elevating child care

7 Reasons To Calm Down About Babies Crying

There are people who don’t mind hearing babies cry. They ignore a baby in distress, won’t pick the baby up ‘so as not to spoil him’, think nothing of leaving babies crying alone for hours in a dark room. I know these people exist because I read articles about them all time. But seriously, who are they? In my 18 ½ years as a mother, 16 years as a parent educator and 2 years blogging, I’ve never encountered a parent like this.

The parents and caregivers I know and have known (myself included) are of a very different ilk – 180 degrees different, in fact. We’re jolted by our baby’s slightest expression of discomfort or dismay. Our instinct is to do anything in our power to stop a baby from crying. When our baby’s cries aren’t easily abated we’re unnerved, frustrated, feel like complete failures. One sound from the baby, and the pressure we feel is enormous. Make the crying stop so I can breathe again.

Perhaps we shush, rock, jiggle, use electric swings, washing machines, pacifiers, drive all over the neighborhood, nurse babies for hours on end, afraid to take them off the breast even while they sleep lest they wake up and cry. Some moms might attempt to sleep all night with a baby latched on. Our own discomfort is better than bearing even a moment of our baby’s.

We do our best to discern the different cries and respond appropriately, but doubts and comparisons loom… Apparently, African babies don’t cry, so what’s the matter with us?

Later, the time comes when we have to say no to our toddlers and they object to our decision and end up crying. This also feels innately wrong. So we either find ways to distract our child or just give in and please him instead, which then causes our children to make increasingly unreasonable demands…because they desperately need our “no” and their cry. But instinct and culture tell us our children shouldn’t be crying, and it’s up to us to make them stop.

Thankfully there are some intelligent, insightful, compassionate voices of reason out there. Experts like Magda Gerber, Aletha Solter, and Patty Wipfler are champions for your baby’s emotional health…and yours, too. Their books and articles help us to understand that an infant’s cries are not only okay, they serve an important purpose. When babies cry, our job is to tune in, provide help, love and support as needed, but not necessarily stop the crying.

These experts agree that crying is the primary manner in which babies communicate, and we must, without question, respond to our baby’s cries. As Magda Gerber notes in Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect: “Crying must be responded to. But how is a more complicated issue. To follow the advice, “do not let your baby cry,” is practically impossible. At times the harder a mother or father tries to stop the baby’s crying, the more anxious everyone becomes.”

1. When we calm ourselves, we’re able to listen and respond to the true need

When we follow our impulse to quickly stop the crying, we aren’t taking the time to listen to and understand our baby’s cues and are less likely to validate the baby’s communication by giving her what she really needs.

“When babies and toddlers don’t feel good, they cry in order to clear the tension they feel.  We try to get them “settled down” with patting, bouncing, walking, pacifiers, and sometimes, the breast.  We’ve been trained to believe that a baby will do better as soon as she is able to stop expressing her upset. …However, you’ll see that when you stop a baby from expressing feelings, she doesn’t actually feel better”   –Patty Wipfler, Hand In Hand Parenting

“An anxious and irritated parent (crying does irritate!) will most likely do what brings the fastest relief – give the breast or bottle. The baby almost always accepts it, calms down and often falls asleep. Of course, this is the right solution if the baby is hungry.  However, if the baby has other needs (for instance being tired or having pain), she will learn to expect food in response to these other needs, and grasp the breast or bottle even though she is not hungry.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect

“Why is it so difficult to hold a crying baby and to accept the crying? Probably because few people were allowed to cry as much as needed when they were little. Your parents may have tried to stop you from crying when you were a baby. Perhaps they gave you a pacifier, or kept trying to feed you, or jiggled you every time you cried, thinking this was what you needed at the moment. Perhaps they tried to distract you with toys, music, or games, when all you needed was their undivided attention and loving arms so that you could continue with your crying.” –Aletha Solter, Aware Parenting

2. Crying is natural, healthy healing

When parents first attend my parent- infant guidance classes, I make a point of letting them know – crying is allowed here. I sense their relief. Gina from The Twin Coach wrote an insightful account of her visit to my class, but her observation that the babies “never once cried” was a rarity! Usually someone cries at least a little. We understand that babies cry and parents need not feel stressed or embarrassed about it.

”Fortunately, babies come equipped with a repair kit, and can overcome the effects of stress through the natural healing mechanism of crying. Research has shown that people of all ages benefit from a good cry, and tears help to restore the body’s chemical balance following stress.” -Solter

“… when a baby cries about something that’s not actually threatening, or something that is an unavoidable annoyance, she’s engaged in a natural and important endeavor.  She’s having some feelings, and telling you about them.” -Wipfler

“All healthy babies cry. We would worry if they didn’t cry – no infant can be raised without crying. Respond to the baby, reflecting that you are there and that eventually you will understand the reasons for the crying.” -Gerber

“A growing number of psychologists believe that the healing function of crying begins at birth, and that stress-release crying early in life will help prevent emotional and behavioral problems later on.” -Solter

3. Wild animals won’t eat our babies

Babies could not cry in primitive societies because their survival was at stake. Nor could these children squeal with exuberance like my neighbor’s children are doing at this very moment (and I love that sound), or sing at the top of their lungs in a high-pitched voice like my son often does first thing in the morning. His joyful noise is a little unnerving before the caffeine’s done its job, but I’m grateful to have a child who wakes up exceedingly happy, feels free to express himself and lives in a society in which freedom of expression is not only allowed, but encouraged and valued.

I can certainly understand relating to a particular ancestral practice and choosing to adopt it. But comparing ourselves and our babies to tribal families without taking into account the context in which these ancestral behaviors “worked” makes little sense to me. The realities of our lives and the expectations we have for our children couldn’t be more different.

4. Passing down our discomfort

“Our culture tends to block and suppress the healthy expression of deep emotions. Some adults remember being punished, threatened, or even abused when they cried as children. Others remember their parents using kinder methods to stop them from crying, perhaps through food or other distractions. This early repression of crying could be one factor leading to the use of chemical agents later in life to repress painful emotions.” -Solter

“It’s painful to listen to a crying baby. Grown-ups tend to overreact to a child’s cry. Why? Because crying often stirs up painful memories of our own childhood, churning up issues of abandonment and fear. Perhaps as babies or young children we were not allowed to cry and were distracted or reproached when we did. Our children’s tears many trigger in us these buried memories of rage, helplessness, or terror, taking us back to those early years. Our baby’s message may then become muddled in our own issues. Try to listen to your baby to hear what she is saying.” -Gerber

5. Less abuse?

If we could all be more comfortable with babies crying would parents be less likely to abuse? My guess is yes.

“For instance, sometimes babies cry when we disappear into the shower, when a friendly stranger approaches, or when we put them down to crawl or walk.  Many babies develop a hatred of their car seat. Some parents decide to go for days without a shower, or to carry their baby all the time, in an effort to remedy this kind of crying.  Life gets harder, and parenting less enjoyable.” -Wipfler

6. Calm breeds calm

There is no one more sensitive than an infant and the people he is most sensitive to are his parents. Every interaction we have is an educational experience. Babies want what all of us want when we cry — to be heard, understood, and helped if possible. Sometimes the help they need is our calm support so that they can fully express their feelings.

“Do not start crazy tricks.  Infants do not need them at any age, and neither do you. Do not make babies dependent on distractions that you do not want them to depend on later. …Your baby will learn to be calm from a calm parent in a calm atmosphere.” –Gerber

7. We bond through gentle, calm listening and observing, honesty and acceptance.

“What can parents do? First of all, it is important to check for immediate needs and discomforts, such as hunger or coldness. But if your baby is still fussy after you have filled her basic needs, it is quite appropriate simply to hold her lovingly and allow her to continue crying.” -Solter

“A crying baby responds to gentleness and calmness. Respond slowly and acknowledge that she is crying by saying, “You’re crying. What’s the matter?” Next, make sure that her basic needs are taken care of.  Be sure your baby is fed and warm.  Some babies are more sensitive to a wet diaper than others, so check that.  If she is neither hungry nor tired and seems to have no other pressing need, observe her to discover the possible source of any other discomfort. Tell her you’re trying to understand what she wants. This is the start of lifelong, honest communication.” – Gerber

