How Much Crying Is Normal?

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Even if yours is the most colicky baby on the block, you'll be glad to know you're not looking at 18 more turbulent years. A colicky baby does not predict a difficult child. "Parents sometimes perceive them as more difficult later on," acknowledges Dr. Barr, "but in actual behavior, they're no different from other kids."

And crying nearly always subsides by the fourth month -- at which point it becomes a signal that your baby wants something. "Crying at this stage is no longer simply a reflection of a baby's internal state, but the foundation of communication and language." (It's worth noting that approximately 3 to 5 percent of babies are still doing lots of crying at 4 and 5 months. They may be what developmental experts consider temperamentally difficult children -- sensitive to their environment.)

As you become more familiar with your baby, you'll be able to interpret what each of her cries means -- "I'm hungry," "I'm wet," "I don't feel well." There will inevitably be times when you can't figure it out, but by and large you'll become an expert at decoding her signals. By the time your child is a toddler, her crying will have morphed into a totally different phenomenon: She'll cry out of frustration or separation anxiety or to protest her independence being thwarted. Soothing may simply be a matter of acknowledging and helping her manage her emotions.

But the need for soothing isn't limited to little ones. Until you've lived it, it's impossible to grasp how stressful a baby's incessant crying can be. That's why every new parent needs plenty of empathy and support -- as well as breaks from childcare. These early months may feel like the longest of your life, but the crying will pass. Remember it's part of normal development, not an indication that something is wrong. And it's not your fault.

Grace Monfort is a mother of two and a writer in New York City.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2004.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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