Helping Parents with Crying Infants

Helping Parents with Crying Infants

Helping Parents with Crying Infants

by Dr. Rebecca Butler, Board Certified in Pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics

Learning to handle crying can be tense, frustrating, and upsetting for parents, but success is ultimately satisfying and an important part of the reciprocal interaction that builds attachment for both parent and child.

“Developmental crying” is a great term for explaining crying in the first 3 months, as it is age related. The acronym PURPLE was created to teach about this normal crying.

  • “P” is for peak of crying – babies may cry more each week, most in month 2, then less in months 3-5.
  • “U” is for unexpected – crying can come and go without explanation.
  • “R” is for resists soothing – babies may not stop crying no matter what is tried.
  • “P” is for pain-like face – babies appear to be in pain, even if they are not.
  • “L” is for long lasting – crying can last 5 hours a day or more.
  • “E” is for evening – the baby might cry more in the late afternoon and evening.

The 5 S’s can be a very helpful tool:

  1. Swaddling in a wrap that constrains arms and legs.
  2. Side or stomach holding (but not for sleeping).
  3. Shushing sounds of voice, radio static, fan, air conditioner, or car ride.
  4. Swinging gently (never shake a baby).
  5. Sucking on a pacifier, finger, or hand.

Some babies will go beyond typical crying into colic, which is defined as crying for at least 3 hours per day, at least 3 days per week, starting before 3 months post term. Unfortunately, in some cases, colic may sometimes persist through the first year of life.

Prescription for “REST:”

  • Reassurance – Reassurance that the child is not ill. See your pediatrician for a careful history, physical exam, and patterns of crying.
  • Empathy – Exhausted new parents deserve empathy, as well as the acknowledgment of how difficult, scary, and maddening it is to not be able to console their newborns.
  • Support – While friends are saying “You must be so happy!” after a child is born, ambivalence (What have I done to my life?) is very common but not easy to admit. Use all support systems, including your pediatrician, at these times of frustration and exhaustion.
  • Time away – It is okay to lay a healthy crying newborn in the crib (on their back) and put on headphones for a few minutes or take a walk if someone else is around to monitor. Music, meditation, yoga, or exercise are break activities that may also reduce parent stress.

The first months can shape the parent-child relationship. This also is the time of both “baby blues” emotionality and the emergence of more serious postpartum depression (in males as well as females). One-third of child abuse occurs in the first 6 months during the peak of these episodes. Your pediatrician is there for support and further referrals as needed to get you and your family through one of the toughest periods. Utilize all of your resources and reach out for assistance when needed.

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