Parents have long been urged to ignore a baby’s cries. Rot, says Penelope Leach, and science is on her side
Penelope Leach is understandably rather pleased with herself. Not just because her new book has generated a flurry of column inches but because, at last, the babycare expert has science on her side. Meaning that she can, and has, delivered a bloody nose to the likes of Gina Ford, whose Contented Little Baby Book, published in 1999, has encouraged mothers to impose a strict routine on even tiny babies, and advocates “controlled crying” as a way of getting newborns to sleep through the night.
You should really go read the rest- it is not a long article- HERE .
Reading it quite literally made me cry and want to jump up and cheer all at the same time.
Why did I have such strong response?
When Aiden was a baby he was colicky. I mean really seriously colicky. He cried for 11-13 HOURS per day. Every day. For a year.
It was incredibly difficult for all of us and we saw many doctors and specialists during that time and over and over we were told- by them and by other parents- that we should just let him cry it out. We were told that we were coddling him, that by picking him up we were encouraging the behaviour, that he wouldn't learn independence, that he wouldn't learn to fall asleep on his own etc. etc. etc.. We were basically being told that it was our fault.
We did try to let him cry it out once - out of pure desperation - but he cried so hard that he threw up and I just couldn't take it anymore.
And so we held him. A lot. He would sleep soundly only when he was held to either mine or Doug's chests. I rocked him. I walked him. I sang to him. I did everything I could to calm him. But still he cried. We slept very little.
Now of course we know it was because he has Autism and a whole host of sensory issues. The world around him was just far more than he could handle. So he cried.
I did not let any of my babies cry it out. I always really felt it was wrong. It just didn't fit with my parenting style and my gut rebelled at the very thought of it.
But I cannot even begin to tell you how hurtful people have been to me about that decision of mine. I never once told anyone else that they should do it my way... but I was certainly told by many others that my way was wrong.
There is no doubt in my mind that the doctors/ specialists/ and well meaning people were trying to make it better but they really made it so much worse. They made me feel bad about my parenting. They convinced me that I sucked as a mother. They made me question my God-given mother-instincts.
This part of the article talks about how crying can really negatively affect the way a baby develops...
“It is fact,” says Leach crisply, hazel eyes twinkling, auburn bob tossing. If you ignore an infant and leave it to cry itself to sleep night after night, the stress involved affects the development of its immature brain.
Her new book, The Essential First Year: What Babies Need Parents to Know, cites research that shows that when a baby “experiences acute and continuing distress”, its adrenal glands are stimulated into releasing cortisol, the “stress hormone”, which floods its body and brain.
“Brains that are growing and developing are very sensitive to an overload of cortisol,” Leach says. And, apparently, high levels of cortisol that build up over time can be toxic to a young baby’s rapidly developing brain.
One is not saying every time a baby cries it will produce too much cortisol which will damage its brain,” says Leach. “But if there is a policy which allows babies to cry for quite a long time, and over quite a lot of nights . . .”
What? “The growing brain will stop developing expectations. And you will alter the brain stress thresholds,” she says. “So that a child to whom this happens a lot, may become a child who is liable to depression and anxiety. ”
No wonder Aiden has so much anxiety. Poor kiddo.
Near the end of the article she says this
“The post-industrial western world is just out of step,” she sighs. “Many parts of the world, including the whole of China, incidentally, consider it cruel to leave a baby on its own. They wouldn’t dream of leaving it crying alone in its cot.”
I think it is so important to remember that just because something is "normal" here doesn't mean it is the norm everywhere... and we should not be so arrogant as to think we in the West are always right and those in the rest of the world are wrong. Clearly we have a lot to learn.
When I read that article all those painful feelings I had when Aiden was an infant came rushing back and I wished I could have read it 8 years ago.