When Crying Won't Stop

For many first-time parents, the day of their newborn’s hospital discharge is a rollercoaster of emotions. There is the excitement of bringing the family home and the anxiety of tending to baby without the help of a nurse. Parents can also feel overwhelmed. After all, there is a feeding schedule to track, diapers to change, belly buttons to monitor, baths to master, and schedules to establish. Most importantly, babies need to be comforted.

During the second month, infants cry more than any other time—as much as five hours a day. Many parents think newborns cry due to a dirty diaper, hunger, or indigestion. Pediatricians and grandmothers refer to some babies as colicky. However, many newborns cry for no reason, and the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome refers to this as PURPLE crying. The letters in PURPLE stand for terms that describe the babies’ crying:

  • Peak of crying. Crying increases up to two months and lessens between three and five months.
  • Unexpected. Crying can come and go and parents do not understand why.
  • Resistant to soothing. Regardless of what a parent may try, the baby will not stop crying.
  • Pain-like face. The crying baby may look like he is in pain when he really is not.
  • Long lasting. Crying can last up to five hours a day or more.
  • Evening. A baby may cry more in the late afternoon and into the evening.

The period of PURPLE crying® can be a trying time for mom or dad. Parents who cannot console their child feel like they are failing at parenting or have a bad baby. All of this can lead to shaken baby syndrome, which occurs when parents or caregivers becomes so frustrated with the fussy baby that they shake the child.

When an infant is shaken, her head and neck move violently back and forth, causing brain bruising and other serious problems. These injuries occur due to the size of a baby’s head in comparison to her body and weak neck muscles. Shaken baby syndrome usually leads to blindness, seizures, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities—if the child survives.

In the United States, an estimated 600 to 1,400 shaken baby syndrome cases occur each year. Meritus Medical Center’s Family Birthing Center does everything it can to help parents understand how the period of PURPLE crying can lead to shaken baby syndrome. We require parents to watch a DVD on PURPLE crying while in the hospital, and parents get to take a copy home to share with caregivers.

"This informative DVD wakes you up to how easily this can happen to you," said Cindy Berger, RN. Her colleague Brenda Horsch, RN, agrees. "Even the most loving parents can feel frustrated. This DVD helps you understand you are not alone."

The DVD offers advice to parents and caregivers when encountering a crying baby:

  • Carry, walk and talk to your baby.
  • Calm yourself, before trying to calm your baby. This sometimes means leaving a crying infant in his crib and walking away for a few minutes to gain composure.
  • Call your pediatrician if you think something is wrong with your baby.

Knowing in advance, whether from a nurse or a DVD, that babies will cry often during the first few months can be reassuring to a new parent. Any veteran parent will tell you, the crying doesn’t last forever—and neither does infancy.

When Crying Won't Stop