Most new parents know all too well the stresses of a new born baby who seems to cry despite having all his or her needs met.
But what many don’t know is that there is a normal developmental period referred to as the period of purple crying. It begins when an infant is about two weeks old and continues until the baby is three to four months old.
Last week, the IWK Health Centre officially launched its Period of Purple Crying program. Described as an “evidence-based infant abuse prevention program,” the program is intended to educate parents and caregivers about normal infant crying and the dangers of shaking a baby.
The program includes a DVD and booklet and has been delivered since February to all parents of newborns at the IWK by registered nurses on the Family Newborn and Adult Surgery Unit.
Amy Ornstein, pediatrician and medical director of the IWK’s child protection team, said its important for parents to understand that sometimes healthy babies will cry for no apparent reason. Parents need to realize that it’s normal, and they should be armed with healthy coping mechanisms.
“I did a small survey while chatting with first time mothers and when I asked how much preparation they’d had for labour, delivery, breastfeeding and crying, they had received significantly less information and preparation for infant crying,” said Ornstein. “It’s like a lot of preparation for a wedding but not taking further steps to learn how to make the marriage work.”
In addition, close to 75 per cent of the mothers Ornstein spoke with didn’t think crying would be a problem they would face in the upcoming months. She said it’s important for parents to be prepared, and equally important they realize the period of seemingly inexplicable crying will eventually pass.
“A baby may be quiet and great on the first day, but it (crying) is a predictable developmental pattern and we thought it was key to share the message,” she said.
Heather Clarke just delivered her second baby, Charlotte Rose, at the IWK last week. She said one of the nurses brought her a DVD to watch that explained the Period of Purple Crying project in detail.
Clarke was told the hospital was giving out 10,000 DVDs to see if it affected the rates of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
“It was a good reminder that she may cry a lot once we get home, and it gave some good tips for what to do if she does,” Clarke said. “I think even if you have your babies back-to-back, like we did--our son is 22 months--you still forget things. You forget what it’s really like to have a newborn until you have one again. So a refresher of any kind is always a good idea.”
Ornstein said it is often reassuring for parents to know that even if they’ve taken care of all their baby’s needs, sometimes the baby will cry.
“It takes the pressure off of them feeling they’re not being a good parent,” she said. “And we also want to prevent what happens when a parent is feeling pressure to make the baby stop crying and them harms the baby.”
Ornstein also hopes that by increasing awareness about the issue, the general public will be more tolerant and help ease the burden on new parents.
“The pressure of having your neighbours or someone staring at you in the shopping centre while your baby is crying can be stressful, but if everyone can be aware that this is a normal developmental behaviour in infants, it could help make a societal shift,” she said.
“Whenever I talk about the program or share details about it there’s always someone who says ‘Wow. I wish I’d had that information when I had my baby.’”
A second piece of the Period of Purple Crying program is the distribution of purple-coloured knitted baby caps to new parents. The CLICK for Babies campaign is led by the IWK Health Centre’s Auxiliary, which also sponsors the facility’s Period of PURPLE Crying Program.
Knitters and crocheters across the Maritime provinces are encouraged to make the purple coloured caps intended to remind people about normal infant crying and the dangers of shaking an infant.
“We hope to see a lot of babies throughout the Maritimes in the near future wearing these purple caps,” Ornstein said.
Tara Campbell-Sewart is expecting to deliver her third child at the IWK next month, and thought the program was an excellent idea.
“Especially for a new mom who has not had kids at all, it’s so important and would come as a relief to know that your baby is fine and healthy and this is normal,” Campbell-Sewart said. “This is great information, and even for me it will refresh my memory and make me prepared again. And I will make sure my baby wears the cap.”
To learn more about the Period of Purple Crying program, visit www.PURPLEcrying.info. Volunteers interested in making purple caps can find patterns, guidelines and details at www.CLICKforbabies.org.
The dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome have been highlighted during the recent trial of Ashiqur Rahman. The Halifax man pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and aggravated assault in the July 2009 death of his seven-week-old daughter, Aurora Breakthrough.
An autopsy showed the infant had suffered brain trauma and broken bones. Judge Felix Cacchione said he will render his decision on June 22, although it could be sooner.
Scientists studied different animal species and found that like human babies, all breast feeding animals tested actually go through the same developmental stage of crying more in the first few months of life.
The letters in PURPLE stand for:
P--Peak of Crying: Your baby may cry more each week. The most at two months, then less at 3-5 months
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 as much as five hours a day, or more
E--Evening: You baby may cry more in the late afternoon and evening