I remember my short maternity leave with my first born. I spent it primarily dealing with breastfeeding issues and trying to stop the crying. He didn't always cry hysterically, but sometimes he did -- like in this picture.
Some times of day were better than others and, unlike his sister, he did love the baby swing (and so we loved the baby swing too). But there were definitely times when he would just cry and cry and nothing would help. The worst time was from about 3pm to 6pm. By the time my partner got home from work, I was drained and exhausted and ready to hand off the baby.
As a new parent, I struggled. What am I doing wrong? Is he hurt? Is he hungry? Is he not getting enough sleep? Is something in my milk upsetting his tummy? Does his diaper need to be changed again? Is he teething ALREADY? Is he sick? Does he have a fever? Is he constipated? Is he hot? Is he cold? Is the tag on his shirt bothering him? Over and over again, I would ask myself these questions and try each and every thing I could think of to calm him down. Sometimes something would seem to work, but the next day it wouldn't be any help at all.
I had done a lot of reading to prepare for bringing my baby home and of course I'd heard of Shaken Baby Syndrome. I knew that it could be frustratingly difficult with babies sometimes and that shaking them was incredibly dangerous. I knew that when it got to be too much, it was better to put him down in a safe space and take a breather than to risk hurting him.
Most days, I was able to keep my composure despite the crying. When I couldn't, I was more likely to lay down and cry with him than to react violently. That's just who I am and how I react to that type of stress.
I knew, at the time, that I needed to get through it. What I didn't know, was that it was completely normal. I called it the witching hour or the fussy time, but I always assumed there must be some underlying cause that I just wasn't seeing. I now know, that may not be the case. The Purple Crying campaign is trying to educate parents and caregivers about the period of Purple Crying.
The period of Purple Crying can start at around two weeks old and continue until about three to four months. According Marilyn Barr, the Founder and Executive Director of the National Shaken Baby Syndrome, babies going through this period can resist all attempts at soothing.
Nothing helps. Even though it helps when they are fussy or crying other times, it is different when they go through these inconsolable crying bouts. Nothing seems to sooth them.
During this phase of a baby’s life they can cry for hours and still be healthy and normal. Parents often think there must be something wrong with them or they would not be crying like this. However, even after a check-up from the doctor which shows the baby is healthy they still go home and cry for hours, night after night. “It was so discouraging,” said one dad. “Our baby giggles and seems fine during the day and almost like clock-work he starts crying about 6 pm. He is growing and healthy so why does he cry like that ?”
Coping with Purple Crying
The most important thing to do when dealing with purple crying is to try to stay calm. The website for the Period of Purple Crying has some information and tips on how to stay calm when you are frustrated and drained.
Personally, I found fresh air to be refreshing. I am lucky that we live out in the country, so it was easy to go outside and get a breather without having people stare at me and my crying baby.
I am a believer in crying in arms (versus leaving a baby to cry on their own). I think that if I was put in the situation again of having a baby who cried that much, I would have purchased some noise cancelling headphones to at least allow me to focus on my baby without getting a headache. I think it would have allowed me to stay calm longer and not be as distressed while dealing with his needs.
Although I don't like the idea of a baby crying alone, it is obviously better for a parent to leave the baby alone in a safe space briefly than to do something that will injure the baby. Ensure you have a safe space for the baby, go out of the room, take a breather and then go back in once you have collected yourself.
Cherishing the Moments of Calm
My second baby was a calm baby. I've often said I could have worked full-time for the first six months of her life if I hadn't had a toddler to take care of too. She basically slept and nursed all day and all night and was pretty much content as long as she was touching me. The saying "nine months in, nine months out" applies perfectly to her. The sling was her home.
My son, however, as I described above, was a very different baby. With him, the quiet calm moments came less frequently, but it made them all that much more special. The picture below is one we've had on our fridge for years. It is the way that I would like to remember his baby days.
Want to help raise awareness?
Every day babies are shaken and abused because the person caring for them became overwhelmed by their crying and didn't know what to do. In a lot of cases, the tragedies that come from those situations could have been prevented if the person knew that the crying was normal and was prepared to deal with it.
If you want to help raise awareness about the Period of Purple Crying, consider sharing this blog post or writing one of your own. Tell people your own story about your baby who wouldn't stop crying and what you did to cope. Or, if you know how to knit, you can take part in the Click for Babies campaign that is looking for people to knit anywhere from 5 to 50 purple coloured baby caps with baby friendly yarn and send them to the organizers in their province or state.
What was your experience like with your baby? If your baby did cry a lot, did you know about the period of purple crying?