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 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 RIE 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. At RIE 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 primitive 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  Takikawa

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

  1. avatar Briana Weber says:

    Thank you for this! And it is so true. Being a mother, and carer for infants and toddlers, I have my ears full of crying on a daily basis. I have witnessed first hand the benefits to allowing a child to cry, but every time it makes my heart race and my skin crawl as I ache to pick them up and simply soothe them. It’s only been through retraining of myself and re-attuning my instincts that I have been able to allow the children I know to have this gift. I have been wanting to write about crying as well, and you words are perfect.
    Thank you!

    • avatar janet says:

      Briana, thank you! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts about crying and I know it would help parents to hear about the “benefits” you’ve witnessed. (Want to guest post a story?) We get blinded by all the fear and extremism surrounding crying.

      • avatar Briana says:

        I would be happy to Janet! It is a great thing to write about and I can always use inspiration towards my writing. Thanks!

  2. avatar Genevieve says:

    Thank you Janet for this post. I LOVE it, it’s another fantastic resource for me to share with parents. This is such important information and so clearly expressed. It’s hard for any parent to think straight when their baby cries, to not just panic and frantically do whatever just to stop them crying. I’ve known so many parents who start feeding their baby solids at 4/5 months for this reason, even though they previously were confident they wouldn’t start solids till at least 6 months.

    As you know I’ve followed the Aware Parenting approach from the beginning, although much more successfully with my second. This is the kind of information that supports parents to step out of the panic, slow down, breathe, attune to their baby and REALLY listen to the baby’s communication. Only then can the baby feel their parent is really tuned in and in calm control.

    Thanks again Janet, I appreciate your work so much and recommend your blog to so many parents I work with. :-)

    • avatar janet says:

      Genevieve, your appreciation means a lot, especially since you are another champion for infant mental health whom I greatly admire. I’m a little embarrassed, because I was going to share a link to your site and FB page (which is the best I’ve ever seen…so supportive and wise) when I started reading…and found this incredible article: Children and Babies Can Heal Through Their Tears (http://www.peaceful-parent.com/article_childrens_cries.php) and many more, too! Several minutes later here I am, in complete awe of the tremendous work you are doing on behalf of babies and their emotional development.

      So, Genevieve, thank you.

  3. avatar Gena says:

    Perfect timing to read your comforting words! Our 10-month-old is not as apt to sleep on our occasional long car trips as she did when she was younger. After a few hours she’s up with a few to go. We’ll stop, feed, change diapers and get fresh air, but she won’t be happy for long. I sit next to her and hand her toy after toy to entertain her, make faces, play peekaboo, but nothing lasts too long before she’s crying. I’ll offer her my hand, rub her leg to soothe her and talk in a calming voice, but she pushes me away. I understand completely if she’s bored or frusrated and wonder if it would be better if I sat in the front seat so she would have to “entertain” herself. But the crying can be torturous! Do we have to give up our weekend getaways? Thanks for any insight you might provide.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Gena! I wish I had an easy answer for you… 10 month old babies are on the move and it’s not boredom so much as the restriction of the car seat that offends them. My husband and I sang, did puppet shows, the whole bit, when my first daughter was 7 months old and we drove around France. With our other two children, we stayed mostly home because that was just so much easier on everyone. You don’t have to give up the weekend getaways, but you might want to pick and choose and find ways to “getaway” (in spirit, at least), while your baby is asleep at home.

  4. avatar Tanya says:

    Thanks for this post, Janet. Very helpful. I am not a parent but do care for two toddlers and I have a question about night terrors. The parents of one of the children I watch told me that their daughter (20 mos old) started screaming the other night but was inconsolable and her eyes were closed..she was still asleep. They said it took 1 1/2 hours to calm her down..she finally woke up and they read her a book and got her settled down. I think it was pretty scary for them and they haven’t seen anything like it. Do you have any ideas about this? Suggestions? I am doing some research as well. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

  5. avatar Grace says:

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I think the idea that we need to calm down about crying is a helpful one, and I certainly think it’s true that a lot of parents become frantic simply trying to stop their babies crying, simply because it is so uncomfortable to hear.

    That said, I think that if a parent has a peaceful comforting method, such as breastfeeding, that stops the crying, then I would have thought that that was as effective as stopping potential abuse as choosing to not worry about crying. And I think Magda Gerber is mistaken in her assertion about the association between food and comfort as a result of breastfeeding to comfort. Research does not support that idea. And it doesn’t fit with how breastfeeding works, anyway – a child nursing for comfort uses a lighter sucking mechanism that doesn’t draw milk from the breast in the same way. Sucking is a separate need.

    I also would counter one other point:
    “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

    This may be true for some parents, but not all. I am one of the sorts of parents that Wipfler describes here, but for me life got easier and parenting more enjoyable the more I learned to respond to my child. Carrying him was part of that. It was hard in the early days, but it paid off in reasonably short time.

