"If you don't let her cry, she'll never learn to soothe herself."
How many times have you heard this? Does this tired advice make anyone else's face do this: o_O? Has anyone here raised an attached child who literally never learned to soothe herself?
As a first-time mom with a newborn who cried more than (what I considered) "normal" for a baby, I always found this well-meaning piece of advice completely frustrating. However, I was desperate and sleep-deprived, and I guessed it made sense. She had to "learn" to calm herself down. Babies have to learn, right? (Because being ignored when I'm upset sure cheers me up!)
Why does it seem that when it comes to physical development, we are always reassuring parents that babies will "grow out of" frustrating phases, e.g. potty training. "Nobody goes to Kindergarten in diapers." More words of wisdom basically telling parents to be patient. But, when it comes to crying, for some reason we are supposed to teach them as early as 3 months of age. Does this not seem ridiculous to anyone else? Is it JUST ME?!
In the past 7-8 months, I have been told the following:
"If you pick her up every time she cries, she's going to learn that she'll always get her way. We are born manipulators; she's manipulating you."
"There's nothing wrong with letting her cry. It helps her lungs develop."
"You stick your boob in her mouth every time she makes a peep. What is she learning from that?"
"Well, this is what you get for spoiling her."
(When I express any frustration about parenthood, it's apparently my own damn fault because I choose to respond promptly to my child instead of getting around to it whenever I'm in the mood or "training" her to not be so "dependent.")
Some of these gems were uttered by people who, in the first trying months of Baby J's life, told me that I shouldn't get so upset when she cries because, "That's the only way babies know to communicate." A few months later, suddenly crying has turned from a form of communication to a form of manipulation? Not adding up. Sorry.
First of all, I've only taken three psych classes in my life and I know that babies are unable to distinguish between wants and needs. They have no concept of manipulation. For Pete's sake, my child didn't know she had FEET three months ago! Her cries convey a message of hunger, sadness, boredom, pain, over-stimulation, fatigue, confusion, fear, and discomfort. There is no little Stewie Griffin brain mechanism churning in her head plotting my demise (or sleep-deprivation.) And who says her want/need for my attention or physical touch is any less crucial to her development than her need for a clean diaper or a full belly?
Secondly, there have been mountains of scientific evidence showing that children who are attended to promptly and consistently actually learn to become more secure and independent than those who are forced to "figure it out" for themselves because they learn that their caregiver is available to them if they need help. There is MUCH more risk of psychological, intellectual, and physiological damage when you leave a baby to cry for prolonged periods of time.
Mamas, hug your babies! It's OK to respond to their needs. It's your job, and it's what we are wired to do. There is a reason we are upset by the sound of their cries. That twinge in your gut is valid. They are not crying to ruin your shower, or disturb your slumber, or keep you from getting things done. Whether they need a nap or just some cuddle time, it is still a need.
With the overwhelming evidence AGAINST just "letting her cry" instead of attending to her needs, I'll take my chances. I apologize if this post seems disjointed, unprofessional, or rude. This is something that has weighed heavily on my mind (and angered me to the point of high blood pressure) for quite some time and I needed to get it out there.
7 Things Parents Should Know About Baby's Cries - Dr. Sears
Science Says Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful - Dr. Sears
Spoiling - Dr. Sears
Cry It Out: The Potential Dangers of Leaving Your Baby to Cry - Dr. Ben Kim
Maternal Instinct is Wired into the Brain - Tara Parker-Pope