Two Things Proven To Reduce Infant Crying

Two Things Proven To Reduce Infant Crying

Any new parent would enthusiastically hand over bucketloads of their hard earned money, in exchange for the secret to ease their baby’s tears.

But how would you feel if you knew two significant factors in reducing a baby’s crying were absolutely free – and even enjoyable?

No parent likes to hear their baby cry. When you’re unable to soothe your baby’s crying spells, it can be heartbreaking and confidence eroding.

But, all is not lost. Because as it turns out, one thing many parents have been avoiding (usually because they feel they must do things the “popular” way) is one of the very things that has been proven to reduce crying.

So what is it?

It’s something that you likely already feel, even if your brain is telling you that you don’t know it.

It’s your instinct – and specifically, your instinct to respond.

Many parents try to shove down their feelings of despair when they embark on ‘cry it out’ routines. This is why so many parents find it so difficult to continue with such routines. And according to polls, it’s not a successful long term solution for most babies either.

How To Reduce Baby’s Crying #1: Responsiveness

Long ago, maternal responsiveness was proven to be the most powerful solution to a baby’s crying.

A longitudinal study (meaning the study was undertaken over a long period of time, in order to follow through with the results) from John Hopkins Hospital included 26 infant-mother pairs. They found that consistency and promptness of maternal response was associated with a decline in frequency and duration of infant crying.

Researchers reported:

“By the end of the first year, individual differences in crying reflect the history of maternal responsiveness rather than constitutional differences in infant irritability. Close physical contact is the most frequent maternal intervention and the most effective in terminating crying. Nevertheless, maternal effectiveness in terminating crying was found to be less powerful than promptness of response in reducing crying in subsequent months.”

They continue, “Evidence suggests that whereas crying is expressive at first, it can later be a mode of communication directed specifically toward the mother. The development of non-crying modes of communication, as well as a decline in crying, is associated with maternal responsiveness to infant signals. The findings are discussed in an evolutionary context, and with reference to the popular belief that to respond to his cries “spoils” a baby.”

While the study was small and dates back to the 1970’s, it’s important to understand that babies needs have not changed. We have greatly evolved and progressed as a society, but the development and physiological needs of an infant have not changed. Newborns are not high-tech cyborgs, nor will they ever be. They are the same newborns they always were, being born into a fast-paced and demanding society.

While there will no doubt be naysayers who will dismiss the size and age of the study, there has been plenty of research since, which pieces this altogether. We know that when babies are left to cry, their little brains are flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone. Even after baby stops crying, cortisol remains high in the brain (see more in our article on sleep training), indicating that baby is still stressed. The world’s leading experts and researchers in baby sleep are unanimous: cry it out is damaging and inappropriate for babies.

So, babies aren’t actually manipulating their parents when they cry — they are in genuine distress. Until around 6 months of age, they don’t even realise they are a separate being — they think mother and baby are still one. And who can blame them, because mother and baby were at one, for nine long, cosy months. Being born doesn’t mean they suddenly understand that they must function alone or individually. Read more about the fourth trimester.

A parent’s responsiveness helps their baby to learn emotional regulation. What this means is that your baby will develop the ability to understand that we have control over our emotions. By comforting your baby, you are teaching her that when she is upset, she can calm down. Babies who are not responded to do not learn the same thing.

We also now know that ‘crying it out’ doesn’t result in learning how to sleep, but learning how to give up… because help isn’t coming. So, it’s time to promote instinct, not isolation. Especially when you hear that the second thing is:

How To Reduce Baby’s Crying #2: Wearing Your Baby

A study published in the Pediatrics journal, found that babies who are worn cried a significant deal less, especially during peak periods of fussiness. They found:

“At the time of peak crying (6 weeks of age), infants who received supplemental carrying cried and fussed 43% less overall, and 51% less during the evening hours (4 PM to midnight). Similar but smaller decreases occurred at 4, 8, and 12 weeks of age.”

That is a highly significant finding. If you’ve not already raced off to go and buy a baby carrier, keep reading, because there’s more yet. They concluded:

“We conclude that supplemental carrying modifies “normal” crying by reducing the duration and altering the typical pattern of crying and fussing in the first 3 months of life. The relative lack of carrying in our society may predispose to crying and colic in normal infants.”

