your baby may cry more and more each week peaking at 2 months and getting better over the next 3-4 months.
U: Unexpected – crying can come and go and you don’t know why.
R: Resists Soothing – no MATTER what you try.
P: Pain-like face – may make a face that looks like in pain when in fact they are not.
L: Long lasting – crying can last up to 5 hours a day or more.
E: Evening – your baby may cry more in the late afternoon or evening.
I remember taking a class through Swedish and being told about “Purple crying” and I didn’t think very much about it, Dave and I even watched the short video that tried to describe what the experience feels like. Still nothing. I think it’s because you want to believe that when your baby arrives you’ll be able to handle the crying and that there will be things that you can do about it. For some babies this is definitely the case, and for others there is no amount of soothing that can help.
The problem with believing that there is something you can do (remember the acronym, 5 or more hours a day, nothing you do will console them) is that you are caught in a cycle of thinking ‘what am I doing wrong?’ I also remember feeling trapped because the crying could come on anywhere at anytime. I couldn’t make it around greenlake for a walk with friends because at some point Mira would start screaming and would scream all the way home.
I often hear from people, ‘I would just let them cry,’ and I would say that I was right there with you, PRIOR to having Mira. There is a reason people don’t want to sit on an airplane next to a crying baby. It is torture. Couple that with the fact that this is YOUR human that you are suppose to be able to soothe and comfort. It is unlike anything else.
I want to jump back to the term ‘colic’ again, because I think it’s important to talk about the things we tried when we thought ‘something was wrong.’ At the one month appointment we were told that we could try probiotics to help her build healthy gastrointestinal functioning (which is often thought to be the ailment that plagues colic babies). We were vigilant to no avail, we still give her probiotics frequently. At the two month appointment we were told it might be reflux (another problem source for colic babies); however, 1.5 weeks into that medication Mira began throwing up every time we gave it to her and there was no change in her level of crying. It was at that point where the doctor really talked to us about this period that we might be going through.
Dave and I reflect back on things like our PEPs group meetings and how even being a part of a parenting group felt isolating because it felt like no one could relate to what we were experiencing. I have some very empathetic friends, and I do believe they have heard me and care about us. But prior to having Mira I NEVER would have understood, I would have thought, ‘well maybe there’s something your not trying’ or ‘are you kidding? there are so many people DYING to have a baby and you’re complaining that yours cries!?’ Now that I’ve lived it I know it’s not complaining, it’s about surviving, so you can be okay and you can TRY and help your baby be okay. It was also hard interacting with other parents because it felt like we got a lot of judgement when we would share our experience and we didn’t know if they had a baby that didn’t go through that period, they weren’t being honest about how hard it was, or they just didn’t even realize that they were in that period. Everyone copes with things differently.
I often find in life that leading up to something I dread doing it, even if it’s something excited, I’d rather stay in the comfort (or discomfort) of my current state and not move. For example, when Mira was 3 months old (in the thick of her crying – I should say hers went from 4 weeks – 4.5 months) my good friend invited me for a baby sleep over (she had just had her baby too). For the whole day leading up I was slightly dreading it, not because I don’t love my friend, but because Mira had cried a LOT that day and I wasn’t sure I could make it (mentally). In fact, on the drive over I nearly lost it, I made this video.
I share this video with you for three reasons, because 1.) I’m a very transparent person, I think we should share the good, the bad and the ugly with people, even on social media. In fact I think if we did we would be more united and less competitive (especially women) with eachother. 2.) This is what I sound like when I’m running on very little sleep, with a baby that cries hours and hours daily and I’m just trying to cope 3.) The last part of the video is my favorite, because no matter how frustrated a parent is, if they think something is wrong with their baby they will bust an illegal u turn on 25th by the IMA to check and make sure their baby is okay.
I made it over to my friends house that night, and Mira had one of the best sleeps she had had in her 3 months of life. I woke up and had a cup of coffee and then my friend and I walked to a nearby restaurant. It was such a lovely time.
One of the things that they say about purple crying, is that the word period is used for a reason, because it has an end! When you’re in the thick of it you feel like you won’t survive, but it will be over. Unfortunately I do have some PTSD. I find that the first minute of Mira’s cry now does make my heart start pounding and I find that I have to take a few deep breaths to really calm down. Sometimes that doesn’t help, and I turn to Dave and say ‘pizza time’ (our code word for when we need the other person to take over entirely, no questions asked), and that’s the only thing that helps.
I do remember when it ended though, it was quite monumental. We had planned a trip down to California to introduce Mira to quite a bit of Dave’s family and to enjoy Thanksgiving in a warm place. The trip began with Mira falling asleep on the plane while we carried her (without crying beforehand), it was a shock to both of us.
Of course we didn’t fully believe we were out of the woods until around Christmas time. I think that’s when it became clear that the period had past and it truly sunk in that more of the day was happy and less was spent crying.