    Thanks for your thoughtful contribution to an important topic!

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience, Grace. I’m glad you’re enjoying responding to your child! And you’re right, this is a hugely important topic. The point to keep in mind, in my opinion (and the three experts I’ve quoted agree), is that babies need us to meet their needs (of course) and one of those needs is to release feelings. When we use nursing, rocking, carrying, etc., to comfort every cry, we don’t allow for this natural and healthy process. I don’t believe this is about “always” or “never”. It’s about being sensitive and open to listening instead of stopping the emotion.

  6. avatar Amy says:

    My DD used to cry often when she was a newborn. I would feed her, change her, rock her, walk her, play music, etc, etc. She would just continue crying. After doing everything I could, I would just continue to carry her and allow her to continue to cry. Soon enough, she would get tired or hungry and the crying would soon fade. I didn’t mind. It was calming to me just to be able to hold her and be soothing in just being present.

  7. avatar Shannon says:

    You make some really excellent points. I especially like your supposition that a different attitude towards crying could potentially prevent child abuse. It can be so difficult to be a parent and stressful when a child cries which makes it easy to feel like you’re failing as a parent if your child is crying.
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this and for the great references. I know I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

  8. One of the things that I learned early on that has helped me SO much is to know that it’s not only OK for my children to be unhappy at times, but that it’s actually good for them. When I say that I don’t mean I want them to be sad, but I do know that it’s healthy for them to feel the emotion (or even a sense of frustration or distress) and to know that they can soothe themselves. Before I realized this I was the parent jingling keys, making faces, trying to distract my children when they were crying. How much better life got for us all when I realized I could just empathize and didn’t have to “do something”! Of course I am always there to support and help when needed, but by not jumping in to stop the crying, I am much more able to understand what they really need.

    And I think to my own emotions….there are times when I just feel blue for no reason & a little cry is actually soothing. :)

    I loved this post and thank you so much for including a link to my post about your class. What a lovely surprise when I got to the end!

    -Gina

  9. avatar Adi says:

    I agree completely with this approach and I know crying is natural and healthy, but at the same time, everytime my son goes through a “crying marathon” I find myself questioning and doubting myself as a parent. My 10 month old cried for hours each day for 2 weeks while he cut teeth. I tried my best to stay calm and support him but I felt absolutely helpless because nothing would ease his pain. I tried every remedy I knew of. I even took him to the pediatrician to rule out any other medical illness. What advice can you give for when you reach that place of helplessness? Is it still healthy for him to continue to cry as I watch him in pain and do nothing (or do everything that doesnt work). Lately he has temper tantrums and I can never figure out why. I sit, I breathe, I watch. I try to get in tune but I feel like a failure because I just can’t figure out why he is throwing himself on the floor and screaming.

    • avatar janet says:

      Adi, I’m so sorry you are going through this. We all feel helpless when our children have pain that can’t be comforted and it doesn’t get easier with an older child, but the variety of ways in which an older child can communicate mean there is far less crying. Right now, your boy’s cries and tantrums are his only way of expressing these feelings. I would certainly hold him as much as he will allow you to. And don’t be afraid to share your confusion and even your helplessness with him. Stay engaged, so that you’re not just “watching”…think out loud with him.

      Here’s more of Magda Gerber’s advice from Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect… “When you have eliminated hunger and the other standard discomforts and the baby is still crying, that is the time to tolerate crying, even to respect the infant’s right to cry. You might want to say, “I am here to help you, but I do not know what you need. Try to tell me.” If that is what you feel, share it; this is the beginning of communication.”

      If you haven’t had the chance to read the articles I’ve linked to by Solter, Wipfler and The Way of The Peaceful Parent, please do! You’ll find support and comfort in their perspectives.

      Also, try your best to help him get enough sleep, and you, too (though I know it’s hard during teething). When we’re tired, everything feels much worse and we’re less able to cope.

      If it’s any comfort, your boy’s sensitivity and expressiveness will be plusses in the future.

  10. avatar Andrea says:

    This was beautiful to read! I was thinking about it as an adult, and how sometimes I just NEED a good cry (and the last thing I want is someone to distract me or talk me out of it!) I never thought of it as a way of communication, because I think we see it as begging for SOMETHING. But I like the idea of starting that communication right away – acknowledging the feelings you see being expressed, asking what is wrong, and then trying to help… and if you can’t, then being there and listening.

    Very interesting. :)

    And, I also relate to the idea of helplessness that comes with seeing a child cry, and not being able to understand his or her language. It’s heartbreaking, but important to try to understand rather than just shutting him/her up!

