The tracks of their tears: Why crying babies are normal and how ACT Health is telling new parents about it

Parents Taira Vora and Tim Norton will do the Purple Crying Program together after the birth of their baby boy Kaiser.
Parents Taira Vora and Tim Norton will do the Purple Crying Program together after the birth of their baby boy Kaiser.  Photo: Karleen Minney

New parents will be given formal training in a program set up across Canberra's maternity wards to help them understand why a crying baby is normal and prevent future brain injuries among newborns.

Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris will launch the "Period of PURPLE crying program" on Friday at Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

The program centres on "PURPLE" an acronym that helps provides a guide on what to do about crying babies, particularly in their first three months of life.

It has previously been successful interstate and overseas and has been linked to helping reduce infant abusive head trauma.

First-time parents Tim Norton and Taira Vora, whose son Kaiser Norton was born this week, were one of the first couples to go through the course.

Mr Norton said he was glad he had completed and the main things he learnt was that crying in young babies was quite normal and often does not have a specific cause.

"You just need to accept it, be patient, don't shake the baby and it will pass, but having that knowledge is great and it gives me a lot more confidence," he said.

Ms Fitzharris said the program was educating parents about "a typical stage in early infancy where increased crying occurs".

"As a mum of three, I know that life with a newborn can sometimes be challenging," she said.


"Many new parents don't realise that all babies go through a phase of increased crying in the first few months of life, generally beginning at about two weeks of age and continuing until the baby is about three to four months old."

Centenary Hospital's director of nursing Penny Maher said the crucial role of the program was reducing the instances of "shaken baby syndrome", which she described as a significant issue around the world.

Similarly, senior career medical officer Dr Judy Bragg, from the child at risk health unit, said while the specific numbers of infant abusive head trauma (AHT) were unclear, about a third of all those babies that did present with AHT had evidence of previous head trauma, and many also had other previous injuries.

"We see cases both rarely, but sadly too often, we're a small population, and fortunately we don't see many but one baby is too many," she said.

"The impact of a head injury on one baby can be catastrophic, some of these injuries can be fatal, some of them can end up with very serious intellectual disabilities, eye injuries or later on life we find they might have various degrees of learning problems."

Dr Bragg said the biggest impact the program would have was on helping to stop parents feeling "guilty", believing they had missed something because the baby was crying.

"The problem is that we can't calm down a baby if we ourselves are not calm, so we'd suggest parents monitor themselves and if they're overtired or getting stressed to talk to someone and get some support or time out.

"And especially, if you're getting to the point that you think you might do something to the baby, put them down in a safe place, go into another room until you calm down and can come back to calm the baby."

The program has been rolled out across all maternity wards in Canberra, and will see new parents get a sticker to show they have completed it on their "blue book" - the main medical record a parent holds in the early years of their baby's life.

Some 200 purple beanies were also donated to Canberra's hospitals to celebrate the launch of the new program, as a take-home reminder of the advice some of the first parents receive.

Dr Bragg said those beanies, and a wide program of talking to general practitioners, nurses and the Capital Health Network, had also helped Canberra's health sector to keep such injuries, and the program, front of mind.

"We know that in times of high stress, such as the global financial crisis in America, that we see more injuries to babies," she said.

"So if we as a whole community are thinking of ways to support and help new parents, then hopefully the fewer injuries we'll see."

More information about the program, including tips for managing crying babies, is available at: