Everyone is entitled to raise their child however they want. And, that’s a truly wonderful thing. We take the tips, tricks and advice given to us by well-meaning friends and family and we do our best with what we’ve got and what we know. However, no matter how well-meaning they are, sometimes people can give you advice that just isn’t a good idea.
I’ll never forget shortly after my daughter was born we had a steady trickle of visitors like most new parents will have. During a visit with an older friend of the family my daughter woke up from a nap and started to get fussy. There wasn’t anything wrong with her. She’d just been fed and had a fresh diaper on. She was just being fussy. So, I picked her up, cradled her in my arms and gave her a snuggle while I hummed and rocked her. She was content within minutes. I felt as though I’d done the right thing. My daughter was happy, no longer crying and I’d made her feel safe. Our visitor didn’t agree.
“If you keep picking that baby up every time she whimpers you’re going to ruin her. She’ll be so spoilt that you can’t do anything with her.”
Given that this lady was, as I said, an old friend of the family, I just smiled and politely said, “Nah. She’ll be oaky. She just wanted some lovin’ from her momma. I’m not too worried about ‘spoiling’ her.” But, this entire notion bothers me quite a bit, and I hate that it still seems to be commonplace advice for new mothers and fathers. Let the baby cry. If they don’t need something, just let them cry it out. It sounds simple enough. They should be happy, or at least content, but they’re still crying their brains out when you know there’s nothing necessarily “wrong” with them. But, that’s the thing about babies, they don’t cry unless they need something.
Now, they may only need a little bit of snuggles or attention, but they need something from you, and crying is their only means of letting you know that. So, when you choose to leave them lying in the bed, or sitting in their bouncer crying their little hearts out, you’re choosing to ignore whatever it is they feel like they need at the time. Maybe they’re uncomfortable, or maybe they’re just scared. After all, this is a brand spanking new world to them. They’ve just come out of a place where they were constantly warm and snuggled and always had the calming drum of your heartbeat to soothe them. Out here it’s loud and it’s bright and it’s cold. This is new and foreign to them, and it’s imperative that they know that their mom and dad are there to see them through this new mess we call the world.
Several studies have shown that allowing a child to simply cry it out can have long-term harmful effects. Crying is a side-effect of stress. By ignoring the stress that your little one is experiencing you could potentially be damaging their natural response to stressful situations and even effect critical growth periods in their brain. Long term stress induced crying can lead to high levels of cortisol in the brain which can hinder growth and development in several areas of the brain. This can also cause them “shut-down” in response to stress instead of giving you a loud and proud cry to let you know something is wrong. While is sounds nice that your kiddo won’t cry at every little thing anymore, it can mean that they won’t cry when something is truly wrong either. Once they’ve been trained to realize that no one comes when they cry, they’ll no longer do it. But, above all else, this breaks your trust with your brand new baby.
Imagine that you’re in a new, scary place, you’re helpless and unable to do things for yourself and you lie awake crying out of fear or discomfort and no one comes to help you. You’ve been left to lay there until you’ve cried so much that you’ve exhausted yourself. That sounds horrendous doesn’t it? When you force your baby to “cry it out” that’s essentially what you’re putting them through. After a while, they will begin to realize that no one comes when they call. They can’t trust their surrounding or even their caregivers because the only way they have to call for help goes unanswered. They’re, instead, left to fall asleep in a dark, scary room with no one to comfort them. If it would be scary for you, it’s especially scary for them.
While many people may try to brag to you that they used the cry it out method and their baby was sleeping through the night by four months old, it’s important to keep in mind that babies are not SUPPOSED to sleep through the night. For one, babies need to wake up regularly to eat. Those nutrients and calories are imperative for their growth and development and their little tummies just don’t hold enough to get them through the night. Studies have also shown that waking up regularly throughout the night can actually help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Waking up helps babies to re-regulate their breathing, making it a little less likely that they’re subject to SIDS. Newborn babies are programmed to sleep several hours a day, but in small increments throughout the day. Trying to force them to sleep through the night will only through off what they’re naturally supposed to do.
The best advice I’ve ever gotten is, “Milk spoils; babies don’t.” You’re baby needs you right now. They’re little and new and they don’t understand this big, scary world that they live in. Even as a tiny baby, they look to you for comfort and peace. You brought them into this world. Your voice is all they know at first. It’s imperative for us, as their parent, to make sure that they’re comfortable and happy and they know that no matter what, we will always be there for them; even if it’s just because they’re a little cold, or a little frightened. Pick that baby up, give them a snuggle and enjoy the moment. They’re only little for such a little while, and those cries won’t last forever.