If you are expecting your first baby, there are many things to look forward to… but also a few things you might find yourself dreading. Like one of those babies who seems to cry all the time! Unfortunately that imaginary dream land where babies never cry is not where you’re headed. Every baby fusses and cries, but there’s a good reason for that! If you learn what a baby’s cry means and how to respond, you will come to appreciate what scientists have dubbed “the perfect signal”: an infant’s cry.
The following information is from Dr. Sears’ website, one of my very favorite sources of information on childcare and the art of attachment parenting!
Did you know that an infants cry is a reflex? A baby doesn’t think, “What can I do now to get Mom’s attention?” His cry is automatic and is easily generated. Once his lungs are full of air, the infant can initiate crying with very little effort. This is an important point, as some people will tell you not to run to comfort your baby every time he cries. “He’s just crying because he knows you’ll come running to you. He’ll learn to manipulate you!” This is not true. A baby’s cry is an automatic response to some sort of need. If he’s crying, he needs you!
A mother is biologically programmed to respond to baby’s cry and give a nurturing response. Fascinating biological changes take place in a mother’s body in response to her infant’s cry. One thing that happens is increased blood flow to a mother’s breasts, accompanied by a biological urge to “pick up and nurse.” Oxytocin, the hormone that causes a mother’s milk to letdown, brings feelings of relaxation and pleasure; a pleasant release from the tension built up by the baby’s cry. These feelings help you love your baby. A mothers who tries to ignore her baby’s cry may find herself getting frustrated and angry. Ignoring your baby’s cry goes against all your natural instincts! It’s easy for someone else to say, “Just let him cry, it won’t hurt him!” They don’t have that biologically connection with your baby that you have.
What happens if you DO ignore your baby’s cries? It depends on your baby’s personality. A more compliant baby gives up and stops crying… yay, you win! But this baby eventually realizes that crying is not worthwhile, and loses the motivation to communicate with his parents. The baby becomes withdrawn and unresponsive. The parents also miss out on opportunities to nurture and get to know their baby.
A baby with a more persistent personality (most high-need babies) does not give up so easily. Instead, he cries louder and keeps escalating his signal, making it more and more disturbing. If you wait it out until he stops crying and then pick him up (thinking that you’ll show him it’s not his crying that got your attention) you will teach the baby that you’re in control, but you also teach him that he has no power to communicate.
The mother responds promptly actually teaches her baby to “cry better!” This baby learns that when he cries, Mommy comes right away, and so his cries are less frantic and disturbing. His environment is sturctured so that there is less need for him to cry; a sensitive mother learns to recognize when he’s tired and ready to sleep, when he’s hungry, bored, or just wants some loving! (And yes, sometimes babies do seem to cry for “no reason”! But at least you’ll know its not because he’s neglected!!)
Studies show that babies who developed a secure attachment and had their cues responded to in a prompt and nurturing way actually became less clingy and demanding as they grow older. There is also no medical evidence that “crying is good for a baby’s lungs.” In fact, the oposite seems to be true. Remember, you can’t spoil a baby by too much loving! Responding quickly and sensitvely to your baby’s cry is the best thing you can do for them at that moment, and it creates healthy communication patterns and a trusting bond that will be enjoyed for the rest of your lives.
Here’s more important information from Dr. Sears on comforting your baby:
11 Ways to Soothe a Fussy Baby
A Checklist of 36 Time-Tested Baby Calmers
3 Reasons Why Babies Fuss
7 Things Parents Should Know About Baby’s Cries
Letting Baby “Cry-it-out” Yes, No!
4 Ways to Teach Baby to “Cry Better”
The Shutdown Syndrome
Comforting the Gassy Baby
8 Dance Steps to comfort baby
6 Ways to Make Baby Dancing Fun