Educating the Experts – Lesson One: Crying

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Clique aqui para transferir o artigo no português – Thank you to Andreia K. Mortensen for the translation

Click here to read the article in Hebrew – Thank you to Idan Melamed for the translation

You call yourselves “baby whisperers” and “experts” on how to get babies to sleep and though you write books telling parents exactly how to care for their children, it seems as though you all require a bit of a brush up on your education.  You see, when I see some mother buying your books, or hear of your appearances on TV talking about your “advice”, my heart breaks for the children of the parents who are blindly following what you promote.  You make assumptions that shouldn’t be made, and all the while parents follow your advice without knowing any better and hoping they’re doing best for their baby.  And you do so with no regard for the plethora of scientific evidence that is out there suggesting your methods not only are wrong, but can actually harm babies.  I thought, given the fact that I am a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology with access to every peer-reviewed journal there is, I would offer you some free (a word you hardly use) lessons on the myriad topics of parenting you are so fond of writing about.  At first I thought this would be a one-off lesson covering everything, but I have realized that is foolish and would be way too long for one lesson – you obviously need time to integrate everything and learn what it is that’s out there before you start preaching to the masses again – so we will do this over several lessons, each covering one topic.

Where to begin?  I thought about this and settled on a history of what we know about crying.  Given your overarching mission of getting babies to stop crying either during the day or at night, it seems that you require a bit more of an understanding of both why babies cry and what it can mean when a baby isn’t crying.  So let’s begin…

Why does a baby cry?

The simple answer to this is to have his or her needs met.  The more complex answer starts with the fact that crying is the only form of communication young babies have (until they start to learn to vocalize or sign), and evolutionarily it has developed in such a way to make parents want to stop it.  (Of note, parents can use their baby’s cues to pick up on what he or she needs, but these cues are technically not a form of communication as they are not done by an infant with the express intent of telling the other what they need.)  It grates on your ears and breaks your heart so that you will address your baby’s needs promptly, NOT so that you ignore it in hopes of it ending.  And depending on the type of cry (because your child will have different cries for different needs), the way they expect you to respond will differ, but they will expect you to respond.  It doesn’t matter if you’re sleeping or not or if your baby is sleeping, physiologically a baby will cry when it needs something unless he or she has a) been trained not to, or b) is in a physiological state that would reduce his or her ability to cry.  All of you, whether you claim to be against crying-it-out or not, promote forms of leaving an infant to cry.  And all of you promote ways of “training” your baby not to cry.  So really, you’re proposing to ignore your baby’s needs and train them to stop communicating those needs with you.  We need to be clear about this as it is critically important that you fully understand the key role crying plays in an infant’s life.

However, the question of why babies cry is pretty simple.  Most people are aware on some level that it’s telling you something which is why mothers will change dry diapers or put a baby on their breast even if they just ate, all in the name of trying to meet that need.  The real question that needs to be asked is that when you have a child who isn’t crying or stops crying, why is that?

Why does a baby stop crying?

This is a question that you assume the answer to in all of your training methods and books and sites and advice.  You assume that because a baby stops crying, he or she is okay.  Or that if after two weeks a baby no longer cries before falling asleep, the baby has learned about sleep time and routines.  Most unfortunately for the babies who have to endure the advice you give, this isn’t the case.  So why do babies really stop crying?

a)      The best answer for baby is that his or her needs have been met.  Baby was hungry and mom fed her.  Baby had a wet diaper and it was changed.  The amazing part about this is that attending to a baby’s needs promptly will actually reduce crying in the long run in a healthy way.  Mary Ainsworth and Silvia Bell, two developmental psychologists, performed a longitudinal study back in the 1970s while at Johns Hopkins University looking at how mothers responded to their infants’ cries and how this affected later infant behaviour[1].  What they found was that the more prompt a mother was to respond to her child’s cries, regardless of how effective she was at reducing the crying at that particular moment, the less a child cried later on.  Furthermore, they also found that close maternal contact (i.e., touch) was the most effective at terminating crying during a given episode.  To summarize, when their needs have been met babies will cease to cry.  Furthermore, the more responsive a parent is to an infant’s cries, the less likely that child is to cry in the future.  Taking this further, the wealth of research on attachment theory demonstrates that the more responsive a parent is in the first year of life, the more securely attached their child is and thus the better the relationship between child and parent[2][3][4][5].

In line with this, Dymphna van den Boom tailored interventions for mothers of irritable 6-month-old infants with a focus on increasing maternal responsiveness and sensitivity to their child[6].  At the end of the 3-month intervention, she found that the mothers in the intervention group were more sensitive, responsive, and stimulating than mothers in the control group and furthermore, the children of these mothers were more sociable, showed greater self-soothing and exploration, and also cried less than their counterparts.  The effects of maternal responsiveness on child behaviour also extend into the older ages.  Maayan Davidov and Joan Grusec examined maternal responsiveness to distress and maternal warmth in 6-8 year olds and found that greater responsiveness to distress (but not warmth) predicted a child’s level of empathy, prosocial behaviour, and negative affect regulation (which would be crying in infancy)[7].

Why is this?  Well, you are all right about one thing – babies learn and they learn rapidly.  What you are wrong about is what they learn.  At a young age, the only thing a baby will truly internalize is a feeling of being responded to and cared for or not and this will play out in future behaviour, including crying, empathy, and helping.  We can only know what we have learned, and so a child who learns love and compassion and sensitivity will pass that along in his or her own behaviour, while a child that knows neglect will simply withdraw into themselves.  Let us continue to understand more…

b)      A second reason an infant may not cry is because there is a physiological or physical reason preventing her from doing so.  The most common would be a drastic change in temperature, specifically becoming too hot.  While a baby will cry when overheated to a certain degree, as the overheating increases, the chances of crying decrease as the effort it takes to cry increases the core body temperature even more, resulting in an even greater increase in temperature which is antithetical to the infants’ well-being.  One of you (I’m looking at you Ms. Tizzie Hall), has promoted quite a bit of layering in order to keep babies from waking up in the middle of the night, under the assumption that babies wake because they’re cold (not because of the myriad nutritional and comfort benefits of that breast they look for).  What are the risks of overheating your infant?  The dangers of overheating, or hyperthermia, include seizures, coma, neurological damage, and death[8].  A case study in the late 1970s found that the extreme illnesses of 5 infants (4 of whom died), which included fever, shock, and convulsions prior to death, was most likely due to the overwrapping of infants leading to heatstroke[9].  There is also ample evidence to suggest that hyperthermia plays a role in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome[10][11][12], making it hugely important to remember the general rule that babies should have one more layer than adults and that’s it.  By promoting practices that lead to infants being too warm, you not only lower their ability to cry, but increase their risk of mortality.

c)       Finally, the most likely reason a child stops crying during baby training that he has given up or learned that he will not be attended to.  If you view a baby crying as a creature trying to manipulate you (as almost all of you do), you will see this as a positive outcome.  Indeed, this was the prominent view of children’s behaviour in the mid-twentieth century when parents were told not to pick up their children for fear of spoiling them and turning them into little tyrants[13].  This view took hold once learning theory took the helm in psychology, demonstrating people behave in ways related to rewards and failures.  John B. Watson was the first psychologist to promote behaviorism as a form of learning and the first to extend it to childhood with his famous ‘Little Albert’ experiment.  The Little Albert experiment was a case study demonstrating classical conditioning (exactly what you all propose in your books) on an 8-month old boy.  In this study, the little boy is conditioned to become afraid of white rats.  To do this, the boy was brought into a room and sat on a mat while a white lab rat was allowed to roam around.  At this time, the boy showed no fear of the rat at all.  As he reached out to touch the rat, Watson and his assistant Rayner struck a steel bar with a hammer, scaring Albert and causing him to cry.  They continued to do this every time the boy reached for the rat.  Eventually Albert tries to get away from the rat, showing he has been conditioned to fear the white rat.  Amazingly, at a follow-up over two weeks later, Albert showed distress towards any furry object, showing his conditioning had been generalized and sustained[14].  Based on his work and strong belief in behaviorism, Watson also wrote about child-rearing[15].  His focus was on keeping an emotional distance from children so as not to spoil them; it was his work that led to the promotion of not touching your child too often (sadly he later admitted that he regretted writing about child behaviour because he realized he didn’t know enough to do so, but the damage had been done).