I’m going to tell you some things that helped me get through this period of purple crying. You all know my feelings on unsolicited advice, so know that I’m not giving advice to any moms out there, just telling you what worked for me. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF when you can. For me taking care of myself looked like eating healthy, exercising and taking breaks (and we are talking 100% away breaks) from baby. During the period of purple crying I couldn’t take Mira to the YMCA childcare because they would come and get me during my workout saying she was inconsolably crying and it was traumatizing (plus I knew I’d be going home and she would be inconsolably crying for me). What I was able to do was utilize the nanny we had for when I was working to get workouts in as well as when dave was home, force myself to go out for those runs or open the Jillian app. It’s helpful that Dave and I love to cook because it motivated us to focus on healthy recipes with whole foods, but there are so many useful options out there now (blue apron, hello fresh, etc.) that can really help you get those healthy foods into your life easily. Lastly, complete breaks away from baby were sooo essential for me, over thanksgiving break Dave took Mira a couple times to visit his family while I went to the spa and Disneyland with my family and those were awesome. There were definitely other breaks both by myself and with friends/family, but those ones in Southern California were so great that they stick out in my mind. I think the time apart makes the time together even sweeter. I definitely feel that aside from my slight PTSD I have healed from this difficult period, but I will never forget this tough time that we all went through together and that’s okay, because “happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the lights” (Albus Dumbledore).
One of the things that I think about is if this has any long term implications for our little boo boo. I haven’t read a lot of information on this, but I’ve heard anecdotally that anxiety may be a difficulty for babies who had really difficult periods of purple crying. Currently she does not show any signs of anxiety; however, I will definitely be on the look out for indications of an underlying complication that may impact her ability to enjoy life to the fullest. I know some really kick ass early interventionists that, should this be the case, can help her out (prevention over rehabilitation). For now I’m just going to enjoy my beautiful, funny, social, spicy, amazing daughter and all the wonder that she brings to our lives.
If you have any questions about (what I know of) the ‘period of purple crying,’ my experience during this time, or specific things that transpired for us please feel free to ask.
September 13, 2018 at 5:04 am
You write about such a difficult time in your life and share it so beautifully. When Mira started to choke/gag in the car my heart started to pound and I felt your fear like I was right there.
I’m so glad the worst is over! Thanks for sharing.
September 13, 2018 at 10:51 am
Thank you! I know right? That moment was so terrifying! I’m glad it’s over too ❤
September 13, 2018 at 6:25 am
April 25, 2020 at 8:19 am
Hi I am going through this now and my 15 week old will not sleep anywhere but on me, if we put her in her bed she cries for over 2 hours and nothing we. An do can console her, it’s the same when she is over tired or simply doesn’t like something. My question is at what age did you teach her to sleep in her own and was there lots of crying?
April 25, 2020 at 8:43 am
Hi Stace! First off, I’m sorry that you are going through this, it was literally the most emotionally intense thing I’ve ever experienced! Second, there is a lot out there on sleep training and I know it brings up a lot of emotions for everyone and honestly no way of doing it easy for anyone so I think knowing that can help you brace for whatever you chose to do. With our first (the one I mention in this post) we started at 4 months (with our second we started at 3 months) we would put her down (after bedtime), let her cry for three minutes (because let’s face it, she was definitely going to cry on that first lie down), then would go in give her the pacifier and say “you are safe, we are helping you learn to sleep, and we love you.” We would repeat that process of letting her cry a bit and then going in after a certain amount of time, but with longer time intervals (3 minutes, then 5, then 7, then 10, repeating 10 until she was down for the night). The first few nights bed time was hard and the few wake ups in the middle of the night were tough too, but it got sooo soo much better. I don’t remember how many nights it took, but I believe it was shorter than a week. As a therapist I know that habits take 20-30 days to form so my plan was try it for 20-30 days, if it didn’t work then it was time to call a professional. Luckily I was able to remind myself that she truly was safe, all her needs were met, we had been to doctors and they had told us it was “normal” crying. It was the hardest thing I’ve done as a mom, but that little baby is now almost three and she is still a wonderful sleeper. Hope that helps, and I hope you (I say you first because you’re important too) and your baby get some good sleep ❤️
April 25, 2020 at 10:33 am
Thank you so much I was so happy to find your blog and find someone who went through what I’m going through (especially the crying until gaging) and came out the other end, what you wrote gives me hope. Did you put her in her own room or did you keep her in your room, lastly I’m gathering you didn’t pick her up when coming in, just talked to her to calm her? Thanks again
April 25, 2020 at 12:33 pm
Oh goodness, I remember those feelings! The other side feels miles away, but it’s there girl!
I’m a super light sleeper so having her in our room was pretty hard for me, so as soon as we started our little ‘help her sleep’ program we had her in her own room. With regards to picking her up, it was really hard not to, but in the end I felt it never really helped (it just seemed to set us back in progress). Additionally, she was a baby that continued to cry (especially at night) even if we picked her up, so that was motivation not to do it.
I’ll be thinking of you and sending good sleepy vibes your way!
Oh, one other thing, for our second baby we found the instagram account ‘takingcarababies’ and oh, my, gosh, was it helpful!! So much great information ❤