  11. avatar Tricia says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I have a four week old baby and I’ve been very stressed about his “fussy periods.” I have figured out that he normally cries if he’s tired, but without employing “crazy tricks” what can I do for him? I have an over abundant milk supply so he almost never nurses to sleep. I can hold him and keep him warm, but is there any other way I can help him if he’s crying because he’s tired?

    • avatar Emily says:

      Hi Tricia,
      Sometimes, a baby’s cries, even at such a young age, are a way of letting out energy that they have not yet learned to communicate, so the crying is their way of doing so. Trust that your baby knows more about his needs than you think he does, and that he might be communicating that he is tired and asking you to let him cry and be patient with him, not necessarily to help him stop crying. He might just need to know that you will stay calm and patient for as long as he needs to cry. This is an incredible bonding technique. It is letting him communicate and express himself without stepping in to change his emotions or expression thereof.
      I hope this helps!

  12. avatar Tara says:

    Hi Janet,
    Thanks again. I just “stood by” (actually laid next to the little fella) while a full-on fit went on so long the neighbors got worried! Yikes. After having my face pinched, hair pulled and being kicked I still felt guilty for letting him work it out. Until I read your sensible post. He’s only 13 months, but well into fit-throwing. I try to do what you and other infant experts recommend and tell him I don’t want him doing this or that. I think it is finally sinking in! Ahh… a warm bubble bath sounds good right now. Take care!
    Tara

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Tara! I know how difficult it is to endure the emotional outbursts. Remember, sometimes there has to be a storm before the calm. Be sure to protect yourself and not let your little guy pinch, kick or pull hair. It’s not good for him (or for you, obviously) to allow him to hurt you. Get a little distance if he’s that wound up and then hold him when he’s calmer. And take LOTS of bubble baths! You take care….:)

  13. avatar Skyfire says:

    I believe I understand what you’re saying here, and I agree it’s important that our babies express themselves and are able to communicate with us.

    I also see what you are saying about associating food with comfort, but for a very young baby food is already all mixed up with comfort and they are difficult to separate. Meet the child’s needs calmly; feed her if that’s what she needs. How do you know if food is what the child needs, if she will accept food as a comfort when she is not truly hungry?

    • avatar janet says:

      Skyfire, those are very good points. Yes, it’s true that “food is already all mixed up with comfort” in the beginning and that’s as it should be. And in the early weeks it’s difficult to understand what the baby is communicating and distinguish the different cries. (There is a wonderful new book by Dr. Kevin Nugent with photos to help parents decode infant communication, based on his extensive studies of newborns at Children’s Hospital in Boston.) If we set out committed to communicating with this small, but whole person and encouraging our baby to communicate in return (rather than following the impulse to quickly place something in our baby’s mouth every time she cries), we do eventually get better at understanding each other.

  14. avatar Lisa says:

    Hi Janet,
    I agree with this philosophy, but I have a question about putting it into practice all the time. My baby boy is 6 months old, and we do all we can to make sure he is happy and healthy. We realize how important good, uninterrupted, restorative sleep is – both night sleep and daytime naps – and I wonder how you might respond to the philosophy of Dr. Marc Weissbluth (“Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child), who advocates letting a baby over 4 months cry up to one hour for naps and an unlimited time for night so the baby learns to self-soothe and fall asleep unaided. (This is of course assuming that all the baby’s needs have been met – he’s fed, comfortably dressed, appropriate room temperature, fresh diaper, no diaper rash or other obvious injury/discomfort, not ill, no cayotes in the crib, etc.) He suggestions that when a baby NEEDS sleep but WANTS to play or cuddle, we are robbing him of sleep if we constantly go to him. Sure enough, I feel like I’m hindering his efforts to put himself to sleep rather than helping at all. As soon as he sees me, he immediately wants to be held and nursed, even if he just ate. The problem with that is that, if he does fall asleep on me, I cannot put him down asleep – he wakes up and cries – and he does not sleep on anyone for more than 15 minutes or so (clearly not restorative sleep) and we would be doing this all night, truly robbing him of sleep! We HAVE done this for hours during the day in an effort to get him to take a nap when he was obviously tired. Sometimes I believe he simply cries because he is overtired (perhaps from missing the previous nap) and needs to blow off steam before settling down. I never leave the room while he’s crying, but he typically starts once I’m out of sight, leading me to believe he just wants more play time. He typically nods off after a few minutes, but there are times when the crying went on longer and I was very torn between allowing him to relax himself and going in and rescueing him, even if it meant a missed nap, clearly not in his best interest. Any advice would be appreciated :)

  15. avatar janet says:

    Hi Lisa! I asked sleep specialist Eileen Henry to weigh in with a response for you…and I posted it on the site here: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/12/helping-babies-sleep-with-empathy-and-compassion-guest-post-by-eileen-henry/

    Hope you don’t mind…and I hope this helps!