So you can teach your child not to cry by conditioning them to not cry.  Not responding to them will tell them that their cries will not get them what they need.  While you all may view this as a positive, it has a very serious consequence – learned helplessness.  The concept of learned helplessness was devised by Martin Seligman in response to behaviorism.  Seligman had been doing work with dogs and found that they were not behaving the way behaviorism would predict they should when conditioned[16].  Specifically, he tested dogs who were conditioned to electrical shocks.  In two of the groups, the dogs were tethered together such that only one had control over when the electrical shocks would end; to the other dog, it was seemingly random.  Seligman (and Maier, his partner in these experiments) found that the group of dogs who did not have control over ending the shocks displayed behaviour much like clinical depression in adults.  Furthermore, when these dogs were then given a situation which they did have control over, they failed to act – they simply sat down and gave up.  These results have been replicated with other animals, including babies (though in a benign paradigm)[17], all with the same findings – once animals and infants have learned that they do not have control, they cease to attempt to affect their surroundings, even when the surroundings change.  Crying it out, strict schedules, and simply behaving as though an infant is attempting to manipulate will lead to the removal of control a child has over his or her environment.  Crying is the main form of control an infant has and needs to be treated with the respect we would show another adult talking to us about what they need.  And while experiments have not been done that put an infant in harm’s way, noted psychologist Dr. Kevin Nugent has found many depressive symptoms in babies whose communication with their parents is lacking.  Parents who are unable to respond to or are simply non-responsive to their infant’s attempts at communication have babies who display classic signs of major depression[18].

In short, not responding to an infant’s attempt at communication will cause them to give up at the very least and possibly demonstrate long-term learned helplessness.  This type of non-crying is damaging to a baby’s long-term psychological well-being, no matter how beneficial it may be for mom and dad in the present moment.


I hope you have learned here that a) crying is simply a form of communication and the primary one that an infant has, and b) that not all forms of not crying are equal.  Infants need to learn that they have control over their environments and can effect change in their lives; they also need to know they are loved and cared for.  They do not manipulate their parents – in fact, they are incapable of doing so, and the work of Mary Ainsworth has gone a long way to demonstrate that far from being manipulative, crying leads to communication between caregiver and infant and that this communication leads to a natural reduction in crying as time goes by[1][2].  And most important for you to realize is that simply because a child has stopped crying – as I acknowledge that your trainings will get a child to stop crying – that is not always a good thing.  In fact, the only type of crying cessation that is good is that which results from a child’s needs being met.  The rest is simply setting up the child for either a risk of illness or death (hyperthermia) or psychological damage (learned helplessness).  (Note that there is also neurological damage but we’ll get to that in another lesson on crying-it-out techniques.  You can read about crying-it-out here, including discussions of post-partum depression and sleep.)

Of course, this leads us to what will be the topic of Lesson Two: What are an infant’s “needs”?  The main thrust of your programs is that you’re telling parents that they can leave their child to cry because all of their needs have been met.  But you are wrong, so stay tuned…


More from Educating the Experts

Lesson Two: Needs

Lesson Three: Touch

Lesson Four: Self-Soothing

Lesson Five: Schedules

[1] Bell SM & Ainsworth MSD. Infant crying and maternal responsiveness.  Child Development (1972); 43: 1171-1190.

[2] Ainsworth MDS. The development of infant-mother attachment. In BM Caldwell & HN Ricciutti (Eds.), Review of child development research (1973) (Volume 3, pp 1-94); Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[3] Egeland B & Farber EA. Infant-mother attachment: Factors related to its development and changes over time. Child Development (1984); 55: 753-771.

[4] Isabella RA & Belsky J. Interactional synchrony and the origins of infant-mother attachment: A replication study.  Child Development (1991); 62: 373-384.

[5] Isabella RA, Belsky J, & von Eye A. The origins of infant-mother attachment: An examination of interactional synchrony during the infant’s first year. Developmental Psychology (1989); 25: 12-21.

[6] van den Boom DC. The influence of temperament and mothering on attachment and exploration: An experimental manipulation of sensitive responsiveness among lower-class mothers of irritable infants.  Child Development (1994); 65: 1457-1477.

[7] Davidov M & Grusec JE.  Untangling the links of parental responsiveness to distress and warmth to child outcomes.  Child Development (2006); 77: 44-58.

[8] Waldron S & MacKinnon R. Neonatal thermoregulation. Infant (2007); 3: 101-104.

[9] Bacon C, Scott D, & Jones P. Heatstroke in well-wrapped infants. The Lancet (1979); 313: 422-425.

[10][10] Nelson EAS, Taylor BJ, & Weatherall IL. Sleeping position and infant bedding may predispose to hyperthermia and the sudden infant death syndrome.  The Lancet (1989); 333: 199-201.

[11] Ponsonby AL, Dwyer T, Gibbons LE, Cochrane JA, Jones ME, & McCall MJ. Thermal environment and sudden infant death syndrome: case-control study. British Medical Journal (1992); 304: 277.

[12] Kleemann WJ, Rothamel T, Troger HD, Poets CF, & Schlaud M. Hyperthermia in sudden infant death. International Journal of Legal Medicine (1996); 109: 139-142.

[13] US Children’s Infant Bureau pamphlets (1924).

[14] Watson JB & Rayner R. Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology (1920); 3: 1-14.

[15] Watson JB. Psychological care of infant and child (1928). New York: WW Norton Company Inc.

[16] Seligman MEP & Maier SF. Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology (1967); 74: 1-9.

[17] Watson J & Ramey C. Reactions to response-contingent stimulation in early infancy.  Revision of paper presented at biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.  Santa Monica, CA, March 1969.

[18] (Accessed July 27, 2011)

Further readings on Emotion in Infants and Attachment Theory, as kindly recommended by Dr. Andreia C.K. Mortensen:

Wolff, P.H. 1987. The development of behavioral states and the expression of emotion in early infancy: New proposals for investigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bowlby, J. (1969,1982) Attachment [Vol. 1 of Attachment and Loss]. London: Hogarth Press; New York, Basic Books; Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.


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  1. Kristin says

    THANK YOU!!! I love this so much and will be sharing it many times over. I have followed my mama instincts all along – my son is now 23 mo – and I feel one of our most primal instincts is to respond to our baby’s cries immediately. From the moment Aubrey was born, he was always skin to skin with me – I wore him in wraps and he slept next to me – still does :) I dismissed anyone – many friends and family – who told me he would be spoiled and that I needed to not hold him as much. He did not leave my chest the first 13 mo of his life aside from occasional floor time. Guess what comment friends, family, acquaintances made most? ‘Oh he never cries’ or ‘Wow does he ever cry?’ I will never be able to wrap my head around how women can ignore such a deep primal instinct to respond to their babes. Again, I appreciate your perspective on this and love that you present it from a scientific, developmental approach. In addition to being a full time mama, I am a LCSW and received my BA in Child Development. I get how important our responses to our babies are in respect to their cognitive development. I just wish more parents would consider this instead of ignoring their instincts and blindly following what the latest trend is.

