Crying for Comfort: Distressed Babies Need to Be Held
By Aletha Solter
Issue 122 Mothering Magazine, January/February 2004
HERE to read the entire article
The term “cry it out” refers to the practice of leaving babies in their cribs without picking them up, and letting them cry themselves to sleep. A modified version of this approach is to go to the baby every few minutes to pat her on the back or reassure her verbally (but not pick the baby up), and to increase the length of time gradually so that the baby eventually “learns” to fall asleep alone.
But there is no doubt that repeated lack of responsiveness to a baby’s cries—even for only five minutes at a time—is potentially damaging to the baby’s mental health. Babies who are left to cry it out alone may fail to develop a basic sense of trust or an understanding of themselves as a causal agent, possibly leading to feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, and chronic anxiety later in life. The cry-it-out approach undermines the very basis of secure attachment, which requires prompt responsiveness and sensitive attunement during the first year after birth.1
The attachment parenting movement is a healthy reaction to the harmful promotion of crying it out found in many parenting books. Attachment parents are aware of the possible emotional damage from leaving babies to cry alone, so they strive to meet their babies’ needs for physical closeness and responsiveness. However, attachment parents can overlook the beneficial, healing function of crying, and believe that their job is not only to respond to, but to stop all crying. This article describes how parents can further promote babies’ mental health by learning to recognize stress-release crying, and implementing what I call the “crying-in-arms” approach.....
...After the industrial revolution in the 18th century, the notion of “spoiling” became widespread in industrialized countries, and mothers were warned not to hold or respond to their infants too much for fear of creating demanding monsters. If the home was big enough, parents moved cradles and cribs to a separate room. With the infants sleeping alone in another room, it was easy for parents to follow the cry-it-out advice, even if it went against their gut instincts.
The decline in breastfeeding further contributed to the separation of mothers and infants. With bottle-feeding from birth on, the last remaining link to the mother’s body was removed, resulting in the deplorable, detached methods of child-rearing that predominated in Western civilizations during the 20th century....
Advantages of the Crying-In-Arms Approach
There are numerous advantages to allowing your baby to release stress by crying in your arms. First, you will help him heal from trauma, thereby avoiding the possible lifelong impact of prenatal or birth trauma. He will also heal regularly from the minor upsets of everyday life. Releasing pent-up stress from daily overstimulation or frustrations will allow him to have a longer attention span and greater confidence in learning new skills. He will probably also be more relaxed, and less whiny or demanding.
Your baby will also sleep better. Many parents who start using the crying-in-arms approach with older babies are delighted to find that their babies begin to sleep through the night, sometimes after months of frequent night wakings. The parents accomplish this shift while honoring their babies’ attachment needs, without ever leaving their babies to cry alone.
Another advantage of this approach is that toddlers who have cried enough as infants (while being held), and who continue to be supported emotionally as they grow older, are calm and gentle. They do not hit or bite other children. Toddlers who do not have opportunities to cry freely can become aggressive, hyperactive, obnoxious, or easily frustrated. These disagreeable behaviors are often caused by an accumulation of pent-up stress, or the impact of early trauma that has had no healthy outlet.