  16. avatar Leslie says:

    Hey Janet, I’m late finding this article, but just want to respond to this top part:

    “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.”

    They do exist – and are alive and well and their books and philosophies are circulating and being followed by too many. I know many personally and even had to remove myself from some friendships to move in a different direction in my parenting. Most of it is laced up in a nice religious package. So now if you don’t follow this advice, you’re not following “God’s advice.” It’s very damaging.

    I’m so glad that you have never been a part of these circles or run into them in your work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Leslie… It doesn’t surprise me that there is every kind of parent and philosophy out there (and sorry you’ve been discouraged by what you see around you), but my sense is that if we all could understand crying a little better, we wouldn’t need to lovingly shut it down or escape from it and shut the door. Both of those reactions stem from our discomfort and fear around crying… and both undermine a child’s emotional health.

  17. avatar Leslie says:

    I get what you’re saying, but having been part of these circles before, this philosophy is not based out of a misunderstanding of baby’s crying. It’s all about controlling your baby and getting them on a routine and sleeping through the night as early as possible. It’s about the baby learning to fit into the parents schedule and it’s also about discipline and religion. I agree with everything you are saying about crying and respect. That’s why I love your work and your writing so much. But I think on this crying issue, it is important to understand that there are some damaging philosophies out there that involve infant crying – and it is for a purpose – to get the baby to sleep through the night and “self-soothe.”

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Leslie. I do understand that there are extreme views on both sides of this issue…as there are with almost every child care issue. But the families I am hearing from and working with (and the authors of many of the posts that I am reading) are buying into the unhealthy idea that babies should not be allowed to cry. So that is what my article is in response to. Those parents, blog writers, etc., may well be reacting to the baby sleep zealots you describe, but what I am seeing is an overreaction…another scary, unhealthy extreme.

      My hope is that a parent on either extreme could read this post with these eloquent quotations from experts I greatly admire, and be inspired to listen to babies, understand why they cry and what they need and provide responsive care.

      • avatar Leslie says:

        I can definitely agree with that. There are extremes on both sides and both are unhealthy. I think that anyone who reads your articles (from both sides) can walk away inspired and with valuable information. Your respect and love for children comes through in all your writing.

  18. avatar amaru says:

    how refreshing this is to hear. i am a young first time mother and i can tell you i am the first to get frantic and try everything to calm my 3 month old down when she starts crying, and also get upset with my husband when i come out of the shower and and he is not doing acrobatics to try and quiet our crying daughter. your post makes me wonder if my antics are just making her more upset in general since her issues are not being resolved, simply pushed away and ignored.

    • avatar janet says:

      Good point, Amaru. Yes, there is little chance our extremely sensitive, aware babies can calm down if their parents are frantic. And, just like us, they have feelings that need to be expressed.

  19. avatar Megan says:

    I think lately rather than the extreme practice you mentioned at the beginning of the article there is more research and opinion being shared about NEVER letting your baby cry. Psychologists are saying that crying raises the levels of cortisol which causes baby’s to have neurological damage. I think this is primarily coming from Dr. Sears. This pretty much broke my heart. I had a “colicky” baby who seemed to me to have two stages: crying and sleeping and I couldn’t seem to comfort him. A lot of times I put him down even when he cried because there was nothing else I could do for him. This seemed to work the majority of the time (the first month of his life) though this time is a bit of a haze for me because I was really miserable and overwhelmed. My family has a history of learning disabilities and ADD and I wonder if the neurological damage comes first and the colic is a result of that. I was a colicky baby and I have ADD. ANYWAY, I know that is a whole ‘nother subject. I was just wondering what your response would be to someone who claims that letting your baby cry will damage their brain?

    • avatar janet says:

      The studies these psychologists are basing their hysterical and misguided “crying causes brain damage” claims on were done with children who experienced extreme neglect. For every advance we make in understanding the minds and needs of babies, there seem to be groups holding on to the idea that babies shouldn’t cry and using scare tactics to further their fear-based agenda. This is unfortunate, especially for the babies.

  20. avatar Julie says:

    I think I may need to send this to my neighbor, who has a comment for me everytime she overhears my toddler’s tears (of course in front of all the mum’s at playgroup!). I find myself really torn between adhering to my own parenting practices of taking the time with each situation, rather than instantly jumping in, and the neighbors insinuating criticism of neglect. I’m a trained Montessori teacher, I also nannied for years before having my first, and I just wish this person would back off and realize there is more than one way to handle a tearful child. I see it in the same regard if I am having a sad moment around my husband. All I want is to be able to cry, not be distracted or shushed.

  21. avatar Mindy says:

    Okay, so if you know WHY he’s crying, but you can’t do anything about it..what do you do? (For example, he won’t sleep but needs to)

    • avatar janet says:

      Mindy, sorry to answer your question with a question, but what do you do now? This is often the issue…

      • avatar Eszter says:

        Janet,
        I understood that by asking back you wanted to hear more about Mindy’s approach in order to answer her question.