    • says

      Kristin, I love that you followed your instincts and have the happy, healthy baby to show for it. Your son will thank you when he’s older :) Sadly, I believe many parents have learned helplessness themselves when it comes to parenting and believe they need someone else to step in and tell them what to do. How this all happened, I don’t fully understand, but happened it has and we *need* to change it!

  2. Jespren says

    Good article, I like the tone 😉 I think in general a lot of people listen and believe that kind of advise because they think of babies as little adults with a full range of emotions and mental behaviors. They don’t get the very young basically have 2 emotions ‘content’ and ‘something’s wrong’. People try to give babies traits they don’t have in an effort to understand them, when really they are so very easy to understand! They are either happy or they need something, fulfill the need and they are happy again! How hard is that?
    2 things come to mind. When my cousin had her 1st baby (she since is doing better parenting) she proudly told me how, the FIRST DAY home from the hospital she laid the baby down in her crib to sleep and then let her cry to sleep. It took about 2 hours! But my cousin beamed and said ‘she learned it won’t do her any good and now she just goes right to sleep’. I was heartbroken for her kid. All I could think was ‘yeah, great, you taught your newborn that her only way of communicating with her mother doesn’t work’. *shakes head*
    The 2nd is about a little girl my (different) cousins fostered (and eventually adopted). She had been abused and neglected and was about 8 or 9 months old when they got her. She’d been slapped whenever she cried so she was completely silent. For days she didn’t make a peep and just watched the rest of the very rambunctious and lively family from her play pen. About a week after she came she stood up and gave a little test yell, when she wasn’t rebuked she stood there and happily shrieked at the top of her lungs for hours, great big old grin on her face. I’m happy to report she’s a happy and well adjusted young lady now. The ‘lightbulb’ moment for her when she found out she could make noise is one of my favorite stories.

    • says

      Okay – your stories made me cry both out of sadness for baby #1 and then joy for baby #2. I guess it’s good that at least I ended on happy tears.

      So yes, I think I’m a little condescending in this one, but c’mon – don’t they deserve it? If you’re making lots of money off promoting this crap, you deserve to be condescended to. I just wish there was some way to force parents to get a little addendum to the books outlining the research behind what they’re about to do to their children.

    • Ruairi O'Dúill says

      I loved reading your stories. Especially the second one about the fostered & adopted baby. Thank you so much for sharing.
      Now I must go & get some tissues to dry my face before My boss walks in!

  3. Jon says

    Your references need work.

    #18, where you cite a newspaper article (on a website) for a major proof of your theory.

    You did not reference Dr. Kevin Nugent’s work involving depressive symptoms.

    #17 “These results have been replicated with other animals, including babies…” Experiments on dogs with electric shock, is not a valid proof of your theory because it does not relate in any way to human infants. Your passion on the subject is noted, however I think you require (at the very least) a few lessons in ethics given you actually cited this work in your theory.

    Parents beware, follow up on the references and re-assess your opinion on the subject, or at the very least the credibility of this article.

    • says

      #18 – Dr. Nugent is a clinical psychologist and thus most of his work is via practice. If you’d like to read more about his experiences and work, please see his book – Your Baby Is Speaking To You. And in no way does the reference suggest research was done – it says that he has found depressive symptoms in babies and I provided a citation for it. And it is hardly “major proof of my theory”! Take out the depressive symptoms if you like and the results remain the same with respect to crying behaviour.

      #17 – Milgram’s work has been extended to humans, as the citation I provided demonstrates that even human infants fail to take control over their environment once they’ve learned they have lost that control. And as I said, the work was a *benign* paradigm which passed ethics approvals of the day. While this work is hardly unethical, your overarching statement that *my* ethics need reviewing for citing research that was done is downright asinine. Even had this research been considered unethical by our standards today (as were some experiments, like the Stanford Prison Experiment), they still made significant contributions to our understanding of many psychological phenomena and thus citing them is hardly considered unethical. Only one who has no understanding of research would think of this is such an immature way.

      Now, the knock at the credibility of the article based on two rather unsubstantiated claims against 2 of 18 citations is unwarranted, but you’re entitled to your opinion, unfortunately that’s all it is – your opinion with no backing.

  4. Jo says

    I would say the fact that you cite the experiments by Watson and Seligman, etc (and I know well as someone who studied Psychology at university) demonstrates how unethical and primitive (as in simplistic and misinformed) these forms of training and conditioning are and it clearly has no place in the care of babies.

    What would you say if I said that I disagree that crying is babies ONLY form of communication?
    You’re trying to put your point plainly and clearly but that is an aspect of this blog article that dissatisfies me and I’m sure you don’t actually think is true.

    There are different kinds of cries too aren’t there? Early yelling and moaning, protest crying, to show that they need something and more distressed crying to tell you you’ve taken too long and didn’t notice cues, or that something is seriously wrong, like the kind of crying when they are in pain.

    And besides crying I try to make sure my son doesn’t need to cry by anticipating needs and following his cues, rubbing his eyes to show he is tired, getting irritable and sucking his fist and saying ‘ungay’ to say he’s hungry (he’s done this since a newborn and he’s not even 5 months yet!).

    Perhaps you could expand this article to correct the assumption you have asserted about crying being the only form of communication a baby has and talk about cues and early signs. Otherwise I love what you write :)

    • says

      Jo, I thought about this one on what to say and how to phrase it. I wholeheartedly agree there are different types of cries – but they’re all crying, though they obviously signal very different things. The other cues, like getting irritable or sucking a fist, are *cues* that we can pick up on, but they aren’t technically a form of communication. A child won’t give those up as they’re almost impossible to do – physical reactions to an internal state. As great as they are for parents to pick up on, that’s not their intended function (think of yourself – you may rub your eyes when you’re tired even if no one is around to witness it).

      Now, as babies get older they do learn more ways to communicate either through words or signs, and this can happen early so I should clarify that crying is the only form *until* babies start to learn other means of communication as well. Saying ‘ungay’ is very clearly communicative.

    • laura says

      Lovely to hear of another baby verbally telling you they are hungry, my son, would ask for a ‘huggle’ and tell me he was ‘ungy’ from about 3 months but no one believed me until the HV actually heard him, all thanks to the common belief babies can only cry.

  5. Jo says

    I never expected a baby in their first month to pick up on a word ‘hungry’ and use it to communicate that need so early on. He only says it when he is hungry (but I often follow other cues and feed him without him saying it) as he greedily feeds when I respond to this by feeding him and he doesn’t say it randomly or for any other reason. We have it on video too from when he first started doing it! He is very excited when I respond to it.
    Maybe it’s just a fluke or has no meaning at all as I still can’t really believe that it’s possible for a baby to use a consistent vocalisation to mean something at this age. Do you know anything about this?

    Back on topic, I agree with what you say except I think that whether visual cues are intentional or not and can’t be ‘trained’ out of them, gestures and body language are important aspects of communication so I myself see these as that – are you sure there’s no evidence that when it comes to feeding cues that if you don’t respond to the early ones that in future they may gradually stop doing them or much more quickly progress to crying to communicate hunger?

