Saturday, 24 September 2011

Should I leave my baby to cry? Is controlled crying good?

For those of us who long ago decided to ignore the advice of Gina Ford or mother-in-laws who stated that babies should be left to cry, there is  scientific evidence which not only supports our gut instinct but also shows that leaving a baby to cry can have long term, damaging emotional effects. I was reminded about the study by 'The Mother' magazine  

The study carried out at used brain scans to show that long term harm can be caused. 'If you ignore a crying child, tell them to shut up or put them in a room on their own, you can cause serious damage to their brains on a level that can result in severe neurosis and emotional disorders later in life,' said Professor Margot Sunderland, a leading expert in the development of children's brains and a British Medical Association award-winning author.

We need to be  confident enough to listen to our instincts and reject the  theories of so-called baby experts such as Gina Ford and Channel 4's Supernanny, Jo Frost, who preach strict discipline, routine and controlled crying.

Crying to me, as  a speech and language therapist, is communication. It's too easy to see the crying as a behaviour on its own. It's a symptom of an underlying issue. The baby is trying to tell us something. If we can sort out the problem, we can stop the crying. Leaving a baby to cry is teaching him that his attempts to communicate are not important and so he will learn that this is not a worthwhile activity. It doesn't however take away the reason why he was crying. He will still be hungry, thirsty, anxious, etc
My first baby cried almost all the time but I never left him to cry. I picked him up and cuddled him and he stopped. I much later found out he had serious glue ear and so it hurt him to lie down. When I picked him up it made him feel better.  How awful would I have felt if I had listened to the advice everyone freely gave me to let him cry? Incidently, why is it when you have a new born everyone thinks you cant make decisions for yourself and gives advice about anything and everything when they wouldnt normally dream of doing so?

I  hear about so called 'good babies' but what is it that makes them good? Is it because they aren't communicating? A baby who just lies there may be easy to have around but I much prefer one who wants to interact. Most will want to, given the opportunity. Jayne, excellent nursery teacher I know told me about a visit to a friend and her baby. The baby lay in his carrycot in the same room while the adults chatted. Jayne went over to the baby and interacted with him. When she stopped, he cried. The parent was probably not very pleased but the baby had really enjoyed Jayne's attention and interaction and wanted more. He was unhappy when she moved away and protested in the only way he could. Babies are pre-wired to enjoy and benefit from interaction. We need to remember that communication is about listening too. We must be better listeners.

For adults to have good mental health, they need to feel appreciated, loved and secure. This study shows that babies do too. How appreciated, loved and secure do they feel if they are left to cry?

You can read more by Margot Sunderland in her excellent book, available from Amazon 



  1. Hi Libby great thought provoking post this one sure it will get lots of comments from the Business Plus Baby Blog Carnival I'm Hosting Emma

  2. Great post and I must admit I have never been able to let any of my three cry for a long period. Thank you for sharing this