I was poking around on-line and found an interesting question on a forum:
“Should I let my newborn cry it out?”
I find this question disturbing on a lot of different levels. I cannot even begin to tell you how upset it makes me that people even consider this as an option. I verge on hysterical emotion when I say, “No, for the love of your child, go to them and see what they need!”
Then I wonder – why would they stop crying when everything in their new world is unfamiliar? Your newborn (up to 28 days old in medical terms) is experiencing everything for the first time.
Crying is the only means available to them to communicate; it is the only way they can “talk”. Consider that everything that we take for granted is assaulting all their senses: lights, colors, sounds, tastes, textures and smells. How many of us would negotiate all of the “newness” well as adults?
Let me make an analogy: How do you feel when you have to go to a meeting or gathering where you do not know one single person? And the map they gave you to the meeting place is wrong and you are maneuvering through an unknown area? You finally get there and find out that the meeting is in a foreign language and you do not understand one single word that is being said; yet you are expected to interact and present information to the group. To top off the event, a meal is served. By now you are very hungry since you had been too nervous to eat before you came, the extra time you had allotted yourself for a snack before you arrived was spent trying to find the venue, and you have exerted yourself physically and emotionally since you arrived. Your food is served and you don’t know what it is, and to top it off, you are handed utensils you have never used to eat it with.
How do you feel now?
I can tell you that for me personally, despite years as a performer and a lot of practice with public speaking, I still get nervous when I head to an unknown situation. I get nervous as I am getting dressed. I have to give myself a self-help motivational talk as I get into the car. I have another one with myself before I open the door to the venue. All this anxiety and I am a college educated, well-traveled 38-year old adult woman who can comfortably hold a conversation in two languages, and could get by in a third one if I had to.
Now imagine how a little, naked, hours-hold human being who just came out of a warm, watery, comforting cocoon must be feeling. When he or she wanted something before, they could move and get a response. He or she heard calming sounds – the sound of a heartbeat, the gurgle of digestion, and when tones were directed towards him or her, they sounded loving and kind.
One day, it started to feel some massaging movements from his or her cocoon. They feel good at first – slow and brief.
“It is not well known that the skin is the external nervous system. It arises from the same embryonic tissue, the ectoderm, as do the central and peripheral nervous systems. Dr. Montagu notes that the prolonged labor of human beings, as compared to shorter labor of other mammals, ensures the adequate tactile stimulation of the fetus prior to birth.”
- Dr. Mizin Park Kawasaki
As labor continues to progress, the baby finds that these massaging movements that were stimulating it’s skin and its organs are building in intensity and duration. They culminate by propelling the baby out through this REALLY tight squeeze. The newborn emerges and it’s LOUD. It’s BRIGHT. It’s COLD.
They might be pulled, poked and prodded. Assuming it’s an unmedicated vaginal birth, one can hope that they will soon be reunited with their mother: their external nervous system will be satisfied with skin-to-skin contact once he or she is placed on Mother’s abdomen or chest, and soon they will hear her familiar heartbeat once again. When the newborn has been too stressed from drugs or other traumas of labor, it may be hours or days before he or she is once again reunited with the heartbeat that is so familiar and comforting to them.
As they discover their new world, they find that their eyes cannot focus on anything farther than 8-12 inches away, yet they can tell this world is much bigger than their previous one. Their ears are hearing things clearly and crispy, rather than through the dampening effects of their previous watery home. Their skin has all kinds of new sensations: heat, cold, hard, soft, scratchy, smooth. Their nose is bombarding them with olfactory imprints with every breath they take. And their tongue, which has never worked before is both a tool and a receptor: the newborn must learn to stimulate their food source and with every mouthful, they taste for the first time. Breast milk has many subtleties lost on us, yet it is a sensory experience for a newborn: foremilk that is watery, hind milk that is rich and creamy, and with each feeding the baby is exposed to the flavors of his or her mother’s previous meal.
How many of us would adjust completely to so many new surroundings within a week’s time? Adults who experience culture shock can take from 6 – 12 months (at a minimum) to adjust to their new surroundings. We have the capacity to observe and process what we are seeing with years of experience, we have the ability to communicate, and the resources to improvise to fill in the gaps. How much of this is a newborn equipped with? NONE of it - they are learning to adjust everyday.
What does your newborn experience that you would experience in the opening scenario? This is a short list of emotions and feelings newborns experience – I am sure there are many, many more: Baby feels apprehensive – everything is new. Baby feels unsure – it doesn’t have a map for the big world around them. Baby feels confused – it can’t communicate anymore since you don’t respond to kicks or hiccups anymore. Baby feels lost – why is it being taken away from the familiar sound of your heartbeat? And Baby feels hungry – his or her 24-hour lifeline was cut away and now they are independent.
How does your newborn communicate this myriad of feelings? It CRIES. It is the one and only way your baby can find to get your attention. When he or she cries you are supposed to come see what they need. Nature created this wonderful communication-response mechanism. I cry – you respond. I cry – you comfort. I cry – I am heard. I am fed. I am loved.
When you hear a newborn cry and you choose to willfully ignore the cry for fear of spoiling your child, you lose and your baby loses. You have lost the opportunity to hold the person who is going to grow up and leave you before you know it. You have lost the opportunity to give them your unconditional love. You have lost the opportunity to learn about what makes your newborn cry in the first place and show them that you can hear them and you will be there for them when they need you.
Your infant (1 month – 12 months of age) could learn to stop crying – maybe. Some infants will learn to cry louder and longer. Some infants will learn to cry to manipulate. The one thing your infant learns for sure is that the one and only communication method available to them doesn’t work well. The people they are crying for and want to be with most in the world do not come when they “talk”.
Dr. Ashley Montagu has written about the long lasting implications of that breakdown in communication extensively. I have included a link to an overview of his work below. I encourage you to take the time to read it and take from it what you will.
I wore or carried all of our children for at least their first 10 months, much to the disapproval of some family members who thought I was spoiling them. I knew I wanted to keep them as close as possible, and I found that they slept better and cried less often than I had heard they would when they were close to me. By the time our third child was born, the comments had calmed down quite a bit as the proof of our intelligent, observant and highly independent older children was and continues to be in contrast to most other children of their age.
Now I know that this is called “attachment parenting”. I have also included a link to Dr. Sears’ article on attachment parenting for you to peruse. I don’t ask that you do anything, other than read the information and ponder it. If it sounds like something you would like to try, I encourage you to go for it. Do as much or as little as fits into your family’s lifestyle.
At the very least, please pick up your newborn when they are crying. They want you and they need you. The only reason they learn to stop crying is because they feel loved and nurtured. As one very wise woman once shared at Birth Circle, each minute your infant is away from you is 100% longer than they have ever been away from you before. The crying will subside and the joys will multiply when you both learn how to communicate with each other and grow together as parent and child.
More about Ashley Montagu:
Dr. Sears on Attachment Parenting
The material included on this site is for informational purposes only.
It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.