Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Self-Soothing Myth

"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


  1. Sorry about my comment on facebook. I don't want you to think I was attacking you. I was a bit forceful >.< (Christina M)

    A lot of this has to do with knowing your child. You have a natural ability to be in tuned to your child. After all, she is part you and part your husband. She may have some independent quirks, but you can easily recognize them as such and address them.

    My children are night and day. My son is a sleeper, sleeps heavily, and easy going. My daughter doesn't sleep, sleeps lightly, and has been throwing temper tantrums to get her way since 5 months.

    EJ was sleeping through the night at 3 days and in his own bedroom at 3 months. Because of this, I was at his side the moment he made a whimper - because it wasn't NORMAL for him. He did learn to so much as he'd wake up and talk himself back to sleep. I swear he still does this at 3... he never stops talking. And when he cries at night, I'm still at his side.

    AL barely sleeps through the night and she just turned 1. She was born with her eyes open and didn't close them for 4 hours - and only then because she was eating. Because she is manipulative with her crying, I'm a lot more tolerant of it than I was with her brother. She is not beyond knowing what a temper tantrum can get her. Wear me down, she gets what she wanted - a remote control, climbing the stairs... a delayed bedtime. She slept in our bed for 6 months because its what she needed. But now, I need my sanity, my sleep, and my husband. She still screams when I put her in her bed at night - and its the same scream she gives when I lock the baby gate on the stairs.

    Point is, do with your child what you feel is best, but don't forget that children will test 4 months, at 9 months, at 1 year, at 3. Respect yourself to know where those boundaries are and don't feel ashamed to guide your child to respect them.

    I don't know your daughter, but my mother said she's a spit-fire =) A ton of fun and a cutie, too. Have fun and good luck!

  2. Love it! And I absolutely agree- an infant is NOT manipulative, they just are not that smart! I loved the Stewie line! I am very much pro-attachment parenting. My son is 5, and still sneaks in our room in the middle of the night to cuddle up in bed with us. You know what, when he is 15, he wont want anything to do with "cuddling" so take advantage of it. And that being said- I must say, he has turned out pretty fantastic thus far. He is easily one of the best kids in his class, never brings home anything below a 100%, and I am constantly getting compliments on him. My daughter is being raised the same way, her temperment is MUCH different and slightly more challenging, but as I consistently love on her, allow her to sleep with me so that she feels safe and secure, she is getting much more mellow. She does have moments of getting nasty in which I will ignore her, and when she calms down we hug and chat about it, those moments are becoming fewer and fewer! Nothing blows my mind more than a parent that will allow their child to "cry it out," I remember being 4 and nothing felt more safe or comfortable than being with my parents in the middle of the night, how sad that many babies are left to cry, alone and scared in the dark. :( My husband and I still get plenty of sleep, as well as our "intimate time," we let her fall asleep in our bed, then move her when we get in bed, in the middle of the night she crawls back in and most of the time we don't even know it!

    I "popped my boob" in their mouths every time they cried too- I am a little ahead of you as mine are older, and I am here to assure you, they self sooth just fine, they are not manipulative or overly attached in any way, and have turned out amazing, keep doing what you are doing and your daughter will too!