“After a good cry, your baby will connect with you.  And she will thrive. …You’ve listened and let her tell you, in her powerful nonverbal way, what was on her mind.  There’s nothing like being heard fully to settle a child’s mind, and help her feel loved.” -Wipfler


These books offer wonderful, respectful suggestions for helping your crying baby:

Magda Gerber’s books: Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect and Your Self Confident Baby: How To Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities From The Very Start

CALMS A Guide to Soothing Your Baby by Contey and  Takika

My book, Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.

Referenced articles:

Aletha Solter: “What To Do When Your Baby Cries” and “Crying For Comfort – Distressed Babies Need To Be Held” from Aware Parenting

Patty Wipfler: “In Your Arms Crying Heals The Hurt” from Birthways Newsletter  

The Twin Coach: “How Doing Less Could Make You A Better Parent



(Photo by tostadophotos.com on Flickr)

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113 Responses to “7 Reasons To Calm Down About Babies Crying”

  1. avatar Adeline says:

    Hello Janet,

    Thank you for this article. I have been following you for the past month and o am starting to notice your philosophy on sleeping. My daughter is 6 months old and I always give her the breast until she falls a asleep, she’ll wake up through out the night cryin until I give her back my breast. What can I do to brake this habit I created? My boyfriend has tried putting her back to sleep and she screams until I come back…
    Than you!!!

    • avatar Jeany says:

      She’s six months. She needs to nurse at night still. You don’t need to break the habit, because it’s not a habit. It’s a need. She’s screaming because she’s hungry.

    • avatar Adie says:

      Feeding her and then laying her back down to fall asleep on her own can help. Janet has some great articles about confidently making changes and supporting your baby through the upset.

    • avatar Gina says:

      I had the same problem and had to teach my boy to self settle. Because he fell asleep at the breast this was his association with sleep. I’ve now trained him to associate sleep with the cot and when he wakes he puts himself to sleep. I set my alarm to feed him twice a night (10pm and 3am). Google gentle sleep training.

  2. avatar Rhiannon says:

    The problem with trying to interpret a young babies cries though is that how do you know whether shes hungry or not? What if she didnt have enough the last time she fed, so although she didnt feed long ago she is now hungry again? And sometimes they go through growth spurts and are in need of food what feels like all the time – how do you figure out weather the baby is hungry or not without offering food, and if offering food usually results in a calmer baby, how do you know if that’s what they truly wanted? It just seems like most of the advice there was to first check if they are hungry or wet, then if not try to find out what else might be wrong and to just be with them. But how do you find out if they are hungry without offering food that they would probably take whether hungry or not? I found it very hard with my first baby, i felt completely at sea with her needs! Can you tell? Am expecting another and really wish it not to be quite such a stressful time this time round.

    • avatar janet says:

      You’ve touched on a very good point, Rhiannon. Communicating with our babies certainly isn’t a perfect process… particularly in the beginning when it’s harder to distinguish each expression, sound or cry. The important thing is that we DO perceive this as a process of understanding another person, rather than attempting to fix or control the uncomfortable sounds as quickly as possible.

    • avatar Lauren Lewis says:

      Hi Rhiannon! The simplest way to tell if your baby is hungry is to offer him or her a knuckle against her lip. If she tries to latch on and frantically suck, she’s hungry. If she continues to cry and turns her head, chances are, she’s not.

  3. avatar Tired mom says:

    Hi Janet,

    After reading your articles, I knew this is the way I want to raise my child. I felt so much calmer when I vocalize my actions. It made me more aware of what I was doing at the same time my son could know what to expect.

    My little one is coming 3 months this week but I still can’t get him to take his naps.
    For one, he hasn’t learnt the art of sucking his thumb, and for the other, he cries murder when I try to cradle him.

    I tired putting him in his cot and told him to get some rest and I’ll be next door if he needs me.His crying will start and cry till he’s red on the face.
    I also tried to let him vent his emotions by continuing to let him cry, but he doesn’t stop! (How long is considered too long?)

    I sometimes give him a pacifier (not encouraged,I know) to replace his thumb but with or without pacifier, he sleeps for 5 minutes after I put him down and wakes up crying.He’ll be inconsolable for at least 15 minutes and the cycle will start again.

    Or am I too impatient and tried to put him to sleep too early?

    Please, help me. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

  4. avatar Christine Muldoon says:

    Hi Janet,

    In this article you link another article about “African babies don’t cry.” I read the article on African babies and it basically said that African babies don’t cry because they are always at the breast or being carried around (worn in wraps) by their mothers. Both of these things, I was under the impression, you do NOT support. I’m confused why you linked that article then. I felt a huge sense of relief reading that mother’s post and realizing that the reason my baby cries all the time could be because she is hungry! I should try feeding her more. And in indigenous cultures, baby wearing is the norm. Yet for some reason you speak against it. Please explain why other cultures seem to have such happy babies by feeding them on demand and holding them constantly and yet Magda Gerber speaks against that. It doesn’t seem to make sense….

    • avatar Sam says:


      The simple answer unfortunately is that Janet has a massive axe to grind when it comes to attachment parenting. I don’t know why but it’s clear as day in many articles of hers I’ve read.

      The truth is there is no one correct way to parent and AP is very open and honest about this.

      My only advice would be that the fact Janet (and her peers?) feels the need to tear down and discount other parenting choices should be a huge red flag to you. Anyone who focuses energy on such things surely has more motivating them than just the wellbeing of parents and babies.

      • avatar janet says:

        My goodness, Sam. With respect, it sounds like you are the one with an axe to grind. I have no interest in tearing anything down and I’m sincerely sorry and surprised that you received that impression.

        • avatar Sam says:

          Then feel free to answer Christine’s question directly.

        • avatar Sam says:

          You regularly reference AP and post links which almost always seem to be in the context of “this is unhealthy” or “this is unrealistic”.

          And yet by your own admission you have “only read a couple of pages” (paraphrasing) of information on AP.

          So to me that seems very odd someone would feel the need to comment frequently on and offer counter arguments to something that they also claim to not know much about. I was wrong to be so presumptuous and accusatory and I apologise, but I have also learned that when human behaviour doesn’t make sense, there is ALWAYS something else going on under the surface. As to what that might be I can only speculate (and shouldn’t hence the apology).

          • avatar janet says:

            You’ll need to be specific in your accusations for me to be able to make any sense of them. You’ve lost me. And this obviously isn’t the website for you, so why waste your time here attacking me? Time to move on. Take care.

  5. avatar janet says:

    Hi Christine – This post is about helping parents get more comfortable with their babies’ communication (which often means crying). Magda Gerber, Aletha Solter, Patty Wifler and others do not believe that quieted babies = happy babies. I linked to the article about African babies, because it represents the opposite perception, and an “ideal” that is not only unattainable for most parents and babies, but also not necessarily representative of true emotional health as Gerber, Solter, Wifler and others define it. Magda Gerber’s approach perceives a far more aware, engaged baby… Carrying has a lulling, sedating effect, which many perceive as positive for infant development. Magda did not. She believed that infant awareness, communication and active participation in life should be encouraged. This is a different approach than AP takes, based on a different perception of babies… and I presented some of the differences in this post: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/03/bonding-with-babies-where-rie-and-attachment-parenting-differ/

    Sometimes, when you are presenting something different, people assume that you are criticizing or even condemning their way and choices. I am sorry if you felt that Magda Gerber (or I) have implied that. All I’m doing on my website and elsewhere is sharing the approach that I love and has helped me tremendously. As parents, WE get to decide what resonates and makes sense to us. 🙂 There are many fine ways to raise children.

  6. avatar tamsyn says:

    Hi Janet,

    While I appreciate some of your articles and ideas espousing respectful parenting, I feel I must disagree with — and have an ethical obligation to call you out on — an assertion made in this article that is simply wrong and counter to actual research-based evidence, and secondly, to highlight a point that could be misleading.

