The Fussy Baby Site

Period of Purple

Recent research by Dr. Ronald Barr indicates that increased crying in the first 5 months of life is much more likely to signal a developmental stage, rather than a physical problem. The study indicates that although a minority of babies who cry excessively may have a physical condition, the overwhelming majority of cases (95% +) do not suffer from any medical issues.

Research shows that infant crying and fussiness peaks at around 6 weeks of age, and is significantly better (if not completely gone) by around 3-4 months of age. According to this new research, this pattern of crying:

  1. Is replicated in almost all Western societies where research has been done
  2. Is similar to those found in other cultures that practice very different parenting styles (e.g. the !Kung San tribe, who carry their babies constantly and feed 4 times an hour; crying/fussing is attended to immediately)
  3. Is similar to patterns found in all mammalian species that have been studied, and
  4. Is found in premature infants at their adjusted age of around 6 weeks, not at 6 weeks after their birth. This is important because it signals that crying at this stage is likely a developmental phase rather than something in the baby’s environment.

So, If My Newborn is Crying, Nothing is Really Wrong?

Does this mean that when your baby cries, nothing is really wrong? That they’re not trying to tell us they need something? Not at all. Of course you should attend to your baby’s cries, to the best of your ability.

But perhaps realizing that your baby’s excessive cries may not be signaling anything at all, may be just what you need to hear to get through the next couple of weeks or months. It’s quite likely that your baby’s constant crying – whether it’s all day, or just during the typical colicky evening period – may just be a natural state your little one has to pass through. A state just like their other behavioural states of sleeping and being awake/alert.

Attending to your newborn’s cries is extremely important. Of course if your baby is crying or screaming excessively, it’s important to get him or her checked out by a doctor (particularly if the crying is accompanied by other symptoms of illness).

But if your little one has been declared healthy or even been given the irksome colic diagnosis, maybe it will help you feel better to know that you’re not doing anything wrong, and maybe your baby really isn’t uncomfortable or even unhappy – he’s just being a baby.

Period of Purple Crying

Dr. Barr’s research culminated in the Period of Purple crying program, which educates parents, health workers and caregivers about infant crying.

Below is a brief summary of the program.

P – Peak Pattern (intense crying that peaks in the first few months)

U – Unpredictable (no obvious cause to the crying)

R – Resistant (difficult to soothe)

P – Pain-like (appears to be in pain)

L – Long-lasting (crying bouts in first few months average 35 minutes/day, but may be up to 5-6 hours)

E – Evening (most common time for crying to occur)

Other Significant Findings

  • Less than 5% of babies show evidence of a disease that would explain the crying
  • A normal infant may cry from 1-5 hours a day
  • Crying peaks during first 2 months of life
  • Crying lessens after the 4th or 5th month
  • Average crying bouts can last 35-40 minutes, up to a couple of hours
  • Usually occurs in the late afternoon or evening
  • Fussiness that gets worse after 4 months may be due to temperament
  • Colic gets better – if crying is due to temperament, is may persist

3 Action Steps in Period of Purple Crying Program

  1. Comfort, carry, walk and talk with your baby
  2. It is OK to walk away if the crying becomes too much for you
  3. It is never OK to shake or hurt your baby