So, perhaps we’ve been led astray in society’s pursuits for faster, better, more convenient and most efficient. Because it seems the best way to help our crying babies is to slow it down, respond to their needs and wear them close.

Unfortunately, old thinking results in many new parents being told they will make a rod for their own back if they wear their babies and respond to them. However, the opposite is true. Babywearing fosters secure attachments, resulting in confident, self assured little people who feel safe. They know their basic, human needs will be met – they don’t need to fret for them.

There’s no magic potion that can take all of your baby’s tears away. After all, crying is simply their only way of communicating. We need to be troubleshooters, so we can work out what they need. Silencing all of their cries would be akin to telling them not to let us know if they need help. Who’d want to change those gorgeous little babies anyway? Even though sometimes — okay, often — it’s hard in the depths of sleep deprivation, giving our babies what they need, without believing they are manipulating us, will always be the true answer.

Recommended Reading: Sleep Training – 6 Things To Consider Before You Do It and Cry It Out – 6 Educated Professionals Who Advise Against It.

 
Last Updated: January 25, 2016

CONTRIBUTOR

Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


19 comments

  1. Finally! A mainstream article that speaks sense. Well done Kelly. For giving parents reassurance to follow your instincts…

  2. I 100% agree with this article! I have a 6 week old and understand that babies don’t cry for no reason! By being responsive, I can help him faster (is he in pain? Hungry? Hot? Cold? Scared?) Letting him cry it out would be cruel! Thanks for writing a great article.

  3. i am so glad there’s an article stating such research! I totally agree with this! I have a 5m old that I have raised so far very similar to this information. I can’t stand her being too upset that she works herself up & is harder & takes longer to calm her down again. There is definitely a reason she’s crying! Awesome read will definitely be sharing 🙂

  4. Excellent read! I have struggled to explain to people the true long term effects of “cry it out” routines and you have done it here. As well as reassure that trusting your instinct is the best thing,

  5. This is great, thank you! I can see myself having to battle my parents and in-laws about spoiling my baby to be by responding to their cries so quickly. However, I am curious, when would you say is an appropriate time to transition the immediate response behaviour to help teach them to be independent thinkers? 3 months? 6 months?

    1. I think teaching young children anything happens best when it’s seen more than heard. Children become what they see. Set the example you’d like for your children, but in the meantime, love is all that matters. A great book: Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt.

  6. I liked this article. But sometimes its okay for your baby to cry. And when your overwhelmed and no help. Its okay to put your child some where safe, while he’s crying and go calm down.

    1. Yes for sure haley. If you feel like you’re not coping and your baby would be safer down for a moment, for sure. If it’s a common/recurring problem, it’s important for mama to make the decision to reach out and get some help. I know sometimes this can be very hard. But if you have an inkling that things don’t feel right, definitely seek help before it gets worse. A good support network is so important. BellyBelly has an article on how to build one up for those who are starting out.

  7. This was a great article. I agree with many of these points, however, what happens at daycare when they can’t be attended to immediately or need to nap? At that point is it better to let then cry it out at daycare or try to make them ready at home? (And not feel like such a huge shock) This is the dilemma I think many moms deal with when going back to work. Is letting them cry it out for only sleep as detrimental?

  8. I was told before that “crying it out” will help my baby become independent and self-soother, but I never followed and followed my instinct instead by providing my baby what he needed at the time. I’m relieved to know I did the right thing. Thank you for this article. So much helpful information.

  9. I had my two girls back in the 70’s. I feel sad that we were given the wrong information back then. Letting them cry themselves to sleep is what we did. My daughters now have their own children & although they haven’t ‘carried’ them around as suggested here, they certainly don’t allow them to cry for long periods, & I can see the difference in their baby’s response.
    Sometimes I wish I could have my time over again & do it differently. Oh well!

    1. Awww Vicki! It can be really hard to hear new information – it’s ever changing. And I am sure when the babies of today have grown up, we’ll learn new things too. You did what you thought was best – you can’t do better than that x

  10. Great article … Hope ppl who crerisize me cuz i don(t leave my 3 month baby cry can understand this instead of just commenting .. it no spoiling .. he is just baby that need love & care

Leave a Reply

Please note: in order to prevent spam and inappropriate language, all comments are moderated before they appear. We appreciate your patience awaiting approval. BellyBelly receives many comments every day, and we are unable to approve them all as soon as they are posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

loaded font roboto