Crying Babies

You may wonder why a lactation consultant–someone who considers herself somewhat of an expert in the art and science of breastfeeding–is writing an article about crying babies.  I have been moved to address this topic because every day parents ask me about hunger cues, sleep and crying.  Specifically, new parents want to know, what does that cry mean?

Crying is your baby’s way of letting you know that something is not right.  She may be hungry or thirsty, lonely, cold, afraid, uncomfortable or maybe she doesn’t even know.  She just knows she needs something–now!  Parents are sometimes told to ignore their baby’s cries–particularly as a way to “train” the baby to sleep longer or go longer between feedings.

There are probably dozens of books written about babies and sleep–many of them promising that your baby will “sleep through the night” if you follow the rules outlined by the authors.  Thankfully, there is a different point of view!  The following quotes are from pediatricians who have written about babies and sleep. The name of the book follows each quote:

“A crying baby’s needs are so simple, and they are so simply supplied.  A baby cries to communicate to you his need for the touch, warmth, comfort, security and love that only you can provide.  Why would anyone deny such a simple, human request?…When a baby fails to call out for his parents when he is in distress at night, it cannot be because he has ‘learned’ a useful behavior.  It is more likely that he has just given up on his parents.”  Dr. Paul Fleiss, Sweet Dreams.

“Putting your baby through cry-it-out sleep training isn’t the worst thing you can do to him, but it’s far from the best.  We know of no studies on short-term effects or even …long-term effects of crying it out in humans.  But studies of parent-infant separation involving ‘crying’ in nonhumuan primates show that the hormonal stress response of babies in these situations can be ‘equivalent to or greater than that induced by physical trauma.'”  Dr. Jay Gordon, Good Nights.

“Letting the baby cry undermines a mother’s confidence and intuition…not responding to a baby’s cries goes against most mothers’ intuitive responses. If a mother consistently goes against what she feels, she begins to desensitize herself to the signal value of her baby’s cries. …  A mother who restrains herself from responding to her baby gradually and unknowingly becomes insensitive….Once you allow outside advice to overtake your own intuitive mothering you and your child are at risk of drifting apart.”  Dr. William Sears,  Nighttime Parenting.

Finally, my favorite quote from Dr. Lee Salk, author and child psychologist wrote,  “There’s no harm in a child crying: the harm is done only if his cries aren’t answered … If you ignore a baby’s signal for help, you don’t teach him independence… What you teach him is that no other human being will take care of his needs.”  (Lee Salk)

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