        I have the same problem as her and what I do is awful. My son is put down to sleep when he shows signs of tiredness. We do the ritual helping him understand that it is nap or night time.

        He is six month old, he seems to understand what is going on.

        I nurse him in our bed before he falls asleep. It used to be this easy.

        A few weeks ago he started grabbing his feet in bed or he strongly rubs his eyes. These prevent him from relaxing and dosing off.

        I usually stop nursing him which he does not mind. I leave him on the bed since obviously he will not fall asleep while playing with his feet. He shortly after rolls on his tummy. He cannot roll back on his back yet.

        He starts whining, eventually crying. I go back. I hold down his legs and arms and I nurse him hoping he will fall asleep. This technique does not work at once. He is pretty strong. There is a point where I give up and I let him play with his feet again…

        This goes on and on and on.

        I dislike holding him down. I do not like that I am nursing him again and again hoping it will make him fall asleep.

        I am confused about what to do when he is crying on his tummy out of tiredness and because he cannot roll back on his back.

        And the cherry on the top to my problem is: I live in a hotel and too much crying cannot be allowed even if I am sitting close by showing him that I understand that he is releasing all the tensions of the day. I cannot let him express his feelings for too long fearing that it will upset the hotel guests.

  22. avatar Jayadeep Purushothaman says:

    Janet – it is NOT “tribal babies”(I thought that was NOT being very respectful of you) that don’t cry, babies of moms who has lost the natural ways of rearing a baby that consider crying is ok. As the “tribal” author puts it, “The understanding is that babies don’t cry. If they do – something is horribly wrong and must be done to rectify it immediately”. Unfortunately, the modern world invents a lot of reasons(colic etc. etc.) to tell themselves that it not their problem. So go figure from the “tribal” people!

    • avatar janet says:

      Jayadeep, “tribal babies” is not my term and I’m truly sorry that you feel it is disrespectful. I am only repeating what I hear, read, and what parents have reported to me.

      I am also sorry that people hold on to this view that “babies don’t cry”, because crying IS the way our babies communicate needs and release feelings. “Babies don’t cry” means “babies don’t communicate”…and if they do (communicate), that means something is “horribly wrong”. This is a preposterous idea to anyone who has spent any amount of time studying and learning about infants (which we definitely aren’t doing when our goal is to prevent them from crying).

      There are a wide variety of reasons that babies cry and it is usually much easier to quiet their communication than it is to listen to it…and therefore respond accurately. It’s understandable that parents wouldn’t want to make the effort. Crying cuts us to our core. But let’s admit that, rather than considering our babies’ communication “one note”, as if that is all they are capable of. That is “disrespect” in my book.

    • avatar Laura says:

      Good point!

      • avatar Laura says:

        The comment was for another post, I don’t know why it appeared here.. I am so frustrated right know because of a situation that took place this morning. Is a long story but just to make it short, I heard a baby crying from a house across the street. After about 30 minutes (10 more or less) he was actually screaming. At that point, I called the police station asking for someone to come over and check. The crying and screaming was constantly for another 30 minutes when I made the second call and the ”police lady” said on a not very nice tone that for a baby is ok to cry for an hour or more. I ended up saying that if she says so, than might be true. I wasn’t the only one concerned, there were other neighbors too. What would you do in such a situation?

  23. avatar Emily says:

    Difference between “letting them cry” and “cry it out sleep training” which is borderline neglect/abuse. Yes those people DO exist that have no problem telling you that they left their baby to cry for five hours until they vomit and have a bloody nose (yes, true) or for seven hours over night (also true). Okay, you just let your child cry the whole night because you don’t want to be a parent at night. That is your JOB.

  24. avatar Lisa says:

    Just starting to read more about RIE, but wondering how to handle crying toddlers when they don’t get their way? (Ex: they want one more dessert or want to stay up later). My oldest is very emotional and probably because I did everything possible to keep her from crying as a baby. Do you comfort them while they are crying/upset when they get this way or let them cry and then talk with them after they have calmed down? She doesn’t cry often but when she does she can become extremely emotional and upset. Do you let them know that it’s okay to cry for a situation like that? She is almost 4.
    Thank you for your advise!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Lisa! “Do you let them know that it’s okay to cry for a situation like that?” Yes, you let them know that’s it’s okay to cry in any situation. Then, they are able to express themselves, let go and move on…a very healthy process that children need to be encouraged to continue. I would offer comfort as your child wants it… In other words, be present, but quiet and accepting.

  25. avatar Leanne says:

    We can’t really lump little babies in with toddlers in the same article about crying. We have to be careful about articles like this….Some may read this as the assurance they need that teaching their baby to sleep on their own by crying is fine. Or like some people I know people who have even put their earplugs in to ignore their babies crying. These kinds of things are neglect and abuse. An infants crying is not just ‘letting their emotions out’ as it may be for a toddler who is momentarily frustrated by his independence. It an infants last resort to get a need met. It sends out stress hormones into their bodies. If we think all their needs are met, and they are still crying after a minute or two…there must be a reason. And they need to be held, calmed and comforted even if we can’t figure out what they need. I don’t agree with leaving any child alone to cry.

  26. avatar Leanne says:

    May I add that babies communicate long before they cry.

    • avatar janet says:

      Leanne, I’m not sure if you read the post carefully, but there is nothing here that suggests leaving babies alone to cry. I would like to hear more about what you mean by “after babies cry for a minute or two they need to be calmed and comforted.” What do you mean by “calmed or comforted”? The experts I quote suggest being present and meeting the baby’s needs, but prioritizing listening to the baby. How else would you “calm or comfort” a baby?

      • avatar Brian says:

        I was curious about this too, are you supposed to pick up the baby if he is crying and just hold him, letting him cry? I’ve been picking him up as soon as he cries and finding out why he is crying. If he is just being fussy I gently rock him and quietly shhnh, shhh, then talking to him then shhh. He seems to like it but are you supposed to let him cry if he is just fussy and he is dry, cozy, and fed?

        • avatar Carla says:

          I’m not at all an expert but the way I see it, you’re supposed to try and listen to them. Sometimes they just need a change of scenario or position (if they are really little). I think what Janet is trying to communicate here is that the priority is to listen to them instead of automatically trying to shut them up.

  27. avatar Claude says:

    Hello,
    I love this post ! everything in it is so true. Reading it reminds me of when my second litte one was born. Her big sister has been sleeping through the night from her second week of life, falling asleep easily and peacefully. Little miss #2 broke the record by sleeping through the very first night with us. But her falling asleep was nothing easy nor peacefull. She cried her little life out, making us try to find and fix what was wrong. We had never seen anything like it before, for our fist born would go to bed so easily. We were making sure everything was perfectly right for her to go to sleep : dry diaper, full tummy, not too hot nor too cold,no ache… nothing was wrong. But she was crying and we were worried and tired and stressed… and then I read an article about the different reasons babies cry and there it was. The answer that would give us back calm and stressless evenings. Babies cry to let go of the stress they live. Obviously, our litte miss #2 was simply trying to sooth herself and we kept stressing her even more by trying to help. From that moment, we have learned to respect her and the way she was. At night we would put her in her crib, kiss her goodnight and leave the room. She would cry, of course, but within 5 minutes (10 to the most) it was over and she would be peacefully dreaming and we would be a couple of happy and calm parents knowing letting there baby cry a little is not being a bad parent, it is being a understanding, respecting, loving, and caring parent. And we love how it feels.

  28. avatar Mark M says:

    This makes so much sense to me and as I actually put it to practice I see the immediate results. My baby and I connect now on a much deeper emotional level. I tried to explain this article to my wife and she didn’t agree or want to read it, but after she saw me put this to practice and connect with our baby while she was crying…well now my wife is very interested. And it’s important.

    We are conditioned to stop a baby from crying. Even with an older child or adult we quickly want to stop the hurt, stop the crying and make it all better. That is not actually making it better. I was trained/conditioned to keep my emotions in. And after I learned to release them in a healthy manner, I can now give my baby a great start to life. Now my baby girl can also release her emotion and that can just be okay. I’ll be here for her, and let her know I’m here. Thank you for this post and book recommendations. Thanks.

    • avatar janet says:

      Mark – you are so welcome. And I love that this information came through dad to mom. Hope that doesn’t sound sexist, but it is so often the other way around. I couldn’t have said this better: “We are conditioned to stop a baby from crying. Even with an older child to adult we quickly want to stop the hurt, stop the crying and make it all better. That is not actually making it better.” Thanks for sharing.

  29. avatar Jane says:

    Thank you for this lovely summary of the RIE approach to crying. I agree with all that’s been said here, and I would also add that sometimes exhausted mothers are quick to soothe crying babies in the middle of the night, to sleep with them attached to the breast, to offer a pacifier, to stop the crying by any means necessary, because they desperately need sleep. I found my baby’s loud crying at 2am uncomfortable for many of the emotional and cultural reasons you cite (and i was relieved to read Gerber and Solter’s books, which offered some perspective ), but it was also jarring and painful simply because I had reached a torturous level of sleep deprivation. I think this discussion could be a bit more nuanced by recognizing how hard it is to “calm down” while experiencing the physical and psychological toll of sleeplessness. The United Nations defines sleep deprivation as torture, after all. :)

  30. avatar Lisa says:

    Can you help us? We have been co-sleeping for eleven months now, except there is little sleeping! Every two hours (sometimes less, rarely more) our baby wakes up fully and he is a screamer! We have tried different methods to get him to stay asleep, but nothing works! We are exhausted and angry and sad and often ready to CIO. Even if he is latched on to me he still stirs every couple of hours (he just doesn’t wake and scream). I cannot sleep with him latched on for long. No matter how many pillows I use, it hurts my neck and back and I cannot sleep enough to survive. Some nights he won’t sleep but wakes constantly (every half hour) and screams for hours, even though we ARE HOLDING him, cuddling him, rocking him, singing to him, anything we can THE WHOLE TIME. He arches his back, writhes around and will not be comforted (the only comfort to him is nursing). Husband has done everything he can to take the baby (since the beginning!) and help him/us sleep. Baby has primary attachments to both of us. Why oh why can’t he sleep? We have done everything! He is healthy, no illnesses. We can’t even figure out when he is teething because he always acts like babies do (as other people describe it) when teething. We know he is not manipulative or a monster, but sheesh! It feels like we have a little monster. We don’t ask much, but can we please get a four hour stretch? Then a waking, a nursing and another four hour stretch? Please???? Can you give us advice?

  31. avatar Yvonne says:

    I have just recently found this blog, and it’s giving me one aha moment after another. Your approach to child-rearing just makes so much sense! It’s not guilt-inducing like the school of thought that babies never ought to cry. It jives with my sense that children need boundaries in order to feel safe, that without them they’re anchorless rafts at sea. I love the idea of showing full respect to a baby and seeing their innate greatness instead of thinking one has to create greatness in them.
    Now I have not always followed this. My daughter is 14 months, and I must say, I have hardly ever let her cry. I hated the CIO idea so much that the Moms who defended the exact opposite position convinced me. I also live with my husband’s family who seemed to think I was failing as a mother if I couldn’t calm her down. Months of colics didn’t help the matter either. I have always tried my hardest to calm, distract, etc. But now that I think about it, I’d hate that. I need a good supported cry every once in a while. That’s pretty much like a counseling session.
    So, long story short–my daughter is needy. She is a sunshine, but I cannot leave her side. Now that she’s about to break into the independence of walking, she’s terrified if I leave her for 5 minutes even with my MIL who has lived in our house for my daughter’s entire life. She also sleeps very badly. Every once in a rare while, she’ll sleep a 7-8 hour stretch. Usually, it’s 2-3 at the most, sometimes as little as half an hour. I still have nights when I have to get her back down 8 times. It absolutely needs to change. My nerves are raw, I’m sleep-deprived, impatient with the beginning tantrums, etc. My husband cannot help with this because he works so much. I have tried letting her cry in my arms after encouraging her to go back to sleep on her own and have stopped nursing in the middle of the night. I’ve also tried to listen to her feelings more during the day, involve her in our day planning more, give warnings, talk her through frustrations, etc. I see some progress during the day and have been able to avert a few tantrums. Sleeping is still very hard. She cried a lot one night and slept through the night the next night. I thought, wow, she’s had her catharsis. Things are going to get better. The next night was one of the worst we’ve had in months. I think I need additional guidance. What else can I do?

    • avatar Carla says:

      “I love the idea of showing full respect to a baby and seeing their innate greatness instead of thinking one has to create greatness in them.”

      Can we all clap for this? I cannot even begin to say how important this is for every human being. So many emotional problems would just vanish if people had learned from early on that it’s ok to feel whatever they feel and be whoever they are.

      I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time Yvonne. I wish I could help you. I think you’re walking in the right direction though, it just might take a while. Transitions are hard for everybody. Keep at it. I hope these lovely people in this blog can help you more than me. :)

  32. avatar Carla says:

    This article brings up great points and makes me feel so much better. I wanted to point out that I also believe a lot of parents are afraid to be judged. The fear of being seen as a bad parent lives in every (or most) parents and sometimes it gets in the way of them using their true instincts and communicating with their babies. I love it when you say, ‘it’s ok for your baby to cry’ in your classes. More parents should be told that.

    I’ve been learning about RIE for a while. I’m a nanny and recently my boss had a new baby. Even though I’ve read Magda’s teachings, in real life, I struggled with letting her cry. I have been trying to stay present and listen and try to sort out what she’s feeling, but not for more than a minute. Also, knowing her mom doesn’t like it and is within earshot will usually make me giver her a pacifier or start rocking and singing to get her to stop. She’s 6 weeks old and today for the first time I just held her and let her cry when she started her usual late afternoon cry…fest. She cried for a few minutes and I kept telling her I heard her, I knew something was bothering her. Soon she started sucking on her hand and slowly stopped crying and started staring at my eyes. I moved her to lie on the couch beside me and she gave me a smile when I did so (not sure if it was real but I like to think it was). She stayed there happily looking around, kicking, moving her arms and head.
    It was very satisfying to see her so content. Believe me, at that time of the day that hasn’t been a common sight in a few weeks. Just yesterday it was awful, she cried and I rocked and sang and gave her the pacifier but nothing would calm her which left me super exhausted and stressed out. Today, I’m actually looking forward to go back to work tomorrow and spend more time with her.

    Thank you so much for this. I wish there was a way I could approach her parents about it. They are super sensitive about how they care for the children and not at all receptive of advice. But I’ll try and help her as much as I can when I have her.

  33. avatar melissa says:

    i found this at a perfect time! i have an eleven week old (7weeks premie) and im holding her AAALLLL TTHHHEEE TIIIMMMEE!!!!! the only timw im ever able to put her down is when shes fast asleep, because im against things like pacifiers and baby tv like baby einstein….but that means i have to be her entertainment! and if shes awake and not being fed or burped or changed shes bored and cries!!! so are you saying its ok for me to put her down and wash the dishes??? and i shouldnt let her latch while i sleep??

  34. avatar Amber says:

    Thanks for this great article. I just wanted to add that I think there are times when finding ways of soothing our babies is not so terrible. We are a fairly-RIE family but with our daughter we had some very rough weeks. We did all that you suggest above, but there were times when her crying (labelled colic by doctors) was so intense and constant (and having ruled out any health issues) it was interfering with all of our sleep. Having the whole family be sleep deprived was not healthy for anyone. We found that our daughter had a large craving for non-nutritive sucking and that a pacifier was extremely helpful. She never “found” her thumb or was into sucking it, but the pacifier would enable her to sleep, and (thankfully) us to sleep. Without it, none of us would have had any sleep in the first year of her life. I think there are times when just listening and responding verbally can help our children, but there are times when there is a greater need for the whole family to be healthy and if the whole family is not getting sleep, using a pacifier or a swing or swaddle is not so terrible. We tried for weeks to avoid using a pacifier or anything of the like, but eventually found that it was the only way for us to get sleep and therefor be better parents to our child on the whole.

  35. avatar Gemma says:

    Hi Janet, that truly was fascinating reading and you may have just saved my sanity and my relationship with my daughter. She is 6 months old (first baby) and I feel at the end of my tether when she’s screaming the house down and end up shouting out of pure frustration. I’ve never thought of her crying as being anything but annoying when she’s fed,changed etc but reading this has totally opened my eyes. I write this completely exhausted After a stressful day of crying, but tomorrow will mark a new start for me and my baby. Thank you!

  36. avatar Theresa says:

    As some of the commenters have noted, what is a mom to do when they are severly sleep deprived to make and keep a calm environment? I ask this because I would like to be a mom someday and I have chronic migraines, so I am very worried about the crying… especially if it is going to be loud, high pitched crying for a loooong time. My head won’t be able to take it, I know that much! I want to be a mother very badly but I don’t want to be a bad mother because I am in that much pain due to my migraines being even worse from already being sleep deprived and a constantly crying baby…

    Suggestions on how to keep cool as a cucumber?

  37. avatar Tiana says:

    “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”. Thank you for including this. This is what I do and I feel better knowing that I’m not the only one who goes through this. It lets me know that it’s not my fault.

  38. avatar Olga says:

    I really love that I have found this site. It gives me hope! My baby is 15 weeks old. I am the only one that takes care of her, sometimes others for a couple of hours play with her. I am a first time mom who has never been around babies before I gave birth to my own. So not so much knowledge. I just found out about RIE and would love to implement it. She started crying intensely two hours after she was born and never stopped. She had colic, tong – tie and would nurse around the clock every hour. So I ended up carrying her against my shoulder a lot or latched on in bed with her to minimize her crying. Now she wouldn’t take a nap unless I nurse her to sleep and hold her in my arms all time, she would often wake up very shortly and trying to find my breast with eyes closed. If I don’t give her the breast she wakes up and cries until I give her my breast. Same at night. She sleeps no more than 2 hours at a time, mostly waking up every hour and crying, only breast can return her to sleep. I don’t want anything less than emotional health for her and a healthy mother for her. I feel exhausted and frustrated. I am so motivated to understand and help her to find a healthy way to self sooth, so that we both can find so much needed rest. Also I understand that I have created habits of soothing with food and rocking. How to break these habits? I really need some help. Thank you again for this wonderful site. It feels me with so much needed hope.

  39. avatar Katie says:

    Thank you for this. I am such a sensitive person that my son’s crying has been a stress filled, anxiety ridden experience for me! I forget that I AM NOT HELPING HIM, by always soothing him from crying. I bookmarked this and plan on reading it next time he fusses. THANK YOU Janet!

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