    • says

      Jo, babies will always amaze you :) Don’t think your kid isn’t communicating because I would bet he is!

      As to the visual cues – wonderful research idea. I would say my best guess at the moment (though requiring research) is that many won’t stop as we tend to have these types of cues as adults as well (my hubby notices mine even though I’m oblivious). Children may very well progress to crying at a faster rate though and it would be fascinating to study, but not sure ethical 😉

    • Laura says

      That IS amazing! And awesome. Sometimes my LO would say “Mum-Mum” for food, but he was 5 or 6 months when he started doing that.

  6. Andréia C. K. Mortensen says

    I missed 2 citations on your article- Wolff, P.H. 1987. The development of behavioral states and the expression of emotion in early infancy: New proposals for investigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (1987) and Bowlby, J. (1969,1982) Attachment [Vol. 1 of Attachment and Loss]. London: Hogarth Press; New York, Basic Books; Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin (1971) on the attachmnent theory.
    I am not sure it is relevant or adds anything to your well written article, just suggestions.

    Thanks again for permission on translating to Portuguese,

    • says

      Andreia – both relevant, but I admit I pick and choose just to keep citations to somewhat of a minimum for readers’ sake :) Bowlby is especially good, but I must admit that I gave preference to Mary Ainsworth as she just was such an amazing woman who did so much for attachment theory. Also, it is her work (based on Bowlby’s) that we think of today as she did modify some of his work and add to it, so it seemed most relevant. I could easily add his citation in though on attachment theory… hmmm, people might like his early work.

      As for Wolff – again, amazing book which I admit I’ve only read parts of, but it is really a focus of what needs to be studied going forward. I know he presents his own work following some infants, but much of what he proposes has started to be done in actual studies. But definitely a book to keep in mind for people. I will add them both to the citations so that people can decide for themselves – thank you for the recommendations (as soon as I know someone wants to read them, I’m happy to add) :)

  7. Andréia C. K. Mortensen says

    Thanks for your consideration, Tracy.
    I am a biochemist, my research is on something completely different, and not relevant to parenting.
    But I have been very interested in everything related to parenting since I became a mom, 8 years ago… so I ended up reading about behavior, evolution, anthropology, parenting, etc, and I soon realized the most popular theories of child rearing nowadays are actually so obsolete! That’s why articles like yours are so important!
    Parents deserve to know the evidences and implications behind what ‘specialists’ are suggesting to the, right?

    • says

      Totally right. I also notice that when you try to talk to people about the books out there, you get a lot of “Well, you’re not an expert” despite the fact that what I’m writing about is based on research, I hold one advanced degree in Clinical Psych and am getting another in Developmental Psych, have worked in policy, and have spent years working with children which is WAY more than any of the authors of these books can state. It’s just so frustrating!!!

      (Side note – references added to the end and a thank you again!)

  8. AnastasiaMillin says

    Tracy: Thank you so much for putting the research together and writting such a clear and direct article. I am sure thousands or moms and dads in North America started off feeling the biological need to respond to their baby’s cries right away. But as the weeks would pass they get brainwashed by all the books, media and friends who claim that their approach is the one that would lead to the ultimate myth … that you could have your baby and yet have your life remain exactly as it was before. So all these mothers and fathers who initially just wanted to follow their insticts and remain in the bliss of parenthood: continuously being with the baby during the day, hugging the baby, cuddling with the baby, and sleeping during the night with the baby are now being told my literally everyone that instead they should be claiming back their lives and independence from the “little tyrans”. How many times we hear the mother boast that she now can have dinner again with her husband every night while the baby is sleeping alone in a separate room. But if you ask that mother and her husband in a really honest way I am sure they would admit that during the first months they would far rather have dinner while holding the precious bundle in their lap and looking at her/ his beauty. After all, isn’t that why we want babies so much, to enjoy the moments with them, every one of them. How paradoxical it is that we go to such length to have a baby and then the moment we give birth we strive to separate ourselves from them and toughen ourselves and them up to not be sensitive to their needs, which are expressed through crying.
    Thank you for being honest and for having the courage to just come out and say what I am sure all of us felt, at least in the beginning, before we let ourselves be influenced by the society around us. We call ourselves strong, proud, independent women yet how many of us just give in and shut off that voice inside of us that comes from our heart and tells us to love and take care of our baby with no limits, no boundaries.
    I have to say that for me the timing of the article is also perfect. I just read that essay in Globe&Mail life session about the couple letting their baby cry. I mean they were actually proud of their “success”. I mean I cried imagining what their little girl has gone through, being left alone in the room night after night with her terrors thinking that she has been abandoned. What don’t these parents try to be locked alone in a cage in the dark room in a completely unknown place for the whole night and see whether they would learn to just deal with it. I doubt it, I think they would scream and yell and call this treatment human rights abuse. Yet every day all across our continent parents do exactly that to their children. Thank you again for your work and I am really looking forward to the next article.

    • says

      I love the way you wrote about the initial parenting experience – I believe and hope that most people do feel that way in the initial stages of parenthood. There is nothing more beautiful that that little bundle :)

  9. Ruairi O'Dúill says

    Thank-you Tracy.
    I look forward to your next article. Can you put an RSS link on your Blog so we can be alerted when you post your next article?

    I would like to point out that the WHO have documents on Breastfeeding and Co-Sleeping / SIDS, which explicitly criticizes the american culture of putting babies in their own bedrooms too early, and encourages co-sleeping (excluding cases where there is drug or alcohol abuse, including tobaco), and strongly encourages breastfeeding to ages that many westerners would consider “extended”.

  10. says

    awesome article!!! I know some many people who need to read this ASAP, but those people I know do not read English. Any way I will share it on my facebook page teen and young mom :). Thanks

    • says

      Noelia, I have someone who has already asked to translate this to Portugese if that helps (I don’t know, but it’s the only other language for translation at the moment). If you would like to translate into another language, I’m all for it!

  11. Amanda says

    Totally agree about crying etc, but have you actually read Tracy Hogg’s book? She’s got whole pages about why babies cry, what particular cries could mean, what other cues to look out for to help to work out why baby could be crying and was totally against letting babies cry it out. She was not a self-proclaimed “baby whisperer”, like some, but had the moniker given to her by those she helped. Yes, some of her information is now outdated (in case you hadn’t realised, she died over 7 years ago, so isn’t really in a position to either respond or to change her work, which I imagine she would’ve done based on evidence based research). And any and all information available on the online forums are free for all. Before her death, Tracy Hogg regularly contributed and responded to confused parents without charging a fee.

    Again, I totally agree with a lot you’ve said, but felt someone should make some degree of a stand for those who aren’t in a position to explain or to amend their advice.

    • says

      Amanda, while not all information in each lesson will be relevant for all books, there are elements of Ms. Hogg’s advice that is quite off (though mainly pertaining to breastfeeding and routines). I would hope she would update her views on this if she could, but the fact remains that people continue to read her books and take it *without* knowing that information has changed.

