“Should my baby cry this much? How do I stop it!?!” This seems to be the question on every parents mind these days. I recently read this post by a mother about how it is normal for babies to cry. She shared her own experience with a baby that was going through what is known as Purple Crying: when an infant just cry’s and cry’s for sometimes hours despite your BEST EFFORTS to help them calm down. This can cause so much stress for a new parent and in worst case scenario can cause harm for a baby when a parent looses their temper and in the article she shares her own methods to deal with this intense stress. Instead of reaching a crippling stress level, you can lay your baby down in a safe place and take a little break to calm yourself down. She even included some great activities you can do to really rejuvenate yourself before returning to your baby as a calm and helpful mother. A calm mother is helpful for her baby, a stressed mother is not. The author of the post speaks of Shaken Baby Syndrome and how the knowledge that you CAN take a break can reduce this tragedy by a significant amount.
I felt that this is such an important message and was shocked at some of the responses she received. Here’s the worst: “NO. It is NOT OK to let your baby cry.” This really made me pause and think. This comment has nothing to do with leaving the baby alone; she is actually stating that babies should not be allowed to cry. I can understand how leaving a baby to dry for 5 minutes can be hard for some to digest. You may not be a highly sensitive mom (like I am) with a baby that has been wailing for 2 hours straight,or perhaps you are and could bear this better than me and moms like me. I know my son was not damaged by the, at most, 10 times I left him for under 5 minutes to find my calm. But to actually state that it is not okay to let your baby cry? Shocking.
I feel that there is this unhealthy message going around that if your baby cries and you cannot soothe them, you are failing as a mother. So what you have is a crying baby that, despite your best soothing efforts, won’t stop; compounded by the feeling that you are failing and damaging your baby while he cries; and to make matters worse, bad advice makes you feel too guilty to take that much needed break to unwind. Babies are challenging enough, especially newborns, and what we don’t need as new mothers is guilt from other mothers.
There are babies that cry less than others and mothers with more patience. As a mother with a baby that seemed to cry for almost 4 months straight, unless he was asleep, here’s a message that I WANT to hear: Babies DO cry, it’s how they communicate. Imagine what it must be like being born, coming from a land of perfect warmth, sound, nutrition and weightlessness to suddenly be pushed (literally!) into this world where they must adjust to digestion, sound, light and separation. I would cry to! Babies cry and that does NOT mean that we are failing. Your baby will cry to you so they can tell you about their struggles. Sometimes there is something we can help fix and sometimes they just need a shoulder to cry on about the woes of the world. “Crying must be responded to. But how is a more complicated issue. To follow the advice, “do not let your baby cry,” is practically impossible. At times the harder a mother or father tries to stop the baby’s crying, the more anxious everyone becomes.” ~Magda Gerber
There are many different approaches to try to soothe you baby: The Happiest Baby on the Block technique, distraction, constant nursing, singing, rocking, and baby-wearing. There are some that disagree with these techniques and some that swear by them. To share my own story, we tried all of these and they worked IN THE MOMENT, but at 4 months he was still so mad. We finally just let him cry! We would hold him and kiss him and he would cry out all of those feelings and then, slowly, he started feeling happier. We spent 4 months telling him not to cry and when he was finally able to, in our loving arms, he found release and soon seemed to feel better and happier about his ever-changing world. That whole time, he just wanted us to listen. Now when he cries, we usually just hold him and affirm his feelings. Just yesterday he was in the car seat for the 5th time that day (very unusual for us) and he wanted to cry about it and we let him. No toys or tricks, we just looked at him, stroked his head and told him, “you are so sad right now, you are allowed to cry and you can tell us all about it.” Now that I have finally come to the place where I accept that my children will be unhappy many times in their life, perhaps I can be calm and present with them. What I want for my family is for us all to know that we take care of one another and that my care is important too, taking breaks and returning a helpful, calm mother. What I want for my children is for them to know that they CAN cry and they CAN throw tantrums and that I will be there to hold them and listen to their feelings. Hopefully when they are adults they can freely express their feelings and know that people will listen.
Janet Lansbury’s post on 7 Reasons to Calm Down about Babies Crying and Lisa Sunbury’s post on Babies and Crying: What’s a Parent to Do were so helpful for me when faced with an infant that would cry so often.