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PURPLE Crying: What Is It? What Should You Do?

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Updated
Learn all about PURPLE crying, how long it will last, and how to deal with it.

Do you have a baby who cries for long periods every day and is inconsolable? Have you or your doctor ruled out illness or colic? If so, you might be dealing with PURPLE crying.

This was a new concept to me. I came across it when I was trying to find out why my baby would cry for hours every night.

My baby was fed and diapered and did not seem to have gas. Nevertheless, the crying was relentless and happened for no apparent reason. The pediatrician had checked everything out, and my baby was healthy and well.

After learning that my baby was experiencing PURPLE crying, I read everything I could find on the subject and spoke to the experts to learn more. I’m here to share what I’ve learned. Read on for tips on how to help soothe your baby and learn to cope with PURPLE crying.


What Is PURPLE Crying?

It’s normal for babies to have bouts of crying, especially when they are small. You can expect periods of inconsolable crying for the first few months of their lives. Chances are, you will find this worrying and frustrating, wondering what you can do, especially if it’s your first baby.

The period of PURPLE crying is a theory coined by a developmental pediatrician, Ronald G. Barr. You’ll be relieved to know the crying phase will eventually pass and is only temporary.

The acronym PURPLE stands for the characteristics of this period of crying, which are:

  • “P” is for the peak of crying: Babies will likely cry more when they are 2 months old. As they approach 3 to 5 months, they will cry less.
  • “U” is for unexpected: The crying can accelerate and remit, but you don’t know why. There is no apparent reason for it.
  • “R” is for resists soothing: No matter how hard you try, there’s nothing that will stop the baby from crying.
  • “P” is for pain-like face: Your baby may look like they have pain, even when they don’t.
  • “L” is for long-lasting: The bouts of regular crying can last for up to five hours a day, or sometimes more.
  • “E” is for evening: Crying is likely to happen more in the late afternoon or evening.

All babies will go through some periods of crying. If you are one of the lucky ones, this won’t last for long periods. On the other hand, you might be unlucky enough to have an inconsolable baby almost every night for several hours.

There is no discrimination between bottle-fed and breastfed babies.

PURPLE crying tends to start when a baby is about two weeks old. It can increase in intensity and duration in some babies until they are 2 or 3 months old. The crying then starts to decrease and eventually stops.

It is a normal part of a baby’s development. Provided you have ruled out any medical conditions with your doctor, it’s good to know the crying will stop at some point.

Although it can be frustrating and even anger-provoking, be assured your baby is not doing it on purpose.

Dr. Barr’s theory aims to give parents and caregivers a better understanding of why a baby might be crying. It also aims to reassure them that this period of PURPLE crying is temporary.

How To Cope With the Crying

Even when it’s not a cause for alarm, crying can be stressful for parents or other caregivers. A baby will inevitably cry at times, but it can be a bit of a shock for new moms and dads when the crying is relentless.

Try keeping your baby in calm, peaceful surroundings, especially at feeding times. This might help keep the crying episodes at a minimum.

After a long, tiring day of looking after your baby, their crying can be upsetting. This can also be the case for parents who have been at work all day. They come home wanting some quality time with their little one, who is red in the face and screaming.

Give your baby lots of TLC (tender loving care), and don’t leave them to cry alone. You can’t spoil a baby at this time of their life, so let them know you are there, giving them lots of cuddles. By responding to their crying with love, you will give them the attention they need to develop, even if you’re struggling to soothe them (1).

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How Can I Soothe My Baby?

Sometimes, no matter what you do, the crying won’t stop until your baby is ready. Once you’ve made sure they don’t need a diaper change and aren’t hungry or ill, there are a few other things you can try.

Try holding your baby close to you, possibly with skin-on-skin contact. You could sit in a rocking chair while you do this, or maybe just sway from side to side or back and forth.

Walk around holding your baby close, and maybe swaddle them at the same time. Singing gently to them can be soothing. Popping them in a stroller or carrier and going for a walk can also help.

The one way I found to console my baby was to break out the car seat and drive around. While the crying continued for a short while, the motion soon worked its magic, and peaceful sleep ensued. Sometimes it only required a few trips around the block; other times, we had to drive all over town.

Some babies will respond to a nice warm bath, while others might like the rhythmic sound and vibrations from a fan (2).

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What if Nothing Soothes My Baby?

There are times when, no matter what you try, nothing works. You just have to leave the crying episode to run its course. While it’s going to be hard, you need to remain calm, not just for your baby but for your own sanity.

If you’re finding it hard to cope and are getting stressed, walk away for a while. You could pop your baby in their crib where you know they’re safe, and just take a few minutes away to calm your frazzled nerves.

Getting a family member, neighbor, or competent babysitter to look after your little one for a few hours can give you some valuable time to relax. Go out for dinner, go to the movies, or just enjoy some quiet time.

After this time away, you should find your reserves are replenished, and you’re better able to cope.

It’s normal to feel upset or angry when your baby is crying so much. Being a parent can be hard, especially when it’s not all sunshine, roses, and smiles. It’s not that you’re doing anything wrong โ€” you’re not a failure, and you aren’t a bad parent.

Whatever you do, make sure you reach out for help. Don’t channel your anger at your baby. Keep a few trusted friends and family members on speed dial for when you can’t cope.

Don’t ever shake your baby in frustration โ€” this can have dire consequences. Shaken baby syndrome is a serious condition that can lead to brain damage, blindness, or other psychological issues. If severe, it can be life-threatening and even fatal (3).

Signs Something Is Wrong

There are times when your baby’s crying might be an indication that things aren’t all as they should be. If there are other signs, like fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or if your baby seems otherwise unwell, seek medical help.

You will soon get used to your baby’s cries and patterns of crying, so anything out of the ordinary should set off alarm bells.


Hang in There

All babies will cry to a lesser or greater extent during the first few months of life. It’s not anything you’re doing wrong; it’s just the way it is.

It’s tough on you while it’s happening, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s likely once your baby is older than 3 or 4 months old, this will stop. In the meantime, stay strong, and give your baby all the love and attention they need.

If at any time you think there may be something wrong, have your baby checked out by a doctor.

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Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran licensed pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.