      That said, I think it’s wonderful to take the stand for those who cannot :)

  12. Jeannette Scott says

    I love this article.As a very experienced Nanny & doting Aunt/Great Aunt I just cannot bear to ignore a crying child particularly a pre-vocal child.If you had a child in your care who did not speak your language or you didn’t speak their’s would you ignore their attempts at communication? No as a caring adult you would try to interpret their needs.
    There is nothing more pitiful than a child who has learned that their cries are ignored & their needs are not important.
    May I add a little to the wrapping of a baby thing.When I grew up our home was not centrally heated-it was not unusual to have ice on the inside of the window! Babies were swaddled in hand-knitted woollen shawls mainly -without them they would have frozen! We also co-slept with my Mum/parents siblings which even then drew disapproval-luckily my Mum has strong views,instincts & puts her children/grandchildren needs before her need for approval from her peers.
    I have learned over my years off caring for babies that a quickly responded to baby is a happier,more responsive & more settled baby than one who is ignored.

  13. says

    This has all been covered already, relatively recently, in an excellent overview article available online.

    Evolutionary Psychology – 2007. 5(1): 102-183
    Original Article
    Natural Parenting ― Back to Basics in Infant Care
    Regine A. Schön, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland. Email: (Corresponding author)
    Maarit Silvén, Department of Psychology, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.
    Abstract: This review examines an age-old approach to parenting recently rediscovered in Western industrialized societies and known by names such as natural parenting, attachment parenting, and instinctive parenting. Its leading principle is utmost sensitivity to the child’s innate emotional and physical needs, resulting in extended breastfeeding on demand, extensive infant carrying on the caregiver’s body, and cosleeping of infant and parents. The described practices prevailed during the evolutionary history of the human species and reflect the natural, innate rearing style of the human species to which the human infant has biologically adapted over the course of evolution. An overview of research from diverse areas regarding psychological as well as physiological aspects of early care provides evidence for the beneficial effects of natural parenting. Cross-cultural and historical data is cited to reveal the widespread use of the investigated parenting style. It is concluded that the described approach to parenting provides the human infant with an ideal environment for optimal growth both psychologically and physiologically. It is yet to be determined how much departure from this prototype of optimal human parenting is possible without compromising infant and parental wellbeing. The review also invites a critical reevaluation of current Western childrearing practices.
    Keywords: natural parenting, attachment parenting, infant carrying, breastfeeding, bed sharing, prototype of optimal human parenting.

    • says

      Thank you for sharing Dr. Dettwyler. It is a wonderful review, but until now I had no idea it was available online without a subscription – thank you for that. I am aware that much of what is said has been said elsewhere, but like discussions of breastfeeding, we can never have too many, can we? There is also new research (like that of Dr. Narvaez) to include in these discussions, which I hope can be a supplement to the academic work already out there.

  14. Em says

    I really enjoyed this article! I was very responsive to my daughters (now 21 months old) cries, despite the gentle correction of my mom friends in some circles. My daughter IS more friendly and adventurous like the article said. I just wanted to leave a word about sensory issues and crying… I have sensory issues and I think my daughter does too. From the age of 5 weeks, my daughter has been virtually unable to fall asleep in my arms or with me touching her in anyway. She’s only fallen asleep breast feeding two times in her life. Touch stimulates her and makes it impossible for her to sleep. She needs to cry to go to sleep sometimes but for her it’s more of a scream and when she’s done, she’s done and promptly falls asleep. It’s like letting water out of the tub or something. It has to come out of her without interruption and then she’s done and can sleep. She does not do it anymore and eagerly climbs into her bed at night, enjoying our routine. In the night when she wakes she does want touch and breast milk then goes to sleep when put down, but not when she’s falling asleep for the night. My mom still thinks I’m wrong and tries, unsuccessfully for 3 hours, to rock her to sleep each time she visits. In 9 years as a nanny I’ve only seen one other kid like this that needed to kick with both legs for 15 mins and let out screams to she could relax and go to sleep. So just a thought… if you have a baby that refuses to fall asleep in your arms or has one time of the day where they would rather cry than be with you and get’s mad at you if you try to co-sleep and never fell asleep at the breast…. it could be a sensory issue. Don’t feel like a bad mom like I did till I could wrap my head around it.

    • says

      Fantastic information to share – thank you so much!! It may be rare but for any parent who experiences this and reads this, you will have done them a world of favours :)

  15. Elizabeth says

    Em, thank you for that information! My 14mth old always does this when going to sleep, kicking his legs at me and crying and even in the first stages of sleep he will thrash about and kick and grizzle and arch his back. He’s my third so I’m fairly chilled about it and figured it is just his way as he seems quite happy about it if you get me? It can get a bit embarrassing when we are visiting people though so it’s good to have an idea if what it might be, thanks!

  16. Sara says

    Have you even read all these books are are summarily dismissing as wrong and harmful? I agree that our society has really lost some natural parenting instincts, and I actually have some theories on when and why but I won’t get into that. My point here is, I have read many child rearing books and you are right about many of them. But not all. “Secrets of the Baby Whisper” is pictured at the top of your post, and I assume you have not read it. She is all about listening to your baby and responding to his/her needs, including the need for affection and physical contact. She does not advocate “Crying it out” or other behaviourist methods. Maybe you should pick it up.

    Frankly, you are in the same category as all these other authors. Every one of them (including you) has done research and believes in what they teach. All of you have good points. None of you has the perfect and complete answer and solution to raising babies the “right” way. It’s an opinion. Thank you for sharing, but please don’t dis and dismiss everyone else. Every baby is different. Every parent is different. Every baby/parent combination is different!

    One word about manipulation: To manipulate is simple to try to affect change. A baby cries because he has needs that need to be met. Cause and effect. It is not done maliciously or even intentionally (at first) but a baby very quickly learns what actions elicit a response. It is innocent but it is still manipulation. Everything you do teaches your child something about this world. Be careful what you teach. If you only every give your child attention when she cries, guaranteed she will cry to get attention. If you give her lots of love and attention when she is not crying, she will use that tool less! Anyway, my baby is crying, so I am going to go tend to his needs. :)

    • says

      Sara, as I’ve said to others, while not all books will be relevant for all lessons, they all have some very fatal flaws. Tracy Hogg has breastfeeding advice that is downright wrong and can ruin breastfeeding for women who follow it. When I get to that lesson, it’s where she really comes into play. But even before that, she recommends starting the detachment process immediately upon getting home by putting your baby down. I will fully admit she’s not nearly as bad as Tizzie Hall and some of the others, but the fact remains that people follow her advice to a tee and many that have write of some of the awful experiences because of it. She also advocates having your child sleep alone, and it does involve some crying to get there. I would hope that she would have updated her book if she were still around, but again, it doesn’t change the fact that people read these books and use them as rule-based ways of parenting.

      Now, the other thing is that some of these authors have done NO research. Tizzie Hall comes to mind first – she has a disclaimer that her advice is based on no medical or other research and shouldn’t be taken as such. Is that really good advice for new parents? But yes, every baby is different – I don’t believe I have prescribed rules for parenting, just providing information and research on methods that seem to be getting the shaft from popular resources. Most people who read this blog don’t follow every aspect I mention because not all of them work for them and that’s perfect, but they go into it with the knowledge of what research says, what other cultures do, and what we have done historically and how that affects a baby’s response. My goal is provide research-based information so that parents can use that when making a decision about what works for them and their children. Especially some of the advice that we know to be downright dangerous to babies (like Tizzie Hall and her recommendation that you let your baby vomit in their crib without responding or cleaning it so they don’t learn to vomit as a means of manipulation).

