I was on the phone this morning and the person at the other end heard my baby crying. When I told her I was cuddling him, she said, “well you’ve created a rod for your own back now,” says Jody, mother of an eight week old.
When your competence as a mother comes under scrutiny, it’s easy for doubts to creep in that you just might be ‘giving in’ to your baby or that she really is a little rascal plotting to wrap you around her proverbial little finger.
It then becomes difficult to resist advice to ignore your baby’s cries in order to teach her to cry less or sleep more – or whatever your critic’s definition of a ‘good baby’ happens to be.
Really, there is no sense at all in entering a power struggle with your baby. Your baby’s cry has been designed for her survival and you are programmed to react.
A mother’s body chemistry changes when her baby cries: the blood flow to her breasts doubles and she has a hormone-induced urge to respond. When you attend to your baby promptly, you not only get better at ‘reading’ her crying language but come to learn her pre-cry signals and as you respond accordingly, you will be able to avert full-blown crying.
In the early months, your baby’s cry is automatic. If you leave her to cry, she is likely to become even more upset as her crying picks up momentum. And after a little while she won’t even know why she was crying in the first place – she will just be crying because she can’t stop, and so she will be much harder to settle.
If you are breastfeeding, it is particularly important to respond quickly to hunger cues: a baby who is left to work up to a full-blown cry will have a more disorganised suck and may have trouble latching on correctly, or she may only suck for a short time before she falls asleep with exhaustion.
Leaving your baby to cry it out may have longer term consequences for mental health: there is emerging evidence that distress at being left to cry changes the physiology of the brain and may predispose children to stress disorders such as panic, anxiety and depression later in life.
Paediatrician William Sears has commented that “babies who appear to be ‘trained’ not to express their needs may appear to be docile, compliant or ‘good’ babies. Yet these babies could be depressed babies who are shutting down their needs. They become children who don’t speak up to get their needs met and eventually become the highest need adults.”
By not responding to your baby’s signals, the only things being ‘spoilt’ are your relationship with your baby and your own self-confidence. As your baby fails to comply, you feel more and more inadequate (and possibly angry).
And, as you struggle to teach your baby that you are in control, she may also learn perhaps the saddest lesson of all: that she is helpless, that she has no power to communicate – so what is the use of trying?
Do Cuddles Make Babies Smarter?
There are two huge benefits to cuddling your baby:
#1: Cuddles Make Your Baby Smarter
Neuroscientists and clinicians have documented that loving interactions that are sensitive to a child’s needs influence the way the brain grows and can increase the number of connections between nerve cells.
#2: Cuddles Stop The Crying
Research shows that babies who are attended to promptly during the first six months cry and whinge less in the next six months and even later – responding now could be cheap insurance against a demanding toddler!