By Dr Alison McClymont
"I Had a Purple Crier" - Here's What I Did
“All babies cry” “Have you tried doing x/y/z” “You should let her self-soothe” “Its gas.” “It’s reflux.”. I heard it all and I tried it all.
I spent hours researching different ways to hold babies, different massage techniques, cranial osteopathy, homeopathy, changing my diet, changing feeding times, changing feeding positions, infacol, colief, chamomile oil, changing sleep positions, getting elevated sleep pillow things, playing white noise, playing music, changing bedroom temperatures, sleeping in car seats, not sleeping in car seats, endless walking up and down stairs, even a strange practice of stepping up and down off a coffee table… there was not one thing I wouldn’t try. But nothing work- she still cried.
To give a background to what purple crying looks like- for the first 5-6 months of my eldest child’s life, she cried unrelentingly for up to 5 hours at a time. The mornings were usually the worst and the only thing that stopped her was almost constant breastfeeding on my part, and this I did. I had many people tell me that I should “feed on a schedule”, but breastfeeding was the only thing that offered me some mental space, and I did it happily, my daughter seemed to be only relaxed when she was on the breast. I tried a dummy for a day, but she refused and my new Mother sleep-deprived state was so overwhelmed by different messages, I latched on strongly to the idea that a dummy was not the solution.
I remember feeling confused, exhausted, emotionally battered and completely out of my body. I went to a play date with some other new Mothers and watched in astonishment as one Mother just lay her baby down to sleep without any crying whatsoever or any convoluted practicing of breastfeeding/bouncing/commando rolling away from the cot. “Is she just going to sleep like that?!” I asked, as though I was witnessing some kind of magic- “yes” the other mother said, confused by my confusion. I spent the remaining two hours of the playdate bouncing my daughter on my hip and pacing the living room, whilst trying to not spill a cup of tea in the other.
I realised quite early on in this journey that nothing distresses other people quite so much as a crying baby, and nothing is more stressful to a Mother trying to deal with a crying baby, than other people’s distress. I cannot count the times I left cafes, shops, play spaces, baby classes due to my embarrassment at having a baby whom I couldn’t get to stop crying. I remember distinctly holding my daughter in a baby carrier in a supermarket, whilst she was crying, and a woman demanding angrily “Can’t you do something about that”? To which I hurriedly tried to breastfeed whilst she was in the carrier ( a talent of mine that I quickly developed!) only to be confronted by a snappy “well you can’t do that in here, there’s a toilet if you need to do that”. Turns out nothing distresses some people quite so much as a breastfeeding-in-public mother, with a crying baby…
There were a few things that really helped me through that difficult, and sometimes dark period. I set myself three goals every day and the first was to get dressed, the second to get out of the house and the third to socially connect with others. These goals may sound small but when you are the parent of a “purple crier” getting out of the house may feel like the last place you want to be, but I found that sometimes just stepping out doors helped calm my daughter, and if not, the crying seemed a little less cacophonous in the open air. I also found that getting out meant I had other tasks to focus and sometimes this meant my daughter did to- if nothing else it broke up our routine and offered us both some needed mental relief. Daily social connection (preferably face to face) did the same. From a purely practical standpoint I found that walking up and down stairs ,or on and off a low surface for some reason stopped the crying (apparently it aids in moving gas.. but whatever it was it worked for me). I also found that daily massages whilst they didn’t stop my daughters crying, were at least a well-intentioned way for us to connect, same with daily warm baths.
When I look back I wonder if there was anything I would have done anything differently and yes there are a few things- I think I wouldn’t listen to quite so many judgmental messages around dummy use and I definitely wouldn’t be so concerned with other people’s views around what I am and am not doing. But mostly- I wouldn’t change anything, I did the best I could and followed the instincts my body gave me. If you are the parent of a “purple crier” this above all things is my best advice- you are the expert of your child and you know what is best for your child. Stand strong in that stance and take time to repeat to yourself
“I am doing a good job, every day I am learning to be a better Mother”.
When my daughter was 6 months I was introduced by a friend to a new mother who was also struggling with “purple crying” and I offered to go and meet her to offer some support, she marvelled at my daughter playing happily on the mat, seemingly unable to imagine that THIS was the girl I had told her used to cry for hours and hours at a time. But I assured her it was, and that she too would be find that this difficult phase she was going through, would not endure forever.
I went through a time thinking “this will never end” and I would read stories of people who only found respite at aged 1 and wonder how I would get there, but Mother to Mother I assure you with love and strength that “this too will pass”. You got this Mama.
Dr Alison McClymont is a leading child psychotherapist with over a decade’s worth of experience at the forefront of the industry. She is the author of children’s book ‘Wilbur’s Memory Box.’ Keep up-to-date with Dr Alison McClymont on Instagram @alisonmcclymontinsta