      As for manipulation – yes, if you take the literal sense, babies manipulate. But you and I both know that’s not the meaning behind the word when people talk about letting a baby cry. And I agree that if you ONLY give your child attention when they cry, they will cry. But never have I suggested such a thing and I assume most parents who give any attention when crying also bestow love and touch to their children when they are happy as well. What research has shown though is that responding to your child when they cry REDUCES the likelihood of crying in the future. Children learn but sometimes it’s not as straightforward as you would think.

  17. Sam says

    Great article. My baby is a terrible sleeper and always has been. In desperation, I tried a version of CIO called Verbal Reassurance. Luckily for us it didn’t work and we gave up after hours of crying (which I feel so guilty about).
    As a first time mum leaving overseas I have turned toward books and the internet , most of the advice given just didn’t sit right with me and now I know why!
    I shall continue to carry my baby, breastfeed my baby and respond quickly to his every need.
    Hanging out for your next article, lesson two.

  18. Chris says

    This article makes me angry as both a parent and a scientist. Leaving my parental response to one side for a moment, as an academic I have to say that whilst it is refreshing to see something written on this topic that cites scientific research, the piece is extremely selective in its use of evidence and presents a very biased, oversimplified account of a complex issue. Frankly, if the writer is going to pass her PhD she will need to raise her game a little.

    My main criticism of the piece, and this approach to parenting in general, is that it completely ignores the needs of the parent as a crucial part of the bonding process. To both illustrate my point and highlight the oversimplification of the article, consider a mother suffering from post-natal depression (PND – as do nearly 1/6 women according to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence). She has needs too, and on some occasions these needs may well compete with those of the child. It is important that she is able to eat, sleep and attend to her own psychological well-being. Not to do so may have negative consequences for both herself and her child. Leaving a child to cry may well mean that his or her needs are not immediately being met, but that is because the other party in the attachment/bonding pair is having her (or his) needs met at that moment. This is (I think) an obvious point in the case of PND, but for most parents, on occasion, this conflict occurs and it is not necessarily best for the child’s needs (which any parent is sometimes at a loss to figure out) to be prioritised on each and every occasion.
    The author’s use of various examples from learning theory also leaves a lot to be desired. It is true that children learn through classical conditioning, but the implication that leaving a child to cry on occasion (in the MUCH broader context of a loving parental-child relationship) is likely to result in learned helplessness is without any scientific foundation and extremely offensive to many parents. The classical way of inducing learned helplessness in animal models is using the ‘inescapable electrical shock paradigm’ a pretty unpleasant procedure but one that enables scientists to study various aspects of depression (as essentially this is what it induces in the animal) and he mechanisms of learning. Is the author seriously saying that leaving a child to cry is even remotely akin to this? At an extreme, i.e. where the level of neglect of a child’s needs is abusive and obviously pathological, perhaps talk of learned helplessness would be justified, but otherwise this is a completely inappropriate use of this term.

    One of the most important needs of babies, and indeed all of us, is the need to sleep. The author seems to have completely missed this. Sometimes children cry because they are tired. Reducing your level of interaction with, and stimulation of, a child that needs to sleep is not the same as abandoning them to cry. Also, there are many subtleties to the middle-of the-night moments that occur between upset children and their sleep-deprived parents – it is a false dichotomy to suggest that parents EITHER attend to their needs OR abandon them to their tears. It is difficult for everyone – you do the best you can.

    I could go on, but I’d better wrap up. There are clear implications throughout articles of this kind that if you do not parent in the way advocated you are not meeting your child’s needs. In fact, parents of very young children spend almost all of their time and energy meeting their child’s needs in every way they can conceivably manage. The author seems to be suggesting that if a child is sometimes left to cry for a while (most likely because the parent does not know why they are crying – a situation all parents encounter), the child will learn his or her ‘attachment lessons’ solely from these occasions and will not take any notice of the overwhelming majority of occasions when that child’s needs (for love, warmth, food, a clean bottom, rest…etc.) are rapidly and fully met by a parent. As a scientist, I find that this piece of pseudo-academic writing lacks balance in its use of evidence and does not appreciate the broader ‘parenting’ context within which a child’s needs occur. As a parent, I find it mildly offensive and somewhat ignorant of the realities of, in my case, being a dad who always strives to meet his daughter’s needs simply because I love her.

    • says

      Chris, I appreciate the criticism and let me address a few of the points:

      1) This article is not for parents who use these practices on occasion, but rather a response to the myriad books out there that propose limited responsiveness to children and promote the crying-it-out technique which is not about sleep in the needed sense but about teaching a child a lesson (and one I would continue to argue is not a very good one). I fully understand that most parents do the best they can which is why I get so infuriated when I read non-scientific books advocating methods that have been shown to be detrimental to an infant. I have stated several times on FB and elsewhere that when it comes to PND, a mother has to do what is best for EVERYONE, but that is a case that is not at the heart of these parenting books, but rather something separate. In fact – in other articles, part of what I’ve stressed is the focus on practices that help the entire family, not just the infant (probably why attachment parenting gets somewhat of a bad rap) – see Evolutionary Parenting vs. Attachment Parenting for a fuller understanding.

      2) Learned helplessness. I actually beg to differ. While not taken the extreme of Seligman’s dogs, research has been done on infants in a benign paradigm demonstrating very quick learned helplessness. It is thus not nearly as out there as you would suggest. Furthermore, I personally subscribe to the domain theory of socialization (see Grusec and Davidov, 2010) which acknowledges that different parental behaviours have different effects on infant socialization – responsiveness to distress having different outcomes than love and cuddles during a different period (e.g., play time, or when the infant is not in distress). There’s early evidence supporting this dimensional view of socialization which, if true, implies that not responding to distress (even in the context of a loving relationship) will have certain, less-than-optimal outcomes for an infant.

      Let me reiterate though that this series is not supposed to be a knock at parents who are doing their best, but at those who are supposedly giving “expert” information to parents that contradicts much of the research out there. Yes, there will be cases in which crying-it-out is the option that serves the family best, but rarely will that be the case, and certainly not on a regular basis. Sadly this is what many people take home from books like Save Our Sleep and I stand by everything I’ve written as an introduction to child behaviour and research for those who promote such techniques.

      • Laura says

        I thought this was an excellent article–it provoked lots of interesting responses, that’s for sure! I am so glad that you wrote it. There were things I had been doing wrong, like an ignorant idiot, because of that sort of “advice”, from friends, family, and yes, “experts”. I even bought a downloadable book (for WAY too much money, I might add), searching, in desperation, for an easier answer to my problem. Sleep-training “worked”, as it so often does. But I no longer consider that a success, and I will no longer let my baby cry-it-out. Yes, it can be frustrating sometimes when we as parents don’t know why our babies are crying, or we don’t know why they aren’t settling well or sleeping well. And yes, sometimes, an overtired, overstimulated baby just needs to be put in bed, and sometimes they will cry. But the cry-it-out method, as recommended in so many sleep-training books, can, clearly, be harmful. So for me, this article was a good slap upside the head, and I thank you, Tracy. Parenting techniques like this go against our instincts, and force us to harden our hearts against our babies’ cries. When we know better, we do better.

        • says

          Thank you :) I think you raise the very important distinction that some people have missed and that’s that there will be times a child cries and it’s okay, but what isn’t okay is promoting a *method* that tells parents to ignore their instincts and ignore their child’s needs *regularly*. And of course it’s eternally frustrating when you don’t know what’s wrong :) But sometimes it’s as simple as baby just needing a bit of touch and comfort and that’s it. I think the books often overlook that very real and simple point as well.

