I got an email from a very kind woman asking me to write a post on Shaken Baby Syndrome and Purple Crying. I thought it was a great idea.
Not that Shaken Baby Syndrome really needs awareness; I mean, we all know you shouldn’t be shaking babies, but what I did want to raise awareness about is that you may want to shake your baby. Oh man, you may really want to shake your baby.
I remember before I had my first son, I would see some news headline about some woman who had shaken her newborn and think, “How can you do that? How can you shake that helpless little baby? What a monster.” Then I had my son, and then I was all, “Oh yeah, I totally see how this happens.”
The Witching Hour
First, you hear their little cry at around 4 pm, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you think, “Shit. It begins.” you go in and pick them up. “There, there.” You feed them. Change them. Burp them. Rock them. Drive them around the block. Sing lullabies at the top of your lungs. Plead. Cry. And nothing, NOTHING, makes it stop. “Hush, hush, little one” quickly turns into “What the hell do you need from me?!?!?!? For the love of Christ, STOP CRYING!!!!”.
Well, it turns out that babies have a Period of Purple Crying (I guess the Period of Incessant Fucking Crying was already taken).
Have you heard of this? I hadn't, and I think I would have had a better time of it had I known that this crying is a normal part of a baby’s life and not something that needed fixing.
Purple Crying is Awful, but it’s not Colic
Turns out this period of sustained crying can happen when a baby is between 2 weeks to 3-4 months and is often mistaken as colic when, in fact, it’s just a normal, yet brain numbing, part of a baby’s development. Not surprisingly, it is also the most common time for a baby to be shaken, and that shit isn’t pretty, and none of us wants to go there.
So, a Period of Purple Crying campaign has been launched to create awareness about this *trying* time.
They’ve created a website to fill you in on the details and have also started a Click for Babies knitting campaign to recruit knitters and crocheters across North America to make purple baby caps, which will be distributed to parents, along with information on the Period of Purple Crying. (I suppose purple earplugs are a choking hazard.)
Hey now, it’s okay.
You may be reading this in terror, thinking, “Oh great, now I have this horror to look forward to”, but this isn’t meant to frighten you. I don’t want you to feel unprepared or like you are the only one this is happening to. I have yet to meet a parent that didn’t have a witching hour in their house, so you are not alone.
What is Purple Crying?
“PURPLE” is an acronym that describes this crying:
- P = Peak of crying. Your baby may cry more each week, the most in month 2, then less in months 3-5.
- U = Unexpected. Crying can come and go and you don't know why.
- R = Resists soothing. Your baby may not stop crying no matter what you try.
- P = Pain-like face. A crying baby may look like they are in pain even when they are not.
- L = Long lasting. Crying can last for 5 hours a day, or more.
- E = Evening. Your baby may cry more in the late afternoon or evening.
Obviously, you want to rule out anything physically wrong with your baby in the 8 billion pediatrician appointments you have when they are a newborn.
My friend’s baby didn’t stop crying for a 48 hour period until they figured out that one of her hairs had wrapped around the baby’s toe and was cutting off circulation, causing toe tourniquet syndrome. (Yep, someone named it so you can label your guilt).
Acid reflux, an ear infection, teething, fever, allergies, cranky tummies or plain o’ hunger are also something to look into. But once you know that you’re dealing with a healthy kid, here are my handy tips for making it through this tricky time.
Tips for Dealing with Purple Crying:
- Put the baby down in a safe place (like a crib or even the floor) and go pee. Everything seems better when you’re sitting on the toilet.
- Listen to music with earphones. Even if you can still hear the baby, it drowns out that upper octave that only a 2-month-old and Mariah Carey can hit.
- Get earplugs. Again, just enough to take off the edge.
- Try to sing Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song so it sounds like your baby is taking the “AHhhaahhhhaaa” part.
- Bounce on an exercise ball and watch tv while your baby is strapped to your chest in a baby carrier. You may as well whittle your ass off while you lose your mind.
- Find one of those little old ladies who stop you in the mall and tell you that these are the best days of your life, and give them the screaming baby. Fun fun, Motherfucker.
- Find a slightly deaf relative to hold the baby while you sit outside and cry.
- Write a nasty email to your spouse (or Gwyneth Paltrow) telling them how much you hate them and want to smother them in their sleep. Then don’t send it. No point in burning that bridge.
- Go for a walk with the baby strapped to you somewhere noisy. Babies love it when they are steeped in chaos and your exhaustion. An outdoor market, a busy street, or a college bar should do the trick – you get the gist.
- Make the “Aum” sound that Buddhist Monks do repeatedly while holding your baby upright on your chest. My Father-in-Law has perfected this sound and put every baby he held out like a light. He seriously should be rented out to new parents.
- Tell your baby your worst secrets ever. Who the hell are they going to tell?
- Cry along with them and see who can outlast the other like a Boo Hoo showdown.
- Pop them in the stroller and go for a walk. The fresh air and motion might help settle them down.
- Pull out the vacuum cleaner. You may as well have a clean house to show for your insanity.
- Have a shower and blow dry your hair. Be fancy and oblivious to the screams like Celine Dion!
- Invest in a great white noise machine (for both of you).
- Dress your baby up in a Halloween costume. I shit you not that I did this, and it’s pretty hard to get frustrated with a screaming skunk.
- Rock your baby in a rocking chair or in your arms with quick, tiny movements (I’m still not sure why that works)
- Try swaddling. Some babies find a lot of comfort in the wrapping.
- Try baby massage. (Or a 'you' massage while someone else watches the baby.)
- Draw a mustache with eyeliner on your baby’s upper lip so they look like an angry dandy while they cry. Eyebrows are great, too.
It will eventually stop
These episodes will eventually slow down and stop. They suck, but they do go away and you pretty much have to ride them out.
I remember one dark night when I took my oldest son out for a walk during his witching hour.
It was the middle of February, it was wet and cold, and I looked like someone coming off a three-week drinking bender in a medieval period piece. My coat was open with him snuggly strapped to my chest, and I was shuffling down a busy street in the seedy neighborhood we used to live in.
Two sketchy guys were sitting in a doorway, watching me walk by. They were already pretty inebriated, so I just ignored them as I shuffled past. The one guy lit a half cigarette he had picked up off the ground and said, “Hey lady, how old is your baby?” I stopped and said, “5 weeks old.” He shook his head and said, “Man, that’s rough.” And as I stood there looking at this guy, I said, “Yes! Thank you! It is rough.” I will be forever grateful to that man.
He totally got it. It’s rough. Almost every parent goes through it so don’t let it get you down. Drink, cry, scream, and tell telemarketers to go fuck themselves, but whatever you do, don’t shake the damn baby.
Check out The Period of PURPLE Crying for more information about this time in a baby’s life and Clicks for Babies if you, or someone you know, knits or crochets and wants to help spread the word.
Related: 10 Reasons Your Newborn Baby Cries