This is a daunting question, and one that scientists have been investigating for decades with no firm conclusion. So we can’t solve the dilemma in one short article. But we can go over some of the main arguments for and against letting babies cry, and review some opinions on when it’s okay and when it’s not okay to let your baby cry. Hopefully, this list will help clarify things so you can make an informed decision for you and your baby.
1. Meeting Baby’s Needs is Number One
No parenting philosophy should advocate letting a baby cry over meeting her needs. If your baby is cold, hot, hungry, wet, in pain, or otherwise in need of basic attention, it’s never appropriate to let her cry it out. It’s vital to do your best to learn why your baby is crying so your baby does not suffer and illness does not go undiagnosed.
2. Needs vs. Wants
In babies, this is not as easy a question to answer. However, studies have shown that babies fail to thrive if they are not touched or held. But how far does a parent need to go in meeting this need? Some babies “need” to be held all the time; others do not. Some babies need to eat frequently; others do not. So as you learn your baby’s unique personality rather than trying to make him fit a formula, you may well find that you can more easily discern needs from wants. And it’s at your discretion if you want to let him cry over an unmet “want.”
3. The First 6 Months
Experts generally agree that it is not healthy to treat newborns the same way you would treat a baby over the age of 6 moths (or so). The first few months are important for bonding and learning about each other. (You’ll notice a common thread here – know thy baby!) That makes your decision about how often, when, and if to let your baby cry a lot easier. You have a better idea as to what your baby can handle and what makes him “tick.” The better you know your baby, the more discerning you’ll be in deciding what cries mean real distress and what crying is not so urgent.
4. Safe Sleep Training
If you decide to let your baby cry herself to sleep, it’s a good idea to get a good, reliable source of information such as a pediatrician-approved set of guidelines. You want to make sure your baby is safe and not in any danger while he is crying. A baby monitor is essential to make sure your baby doesn’t have something over her face, hasn’t gotten a hand or foot caught, or some other issue that needs your immediate attention.
Remember, if you’re concerned about your baby’s crying, check with your pediatrician, lactation consultant, midwife, or other health professional. It’s important to rule out medical causes for crying.