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The Little Talked About 3 C’s of Development

Some call it a Wonder Week, some call it a Milestone, and others a Touchpoint or Developmental Leap. Some older, more experienced parents might call it a growth spurt. And many folks use the dreaded word all parents hate- regression. Whatever you call it you’re referring to a burst of development that your child experiences, and the period of time leading up to it. As exciting as this change can be, it can also be a time of confusion and frustration for parents because what precedes this miraculous and repeat-video-watching moment is often a lot of chaos- both for babies and parents. Leading up to a milestone your baby will likely display the 3 C’s: crying, clingy and cranky. A parenting hero of mine, Dr. T Berry Brazelton coined the phrase Touchpoint (check out his books here) in the early 90’s and referred to Touchpoints as “periods, during the first years of life during which children’s spurts in development result in disruption in the family system.” So what’s happening that makes this period of time so disruptive? Research has discovered that right before a developmental leap babies often go through a period of becoming highly disorganized. What does this actually mean? It means that your baby who was sleeping for long bursts at night might all of a sudden begin waking more often to feed or be cuddled. It might mean that your once ‘super easy’ baby is now crying throughout the day for various periods of time and you can’t settle them no matter what you do. It might mean that your baby wants to be held ALL THE TIME, and you can’t get anything done like you were able to last week. All of these behaviors are normal and in fact, even though it won’t seem like it in the moment, this is exciting! These are often signs that your baby is about to have a burst of development. This is often why parents refer to this phase as a regression- because it feels like your baby is regressing to formerly figured out and resolved behavior but in reality they are getting ready to move forward. To help understand this period of time, I like to think about a toy car that you have to pull back to get momentum before it goes forward. During this phase your baby has to gear up to move forward and develop. If you’re like me then you want to understand what your baby is going through and maybe have some tools ready for when these leaps happen so you can deal with them in a more healthy and manageable way. And if also like me, maybe it would help to have a framework on which to rely to get you through the rough spots. Enter the PURPLE PERIOD of Crying (researched, developed and named by Dr. Ronald Barr). This chart is a helpful reminder of what your baby is experiencing and how you may feel as a parent:

P = Peak of Crying (Your baby may cry more each week peaking at 2 months and then less at 3-5


U = Unexpected (Crying can come and go, and you don’t know why)

R = Resists Soothing (May not stop crying no matter what you try)

P = Pain-like Face (Baby may look like they are in pain, even when they are not)

L = Long Lasting (Crying can last as much as 5 hours a day, or more)

E = Evening (Your baby may cry more in the late afternoon and evening)

The 3 C’s aren’t just difficult for the baby, they’re hard on parents, too. Crying invokes a range of big feelings from us caregivers, especially when we can’t calm a baby down and we can’t figure out why the baby is crying. Some common reactions to the 3 C’s that we may experience as parents are:

  • Worried baby is sick or in pain

  • Overwhelmed because nothing we do helps baby to stop

  • Critical of ourselves as parents because we must have done something to cause this crying

  • Frustrated and impatient that crying is unpredictable and won’t stop

  • Anger and resentment of baby for not behaving the way we need/want them to

All of these feelings are NORMAL. Try hard not to judge yourself when you feel these things- but rather take a break. Put the baby down and walk away. Let the baby cry in a safe space for a few minutes while you get some air or cry in the bathroom (no shame here, we’ve all done it). If you have a partner take turns when baby is crying so one of you can have a break and get some perspective. Go outside for a walk- even in cold weather. Babies love a change of scenery and fresh air helps us all reboot our system. Reread this post and remember you’re not alone, this is a normal phase of development and something exciting is coming soon.


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