Crying is a baby’s way of
communicating. Particularly in the early months, a child cries when
she’s hungry cold, wet, tired, or wants to be held and played with.
Between six and nine months, she may cry— particularly at
night—because she doesn’t understand that her parents exist unless
she sees them. She knows the world as either pleasurable or
uncomfortable; when her needs are met she feels good, and when they
aren’t she feels bad and cries.
Many parents wonder how they should respond when their child cries.
If they pick her up each time, will her demands increase? Is there a
chance she’ll become spoiled? Parents who wish to follow their
instincts and respond to their child’s tears often are confused by
people who say, “Don’t pick her up, you’ll spoil her,” “Let her cry,
it’s good for her lungs,” or, “You can’t always be there for her.”
The truth is that picking up a crying baby won’t spoil her. Rather,
it will help her develop a sense of security that will actually make
her less likely to cry in the long run. Babies whose cries bring a
helpful response begin to anticipate that whenever they cry, someone
will respond. This cause-and-effect connection gives a child a
secure and comfortable feeling and also teaches her to trust her
parents. Learning to trust is a critical part of early development.
If her parents don’t respond to her cries, or respond erratically
and unpredictably, she’ll quickly sense that there’s little she can
do to affect her environment in such a situation, she’ll learn to
mistrust those around her.
Of course, there’s a wide range of parental behavior between the
extremes of total responsiveness and unresponsiveness. No matter how
hard parents try to calm and comfort their child, there’ll be times
when she remains frustrated. But if they’re consistently caring
during the early months, she’ll start life with a sense of trust.
Comforting a crying child is very important, but it also can be
difficult, especially if she cries often or during a busy moment. If
you find that your baby needs a lot of comforting during the day,
you may want to try a cloth infant carrier that will let you hold
her close while leaving your hands free. The contact and constant
movement can be very soothing to a child.
If your baby does a lot of crying at night, you may feel frustrated
and unsure about how to respond. Your natural instinct may be to
pick her up, but you also may be tired and you may be getting
negative advice. Your pediatrician might advise you to let your
child “cry it out at night,” particularly once she turns three
months old. Many people advocate ignoring a child’s cries in the
hope that she’ll learn to sleep through the night. One theory says
that if parents refuse to comfort or feed their child during the
night, she’ll stop crying after twenty minutes to an hour and go
back to sleep. After many days or weeks of this routine, she’ll no
longer wake up at night.
Although the prospect of an evening of uninterrupted sleep may
certainly be attractive to you, when you comfort your baby, you let
her know that she can depend on you, that she’s worthwhile, and that
you care about meeting her needs. Holding and soothing her, you give
her a sense of security and a basis for developing trust in her