    First, I must call attention to the fallacy of your point that offering the breast to a baby who is crying is just fostering a bad habit — or merely providing food to a baby who might not actually be hungry.

    I enjoin you to read “Sweet Sleep,” by La Leche League (https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Sleep-Nighttime-Strategies-Breastfeeding/dp/0345518470) — which offers extensive scientific and other references about the biological underpinnings of breastfeeding, both in general and as it pertains to nighttime and other situations.

    It is completely false to suggest that you’re merely offering “food” to a crying baby who might not be hungry.

    Babies breastfeed and desire to nurse for MANY reasons — not just food. The suggestion that offering the breast to a crying baby is perpetuating the dangerous and misguided notion that all the breast offers is food — rather than comfort, connection, support, hydration, antibodies and immunities, and more.

    In this same vein, I must disagree — both in principle, and from a science-based perspective — with the idea that nursing a baby to sleep at night (or naptime) is wrong.

    Evolutionarily, biologically, that is exactly what humans — and many other mammal species — do. Yet humans are the only species that has tried to artificially stop a practice that is so innately a part of our biological underpinnings.


    I have nursed my son — now 27 months old — to sleep every night since he was born (just as countless human mothers did for millennia). We bedshare still — as a family — and he still is free to nurse throughout the night as he sees fit (which is pretty infrequent at this point).

    It is far more respectful and empowering to him, in my opinion, to let HIM choose when he wants to nurse. This respect would seem to me, then, to be a practice that would actually mesh WITH RIE philosophies….

    Second, I think the idea that crying is “natural, healthy healing” is overly broad and potentially misleading.

    While research does support that some short-term, acute stress can be beneficial, your article is proposing some ideas that seem like they would lead to chronic, *unhealthy* stress.

    Research reveals that letting infants’ cortisol levels chronically rise has longer-term negative health implications.


    I believe that — from a biological, evolutionary perspective — we SHOULD respond to our babies when they cry. While I do agree with the idea that childrens’ tears are not to be feared, you make it sound like anyone who tries to figure out why a baby cries and to redress that issue is disrespecting a baby.

    Not all crying is about releasing stress or tension. It is responsive and respective to hear and acknowledge a baby’s tears — and to then seek to address what those tears are telling us.

    Most of the time, the tears are communicating a very real need — and responding to those cries mitigates the damaging effects of chronic, accumulated (stress-induced) cortisol.

    This article highlights how, across the millions of years of our evolution, crying — and parental response to it — have co-evolved to help our species thrive.


    And just to reiterate — I’m on your mailing list, and I do appreciate many of the messages you’re promoting about respectful parenting!

    Thank you for considering my comments,


    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Tamsyn – you are welcome to your opinion. To be honest, I don’t think you will find much on my site you will agree with, because you seem to disagree with the basic premise that infants are full-fledged people. Pikler, Gerber, Solter, Wipler, and others understand that infants are complex, competent people and that crying is one of the primary ways they communicate. I agree with these experts that crying should be listened to, rather then shut down or controlled with the breast, bottle, shushing, bouncing, etc. Evolutionary Parenting and La Leche League have a singular agenda… breastfeeding/co-sleeping. They promote breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, as often as possible. There’s no thought or subtlety involved. Just breastfeed. It’s always the most positive answer. And it IS controlling. Magda Gerber strongly believed that babies have a “right to cry”and that crying is a means of expressing a variety of things. It’s not a one-note: “feed me”. Crying should neither be feared nor controlled. Psychologists and psychiatrists understand this way of perceiving infant emotions as “preventative medicine” for anxiety, depression, and essential for emotional health. But this view either resonates with parents or it doesn’t. There are many who prefer the more simplified response… just breastfeed, or do whatever it takes to stop the baby from crying.

  7. avatar danielle says:

    so in RIE is it frowned upon to nurse for comfort? my 6 month old has recently been screaming intensely off and on for a few hours at bedtime and i try to hold off on immediately nursing her, but but have inevitably given in because it is the only thing thay settles her down at that point, i give her plenty of space and time to have a good cry, but when it only escalates it becomes way too much.

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