    • Laila Simpson says

      Chris, thanks for posting that! It sums up my feelings about this article. As a mum that had a phase of PND following extreme sleep deprivation I can put my hand on my heart and say I’m thankful for advice from Ngala nurses and, not sorry to say so, “The baby whisperer” that gave me a method to guide my child to sleep in her bed, by herself, happily. There were many unhappy nights where I held her and rocked her to sleep where I guilted myself that if I were to leave her to cry I was a failed mum who was teaching her child that to cry too much would mean abandoment. I think attachment parenting is a very loving concept. However, the plain truth is, my baby has a strong bond with me and at 8 months did have the resilience to sleep independently. She just preferred being cuddled to sleep…and back to sleep at 1am…and back to sleep at 3am….and 5am…
      My baby cried for 2 hours straight the first night I decided I wasn’t going to rock her anymore, which sounds horrendous, even though I sat next to her and kept physical contact the whole time. She ran through an orchestra of cries: angry, frustrated, helpless sobbing, tired huffing. I felt terrible. But that was the start of how she learned that she could put herself to sleep. For three nights she fell asleep holding my hand instead of being rocked and within a week she was no longer requiring mum when she phased out of a sleep cycle through the night. Now at 20 months she climbs into bed herself – HAPPILY!. Tracy, your article suggests that what I did to my baby resulted in ‘learned helplessness’ but to me, felt like she learned a valuable life skill: independent sleep associations. And I’m glad I did it. So thanks Tracy Hogg and Ngala, for me your non-evidenced based mumbo jumbo, I mean case-histories, were right on the money.

    • Desiree says

      Thank you!!!
      My husband and I were having a good laugh at the absurdity of this article, but would never have been able to state so eloquently the issues we had with it.

  19. leila says

    Took your article on board but don’t really agree with it. Somehow I’ve managed to raise my 2yr old without having to read any parenting books. Funnily enough I use my instincts. Sometimes my son cries. Not because he needs anything but just because children learn very quickly what gets a response and what doesn’t. I really dislike people who try to warrant their own behaviors by ridiculing or dismissing others. Come on people, you don’t need a book or an article to tell you your doing a good job as a parent! Humans have survived on this planet long enough without referring to biased articles like this one so surely we are doing something right? If you want to hold your child 24/7 then do it or if you want to let them ‘cry it out’ then that’s fine too! You are the parent, no one else!! And no one has the right to judge others!

    • Jespren says

      Wow, really? Parental autonomy is extremely important but “no one has a right to judge another”? So you’re good with the parent who switches their five year old or takes a horsewhip to their teenager? How about the parent who gives their two year old cigarettes? Do you think Child Protective Services should be disbanded?
      The fact is some things in life are good, some are bad. Even in parenting. And it’s not ‘judgemental’ to acknowledge that and try to persuade them to follow a better path.
      I wouldn’t call cry-it-out as truly abusive, certainly not a reason to sever parent from child, but that long term neglect of infant needs is detrimental to the child is clearly evident through both science and society.
      It’s judgemental to say “you hate your children”, to infer what you *want* to infer from another’s actions. But saying “that’s detrimental” is just stating a directly observed truth. No where does this author imply parents (or childhood ‘experts’) hate children, want to do them harm, or seek to do wrong. She says they are misinformed and misinforming anf then offers her proof to try to dissaude others from falling prey to that misinformation.
      You may not agree with her proffered research, you could accuse her of an appeal to authority logic fallacy, you could site competing research, you could simply shake your head and close the browser. But declarative statements that no one can ‘judge’ another on an article that puts forth no judgement just makes you sound like someone who is insecure in their own choices. Note: “sound like” which makes it an observation of the situation, not a judgement on you or your motivations. I have no idea why you felt in necessary to misconstrue what she wrote and respond to it as if it was an attack. But pointing out that you did misconstrue it is a demonstrable fact, not a ‘judgement’.
      I hope you continue to use your good judgement on how you raise your child, because ultimately that is what the author is recommending, that parents use good old common sense and not be led astray by bad advice trotted out by ‘experts’.

  20. Tiffany Wilks says

    Hi there.

    Interesting article. Important to be able to share an “opinion”.

    For me i didnt read books on parenting because i didnt want someone telling me how to parent, I wanted to parent and learn while doing so. I gathered info from those around me, shifted and sorted advice and used gut feelings then parented from there. Chopped and changed, still do, and think that while we hold our own beliefs and ways as individuals that there is no perfect parenting formula. We can only go with and be an advocate for what’s good for us. There are researchers and papers on anything and everything and i think we would be quite silly to take every bit of research as gospel – if they want to prove something they will, regardless of real facts or not. An example is the food we eat. One day something is great for us then the next its not then it is again.

    It all comes down to you and your beliefs, morals and background. My kids were both wonderful sleepers – started sleeping through from 8 weeks for the first and second from 3 weeks. Ofcorse there were nights here and there were things didnt go as planned, however Id assess the situation and react/respond accordingly. I had a routine from the moment we came home from the hospital and i did let both my babies cry (never for longer than 4 minuets) and it worked for me. I have spoken to dozens of midwives/health nurses and they all have an opinion and feeling about what is right and what isnt. However only one has ever said leaving babies to cry hurts them in some way due to a new journal she was reading from the United States. I don’t believe that that’s the case (doesn’t mean I’m right, just right for me) both my kids are happy, social, loving, giving individuals that know without a doubt that they are safe, secure, loved and cared for by their parents.

    I shared your article with one of my midwife friends and she said “Another opinion, another option, more the better”. What she meant by this was that sharing what “we” feel is great and offering info or advice is healthy, but its not for all. Again something for people to shift and sort.

    Happy parenting to all…..lucky to be able to do so : )

  21. Chris says

    Tracy, thanks for responding to my comments. Your first point contains something that I would have liked to have seen more of in your original piece, namely recognition that there is a difference between an evidence based theory of how to parent, and the implementation of the resultant advice. For many parents, a strict adherence to one particular method is simply not possible and putting forward a case that if you don’t follow method X you will in some way fail your child is extremely unhelpful for parents whether there is an evidence base for that approach or not. What’s more there is a certain irony in preaching the virtues of natural parenting without a part of this being an acceptance of the fact that parenting styles, and what works for different parents/children, will of course vary and that this is fine and itself, ‘natural’. I am by no means a Gina Ford (et al.) fan and in general support much of what you say with respect to crying – my issue is really with the form of your argument and the appropriateness of putting this argument across in this forum. You say yourself that your issue is with ‘so called’ experts, so I think it would have been better directed there. It is of course important to disseminate the scientific data on these issues and it is great that you do that, but I would urge you in future articles to remember that in forums like this you are not talking to an audience of scientists who need to be persuaded of the theoretical and evidential merit of your thesis, but to parents who are actually trying their best in what for some (e.g. our PND example) might be difficult circumstances.

    On the subject of evidence, it would also be fairer to acknowledge that many of the research studies in this area necessarily use methodology that makes drawing definitive conclusions (e.g. about what parenting practices lead to which outcomes) very difficult. For the research to have any ecological validity it needs to be conducted in an environment which does not make for controlled experiments of the kind you would need to say X causes Y. This is not a problem (the research is important) but once again when writing about scientific findings the distinction between what is LINKED with what and what CAUSES what needs to be made clear, because these two types of conclusion are very different. Furthermore, whilst particular parenting practices may be beneficial as measured on specific outcomes, there are always many more outcomes that could be (and are not) measured than those that are. Research studies will only ever measure outcomes on a limited set of scales and it is not appropriate to conclude that showing ‘positive’ outcomes on the things that are measured necessarily implies that there are no (un-measured) disadvantages or long term negative effects. This is just the way science is….we need to acknowledge what the data don’t tell us as much as what they do.

