Question: I really like the article Help for Mom’s with Crying Babies and its message, but I’m curious about an issue I’ve had a couple times with my daughter. She’s 6 months old and a sweet, happy, funny baby 99% of the time. The issue is sometimes when we are in the car after a long day, and we are almost home, when she starts screaming her head off! She has become so upset a couple times that I’ve pulled over to get in the backseat and calm her down, nurse her, etc. I think I’m writing this partially because I feel guilty that I’ve let her cry for a few min before I’ve stopped (I know she’s not hungry, cold, in danger, etc and we’re usually very close to home). I talk to her and sing, but she seems to get louder and angry, which is when I pull over to see what’s going on the back seat.
Do you recommend this pulling over (I usually have time to do that). My daughter’s needs are more important to me than getting anywhere on time anymore. Also, how long is a relatively reasonable amount of time to let her cry because she’s tired and angry? I feel terribly guilty for even thinking about ‘letting’ her cry at all, but I feel like getting home to a comfy place might be helpful too. Thanks!
Answer: It’s lovely to hear that your baby’s needs are more important to you than anything, so yes, I would recommend pulling off the road and picking her up. She may be upset by the fact that she is in the back of the car where she can’t see you or touch you. But you raise a very important point. Sometimes babies ‘need’ to to be allowed to cry in our loving arms to heal from upsets — just like we as adults feel better if we can cry in someone’s loving arms when we are upset. You say that this often happens in the evenings. When babies are tired, all the little stresses of the day start to surface and that’s when they are more likely to start to cry to let the stresses out. We can help if we hold them in our loving arms and ‘allow’ them to cry till they feel better.
You mention nursing her although you say you know she isn’t hungry. If a baby is hungry of course we should nurse them first, but when they are upset rather than hungry they will often refuse the breast and then we can just hold them, make eye contact with them, listen to them respectfully and ‘allow’ them to get their feelings out. Jiggling babies or putting something like a pacifier (dummy) into their mouths at this time to try to stop the crying can confuse them, because they are learning, “When I am upset I mustn’t cry, I must suck something to help me hold my feelings inside”. Instead, if we holding them lovingly, speak gently and let them know that we are listening and really care, they will know that it is safe to release their hurts in our loving arms.
You say you feel terribly guilty even thinking about ‘letting’ her cry at all. If we were not allowed to cry about our hurts in our mothers’ loving arms as babies, when we hear a baby cry, we get upset. That’s because it triggers all our own unshed baby and childhood tears. Do you have a friend or support-person you can talk to about this? Talking about it may even make you cry, which means you can get some of your own unshed tears out (we all have them) and then it gets easier to be there for your baby.
Parenting expert Pam Leo says it helps to keep repeating to yourself, “The crying is not the hurting. The crying is the healing.” Of course this applies only to holding upset babies while they let their frustrations out. It is not about refusing to feed a hungry baby, attending to a baby in pain or leaving a baby to cry alone at night to try to teach them to “self soothe”. Babies are too young to be able to soothe themselves and need a loving person to help them. So they should never be left to cry alone, especially at night. We should always go to a crying baby, pick them up and hold them. That teaches them that they can trust us to always be there when they need us.
You ask how long we should hold a crying baby. I believe as long as they need us to — it differs from baby to baby and from day to day, depending on what has happened. If something very upsetting has happened that day, your baby may want to have a long cry in your arms. If she is just a little bit tired and overstimulated, she may just want to release it through a short cry while you hold her. Of course if you are stuck in rush-hour traffic, sometimes you can’t stop. But as soon as you can, it’s good to hold her and say, “You were very upset but Mommy is here now and Mommy is listening.” She may choose to cry then, or she may choose not to — both of which are fine. Over time if babies learn that they can get their hurts out and we won’t stop them, they start to feel safe with us. They become able to let out stresses through crying in our arms as they happen, or release old ones they are holding in from other incidents that may have happened in the past, but not be resolved yet.
There is an interesting discussion on this same subject happening on the Conscious Baby Blog at the moment. You will find it here: Crying is a Need too.
- “The Aware Baby”, by Aletha Solter, (California: Shining Star Press,2001)
- “Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves”, by Naomi Aldort, (Book Publisher’s Network, WA, 2006)
- “Children and Babies Can Heal Through their Tears”, By Genevieve Simperingham (Read article here)
Written by Pat Törngren © 2012