It’s a rite of passage for all new parents – the baby starts wailing in the middle of the night and no amount of rocking, shushing or soothing seems to help. For decades, these unexplained crying spells were thought to be symptoms of colic or perhaps simply the product of a sour disposition. But new lines of thinking in recent years have shown that all babies go through a phase of excessive crying, some more so than others, and parents need more education about how to cope with this difficult period in an infant’s life.
A normal part of baby’s development
In recent years, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital has provided educational resources to moms and dads with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to help them better understand how to manage these excessive crying episodes which have been shown to trigger frustration in parents. The program, called the Period of PURPLE Crying®, offers information and resources for new parents to understand this phase, which usually begins around 2 weeks of age and can last until 5 months old.
“New parents may not realize that this is a normal part of an infant’s development and they can easily become overwhelmed, upset or even angry during these inconsolable crying sessions,” said Dr. Rebecca Girardet, Director of the Division of Child Protection Pediatrics at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Unfortunately, this is when tragedy can strike, including shaking or other forms of abuse. This educational program aims to help parents understand that this phase of an infant’s development has a beginning, but even more importantly, that it has an end, too.”
Raising awareness to help prevent tragedies
As Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital works to raise awareness about child abuse during the month of April, which has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s important to note that abusive head trauma is the leading cause of deaths from physical child abuse in the United States, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Babies are more vulnerable to serious injuries from shaking because they have weak neck muscles, large and heavy heads, and fragile, underdeveloped brains, according to the Center. It is most likely to occur in babies who are 6 months old or younger, and is closely tied to excessive crying, the Center states.
The Center has been a big proponent of the Period of PURPLE Crying, which it describes as an evidence-based tool to support parents and caregivers in understanding increases in infant crying and to reduce the incidence of abusive head trauma.
Researchers are testing the PURPLE program’s effectiveness.
Dr. Girardet and her team recently launched a research project to gather data about the program’s effectiveness in our community as they consider further expansion plans. All parents of newborns at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital now receive the educational resources as part of the study phase, and the early data shows good results, Dr. Girardet said.
“Parents really seem to like the program and initial results indicate that it appears to be effective,” she said. “We are heartened, so far, by what we’ve seen in our own patient population and we are excited about the possibility of rolling it out to an even bigger population as part of our ongoing efforts to curb the sad reality of child abuse in our community.”
In commemoration of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is dedicated to raising awareness about child abuse and working with community partners to help stop this epidemic. Learn more about the efforts to stop maltreatment before it occurs.
To learn more about ways to keep your child healthy, visit Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital