7 Reasons To Stay Calm When Babies Cry

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.

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. 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

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned    exactly as it is.” – Parker J. Palmer

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  




(Photo by tostadophotos.com on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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. 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. 🙂

  3. 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.

    1. 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. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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.

    1. Aunt Betty says:

      Yes, be present. It is calming to absorb energy from another person. When negative feelings are released these need to be replenished with love (positive energy.) This isn’t just for babies, but all people.

  7. 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!


  9. 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.

    1. 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. 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. 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?

    1. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. My baby would become quite angry if I offered her the breast to soothe her, if this wasn’t what she was after. She clearly knew her mind and was a determined personality. So I am interested to see Magda Gerber’s comments around this, i.e. that “The baby almost always accepts it, calms down and often falls asleep.” Not at all, in my experience! In fact my baby’s frustration was further increased when I “got it wrong”! This was a little alarming at the time, but I can look back and laugh about it now. However, hearing upset babies really bothers me, it’s much more profound since I became a parent.

        1. Is she still a strong girl who knows her mind? I would think so!

          1. Yes – absolutely! The most headstrong person I’ve ever met!

            1. Well… It’s always nice to have children who are clear! 😉

  14. 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. 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.

    1. 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.

  16. 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.”

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  17. 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.

    1. 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.

  18. 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?

    1. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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)

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

      1. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

    1. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. May I add that babies communicate long before they cry.

    1. 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?

      1. 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?

        1. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

    1. 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.

  28. 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. 🙂

  29. 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?

    1. It sounds like with the arching back your baby has wind and needs burping, especially if you are feeding him so often. They will want to nurse when they have a tummy ache so it can be hard to tell if they are hungry or windy sometimes. You can also try gripe water or if it is really bad see your Dr to see if he has reflux.

  30. 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?

    1. “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. 🙂

  31. 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.

  32. 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??

  33. 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.

  34. 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!

  35. 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?

  36. “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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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!

  39. While I appreciate the author’s attempt to encourage parents to relax about their kid’s crying, I didn’t see any distinction between newborns, young babies, and toddlers. I doubt it that newborns are expressing deep emotions when they cry and they should be left to “heal”. I’d love to see the research supporting this. Kids under 1 only have needs and their only way to tell their need is crying. Doing what you can to meet this need makes perfect sense. Toddlers start developing feelings and emotions and I agree at this age they should be encouraged to express them, while showing empathy, not jumping to distract with food, toys, hugs, etc. which can actually anger the child more. The only thing missing in the article is distinction between different ages.

    1. If this topic interests you, I recommend the work of Dr. Aletha Solter and also Dr. Alice Miller. Yes, infants and even newborns express emotions and stress. There isn’t a magical crossing over period in toddlerhood when children begin to express emotions.

  40. More from me, such confusion over neighbours screaming and crying children in compact townhouse complex. Another neighbours baby (just over a year old) cries so much. She cries more than not. Is that normal? Do some babies just cry a whole lot?

    1. “Cries more than not” seems more than normal, Caroline, but it is very hard to know what’s going on there. Do you hear adults shouting? Have you seen this family outside?

  41. Janet,

    Thanks for this article. My almost 4 months old baby cries a lot. I have tried my best to find out the reason and I found out she cries when she is tired and sleepy.She doesn’t want to nurse to sleep too. At first it made me so upset and frus that she didn’t need my breast to calm herself down to sleep. She still prefer to cry it out to sleep and I will just hold her and acknowledge her feeling and let her cries it out as long as she wants. Honestly it really testing my patience. Sometimes I put her down on bed and sit next to her and continue acknowledge her feeling. She stops crying by herself after a while and fall asleep by herself too. This article gives me more confidence and reminds me to be patient. Crying is absolutely normal for her.

    Thanks and Regards,

  42. Just discovered this blog, and am finding RIE very interesting. It sounds like it is the child/parent daily living complement to how Montessori gets the teacher to take a back seat in academics. This article strikes me most of all, I wish I had read this when it was first published and I was a new mom.

    A lot of the suspected reasons for parents freaking out about crying don’t talk to my experience. But I really needed to hear that the crying was not only okay, but had benefits. A lot of stuff I read said that crying causes brain damage, and that a parent who didn’t work to stop the crying immediately was basically abusive. With a colicky baby that belief was a hell. None of us got decent sleep for over a year. I spent hours every night bouncing, rocking, singing, nursing, trying desperately to sooth my daughter. I couldn’t get more than 3hrs sleep at a time most nights.

    Then one evening when my girl was 13 months, and yet again she was cranky and wasn’t asleep 2 hours after bed time. I decided on the spot I was completely done with the ‘never let a baby cry’ imperative. We couldn’t stop the tears anyhow, and none of us sleeping had to be worse than leaving a few tears unsoothed. I sent my husband to do a chore, turned off the baby monitor, and let her cry out her frustration in peace for a few minutes. Then I told her simply “daddy needs sleep and so do you.” She gave me a wide eyed look of shock and she cried a few minutes more, and then she slept, and slept, and slept, longer than she had in 10 months.

    It was only after I accepted the crying and calmed down about it, and got some sleep, that I realized what she had needed all along. I realized how often fell asleep after hours of crying when I couldn’t take it anymore and couldn’t switch places with my husband “fast enough,” thus leaving her alone for about 3 minutes. And for once instead of feeling guilt I understood she just needed all the stimulation to stop. She cried because she was exhausted, and because we weren’t helping.

    She confirmed it a few days after I first let her cry. She seemed a little extra upset to me. So I tried to stay a little longer, and sooth a little more. But knowing she could now get what she really needed, she made the most pointed grump expression, and stuck her hand in my face, waved, and said “by-by” very firmly. I didn’t understand, but gave her expressed desire serious respect. Within a week she adored bedtime, and was sleeping through the night.

    With us all sleeping properly, and a little more calm about crying I soon learned that she had been trying to tell me so, so many things I hadn’t noticed before. When I quit trying to stop the crying, quit running check lists in my head, and watched with curiosity, and experimented, I saw that she was capable of communicating a great many things without a word.

    Saddest of all was coming to finally understand the cries I most thought of as the accusatory cry. It was a shrill purple faced shriek, accompanied by reaching arms. It could not be fixed, soothed, resolved by distraction, nor would it work itself out if left alone. And when I quit my frantic efforts the meaning became obvious. She just wanted me. A hug. A calm presence. Maybe a little reassurance that yes what she just experienced was frustrating. But mostly just to cry in the safety of my arms…. just as I sought my husbands arms to cry in when I felt like a total failure because I couldn’t stop my baby’s tears.

  43. My bubba is 7 1/2 weeks old and I work in childcare as well. Today I discovered that she wanted some awake time by herself sitting upright! She cried when she woke and I tried to resettle to no avail, so I got her out and sat her with me. She continued to cry, more whimpering, and I placed her in her swing and she stopped immediately. It is amazing how they are so little yet can be so like adults. They too need their space when they feel overwhelmed. She is conte fly listening to music and swinging while I relax and my ears have a break! After all the checks (nappy, temp, food and cuddles) she just wanted to relax on her own!

  44. Greetings, I’m about to become a new dad on or around Halloween, and I love reading your website because your parenting advice is so practical and inspiring to me as a teacher and aspiring father.

    I have a question about rocking chairs. We’re currently setting up the nursery and this piece of furniture appears to be a given without much explanation of why. What is it about the rocking chair that makes it necessary? How is it different from resorting to carrying a child around constantly, late night drives, keeping the baby latched on while sleeping, and other distractions mentioned above?

    Will this prevent our baby from learning good self-soothing behaviors?

    1. Great question. It depends how it’s used. No, a rocking chair is certainly not a necessity. What’s important is a comfy chair for nursing, bottle feeding, reading to children, etc., as part of the bedtime routine. This is about the parent’s comfort more than anything.

  45. Hi Janet. Your approaches usually really resonate with me but I’m struggling to get on board with this one. I keep rereading it, wondering if I’ve misunderstood it…
    I was always skeptical of people who said that babies ‘just cry’ (i.e. for no reason) and wondered if having my own would change my mind. It hasn’t. My now 6 month old has never cried beyond the occasional call out. I suppose we will never know if this is because she has a very relaxed and content temperament or if it’s because I have immediately responded to her every need (which I have most definitely done and will not apologise for). I have no doubt that if I put her in a cot and shut the door that she would cry. But I don’t. If I put her down and she seems not to like it, I pick her up again. If I finish nursing but she seems to want more, I nurse more. I just don’t feel like I am doing anything wrong here. If she was 2yrs however, different story. My understanding of this article is that you are saying that so long as their needs are met, it’s ok for them to cry. I genuinely don’t understand why they would be crying if their needs were met?! I just cannot accept that there is ‘no reason’ for a crying baby. If it’s seeking attention and to be held, that’s a reason and a very legitimate one at that. You say if they’ve been fed and are still crying, just to hold them. Why not nurse them for longer if that works (and in my experience, absolutely always does)? Perhaps they’re not hungry in the strictest sense but if they are made content through the act of nursing and the suckling then why not just do it? It seems to me that there will be so many occasions in the future where our children will be upset and will need to cry that can’t be solved, why not fix it while we can? As I said, perhaps I’ve misunderstood but I think the part I can’t wrap my head around is the part where they may still be crying even after their needs are met. To me, if they are crying, their needs have not been met. Am I just blessed with a particularly easy baby? I hear from people that their baby has a sore tummy, wind etc, there is always some reason they are attributing to it. To me, that’s something to look into it. E.g. if they have a sore tummy, what has the mother eaten that may have caused it? I can’t stand when people always try to label an upset baby with something as if that’s justification for not doing anything about it and I worry that people reading this will take it as a blessing to do just that. ‘Well some babies just cry and that’s ok, in fact, it’s good for them.’ In my opinion, it’s not, particularly not if it”s something we can fix. Yes, I know that ‘fixing’ problems is not something you advocate for but please tell me it’s a different story in infants?
    Help please! (p.s. my use of quotation marks throughout is obviously not quoting your article necessarily but things i’ve heard people say that relate to the points you made.)

    1. Hi Erin – The difference between your approach and this one is that you seem to perceive an infant as a more simplistic human than, for example, a two year old and that “not crying” = “content”. But “not crying” = “content” is no more true for an infant than it is for you and me. And the latest in scientific research overwhelmingly supports this view.

      There are many things we can do to make babies stop crying that do not actually satisfy them and certainly don’t help them, particularly in the long term. Dr. Harvey Karp’s methods are the perfect example. He assures parents that his tactics can turn off their baby’s cries like flipping a switch. He’s built an empire encouraging parents to treat babies like machines (or worse!). He is one of the world’s most trusted authorities on child-rearing (which I find criminal) and the message he’s selling is: “not crying” = “happy”. Here’s an early article about his “discoveries”: http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/health/article/Shhh-UCLA-pediatrician-develops-the-Cuddle-1092657.php He’s also the person that coined “the 4th trimester”.

      Karp: “You have to swaddle a baby with their arms down (so they don’t pull the blanket loose). We’re so namby-pamby about it. It has to be tight, tight, tight.”
      In fact, if there’s one thing that undermines parents’ success with this method, it’s timidity. Parents need to match their babies’ intensity, Karp said. If the baby is crying softly, a gentle rock and “shhh” might do the trick. But if a baby is really letting loose, the parent has to jiggle faster and “shhh” louder.
      The “shhh” needs to be loud to cut through the baby’s shrieks and to mimic the sound level within the uterus, which, Karp said, is louder than a vacuum cleaner.
      “One of the cool things about these techniques,” he added, “is men can do some of these things better than women. Dads are a little more willing to crank up the intensity.”

      YES, babies cry for a reason!!!! That’s EXACTLY what my post and the experts I’ve quoted in it ARE saying. And the reason they are crying is NEVER that they need Karp or someone else to put them in a strangle hold, stuff a bit of plastic in their mouth, jiggle them and make a deafening shush sound in their ear! Or use other gentler methods to stop them from crying when those methods don’t serve their actual needs (hunger, touch, help with pain and physical comfort, a place to sleep, etc.). From birth, our babies have feelings to express to their loved ones… just as our toddlers and 10 year olds and teens do. There isn’t some magical crossing over period when babies go from simplistic crying machines to emotional human beings. And one of the most crucially important lessons we can teach our children is that it is okay to feel their feelings, that they don’t need to be shut off or shut down or muted to make us feel better. With the support of a loved one, feelings are a safe place to be, never something to be “fixed”.

  46. It would be helpful to hear your thoughts on the different kind of cries and at what point is it okay or not okay to pick up our crying baby if all their other needs are met. For instance, I try to give my 5 month old time on his back to play. He does not last long before crying. He would continue to escalate if I let him. So if I validate his feelings..”this feels different. You don’t like being on your back right now. You want me to hold you.” … “But I won’t hold you because you don’t need me to?” At what point is holding a need. I understand this concept in theory, I just don’t know how to walk it out. Also, what are your concerns with swaddling. My son is still swaddled and loves it. He smiles and puts his arms down waiting for me to wrap him up. He falls asleep happily without rocking.

    1. I’m not sure I understand why you would refuse picking the baby up if he was clearly asking for that… When in doubt, ask your baby… “Do you want me to pick you up? Then, PAUSE, so that your baby has a chance to respond. This is the kind of two- way communication that I would recommend working on from birth.

  47. My understanding of research on crying is that babies in certain parts of Aftica don’t have colic, whereas it can be found commonly in western society- not that the babies don’t cry at all. I think that is a significant difference.
    My child had colic and reflux and was always upset. I love RIE and have shared your posts a lot. However, the perspective of parents with babies who have colic and/or GERD is almost always left out. For babies who do nothing but cry out of discomfort, what would you do? Just hold them, period? I believe those situations can require additional soothing methods. Its almost impossible to sit with them on the floor, lying on their backs, allowing them to explore as newborns. I’d really appreciate acknowledgment and advice for these situations through a RIE standpoint because I haven’t come across one yet. Thank you!

    1. No, I definitely wouldn’t leave a crying baby on the floor. I would hold the baby, talk to the baby. Maybe gently lift the baby’s knees while she lies on her back, so as to help expel gas, etc. Mostly I would stay calm and let the baby know that I care and am a safe person to share her pain with.

      I’ll add that my third baby was colicky and it was very challenging, but using a pacifier or swing (or Dr. Karp’s shushing methods, etc.) or some other artificial method to quiet the baby never crossed my mind. He still has a sensitive tummy (like I do!).

      1. I mostly held him as an infant in a carrier to help soothe him, and did use white noise etc for sleep. He was upset virtually every minute of the day and had WW3 when it was time for sleep. I’m sure I made mistakes and had stress that he felt, but we did the best with the information we had and I took a lot of deep breaths.
        Would you have suggestions for infants with colic and/or GERD for non-play time soothing? My son was only soothed by nursing, the carrier and by being outside. Maybe I’ll be blessed with an easier experience my next go around, but in the case that I’m not I’d like to feel equipped with information other than Dr Karp’s happy baby methods (which didn’t help us anyway).
        Now, as a toddler, his favorite word is, “help.” He likes to be helped and constantly wants physical affection. I have to wonder if it’s not just his personality rather than a parenting issue, and if he’d have only been soothed by nursing and the carrier no matter what.

    2. Kayla- I had the same exact question. I feel like none of these people could possibly understand what’s it’s like to have an inconsolable baby who cries through the night and is clearly uncomfortable. It’s not humanly possible to just hold the baby and let him cry. All day, all night? That’s enough to send you (the mom) to an institution. I have PTSD from my first and now when my second cries, I see no other option but to do my best to make it stop, or make her more comfortable.

      I’d LOVE to know a better way that won’t drive me off the edge…..

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