    Fundamentalism in parenting styles is as unhelpful as it is in religion. Evidence based (friendly) advice, addressed to those who need it, with support for implementing the better practices, is what is needed here. Gina Ford won’t be reading this forum, so if you want to address this ‘self-declared’ expert, you might need to post your article elsewhere!

    • says

      Chris, while I appreciate the concern about the forum, I will admit that the level to which this post has spread has shocked me. The usual readers of this site were/are well aware of the tone and context with which this was written. I can acknowledge, though, that had I known how far this would spread, there would be a few more caveats included (e.g., about PND). However, I don’t believe in going and changing it all post hoc and I do believe the writing does suggest to whom it’s aimed and so I hope that people can take it within that context (or read the comments to further understand).

      As for the distinction between linked and caused, I agree and disagree. There have been some very compelling experimental studies that do suggest causation and not just correlation (e.g., random assignments for babywearing and breastfeeding/co-sleeping arrangements). And while the limitations you suggest are real, I believe that if we take that too literally, then we simply might as well throw our hands up and not listen to any of the social science research out there. As a social scientist, I know that we can’t measure everything, but many of the studies cited do include outcomes or other practices that may be less than desirable out of the need to control for them. A further note is that many of the studies utilize longitudinal methods which can also imply causation without the experimental design so long as other competing factors have been accounted for (which is the case for several studies on things like responsiveness to distress). And then there is the research on neurological effects of prolonged crying which is simply observational (via EEGs, etc.) but also is quite informative. In short, while I agree that we need to be cognizant of this distinction, I disagree that the research on parenting (taken as a whole) is completely lacking in this regard.

      As to the idea of fundamentalism, I don’t believe that’s what I have been pushing. At least that doesn’t seem to be the case when I see the people on FB who communicate about these practices. I started this to share information on practices that get little to no attention in the popular press and what attention they do get tends to be horribly inaccurate with respect to what research there is out there. Yes, I have a stance on what practices should be promoted as the norm, but like anything, the norm does not imply that it is always followed or for everyone. I also have not had a chance to write all the things that I think would be helpful (like a planned article on PND), and hope that parents who read this understand that.

      But I do want to thank you for the well articulated and thought-out criticisms. I will definitely have them in the back of my head from now on :)

  22. says

    I loved this article so much! Thank you for debunking the “experts”! I know a lot of mothers who will benefit so much from this departure from the night-sleeping, perfectly scheduled baby that apparently exists in baby guide books! I wrote a blog post linking to your Educating the Experts series…I hope you don’t mind, I just think that more parents should be reading this advice!

    Bea xox

  23. Darbi says

    Thank you for writing this article. My second child is on the way, and while I don’t feel I did tons wrong with the first yet, I will make some changes with how I handle the second one’s crying.

    That being said, I am curious about your thoughts on colic. My daughter was extremely colicky from 1 1/2 / 2 months until she was mobile at 6 months. It was a very long and difficult 4 months. I tried everything to soothe her needs – nursing, burping, singing/talking to her, listening to her, playing with her, holding her (sling, moby, front pack, skin-to-skin), swing – you name it! (She was also on Rx for acid reflux, and I had to watch my diet very carefully to avoid foods that would bother her). But she was unconsolable. Her father also had really baby colic as a baby, and I am praying #2 does not. There were times for my sanity I had to put her down and walk out of the room and take deep breaths just to keep myself from crying the whole day through, too. Any thoughts? Once she could crawl, it was like I had a new baby. And she walked at 9 1/2 months and I was thrilled.

    • says

      Colic is interesting because many other cultures don’t have the high rates we do in North America. A couple reasons that seem to crop up:

      1) Diet. You mentioned eliminating foods for reflux, but did you eliminate possible foods that simply irritate the system? For example, my daughter had horrid reactions to dairy. My husband assumed it was colic (his son had it), but our midwife suggested we cut out dairy first (most common problem for babies) and if that didn’t work, soy then wheat (the next two biggest). As soon as the dairy was out of my system (and thus breastmilk), I had a new daughter. She never got fussy again. The fact that crawling helped does suggest a dietary issue though – crawling would have helped her system work through the gas that develops when eating foods that are difficult to digest (and by eating, I mean getting it through breastmilk).

      2) Stimulation. There is work suggesting that the excessive noises, lights, etc. in our society can overstimulate an infant and cause excessive crying. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about it except to try and limit your baby’s exposure to lots of lights and noise.

      3) Colic. While other cultures have far lower rates than we do, it still exists. Some babies having something going on that causes them to scream and we simply don’t know what it is. BUT even when this is the case, be happy knowing that there is research showing that infants who are held and comforted during their distress *even if it doesn’t stop the distress* do not show the same spikes in cortisol that children who are not comforted show.

      Hopefully this helps!!!

  24. Heather says

    I will add to reason #2 (physiological): babies will also not cry when they are in shock from physical pain or trauma, such as that imposed by routine circumcision. This doesn’t relate to the crying at night theme of the article; but I’ve seen parents proudly boast about their newborn’s “toughness” because he didn’t even cry at his circumcision, so it’s worth mentioning. This lack of crying, of course, is not an indication that the baby is tough, doesn’t feel pain, or is not bothered by having part of his body surgically removed under inadequate or no anesthesia. It’s an indication that he has psychologically and physiologically shut down in response to a physical trauma over which he has no control.

    • says

      Very true and a good addition. As you acknowledge, it’s not quite in line with the expert view, but worth discussing nonetheless :)

  25. Ruby says

    This is all well and good and I’m glad you’re sharing it.

    I just think it needs to be considered next to some other other facts: that some mothers are losing their minds from sleep deprivation and their relationships with their spouses and other children are suffering for it. Or some mothers are on the verge of shaking their baby because they are on the brink of insanity. Or that with the baby crying, noone is sleeping anymore.

    I let my baby cry it out for two nights and this did not mean leaving him abandoned. It meant going in at intervals to let him know I was there. Within two nights he was sleeping his nights and my entire family was able to enjoy this wonderful time we have together.

    I’m just sharing this for those reading this who feel like they are crap mothers for doing what so many of us have to do to survive.

    • says

      Ruby, great points and ones that were outside the scope of the intended bit of this article which was really in response to those advocating for the “training” of babies. I did a piece on CIO where I argue that mothers at their wits end may need to use CIO though I would obviously hope that we also work towards change in our society in which families have the support they need to care for themselves and their children!

  26. says

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you Tracy! This is precisely why I was originally motivate to create the Soothing Slumber DVD and write the Sage Parenting book. I figuratively lost my voice speaking out against all of the “experts” espousing personal opinions as official “what is in the best interest of your baby” mandates. I tried to shift my focus to providing another voice – another path for parents to follow.

    I very much appreciate this and also wish to add that you did a nice job of discrediting the misinformed expert market but not the parents. I share your problem with many expert recommendations that they claim that something is in the best interest of your child that isn’t (because it seems to yield the short-term desired results that they can sell). This is different than reaching your breaking point with a lack of sleep and PPD and deciding, in an eyes-wide-open, informed way to do what you need to do to get some more sleep so that you can be a better parent and have weighed that against what is in the best overall interest of your child. These are two different things. You are only chastising the one.

    It is so predatory and the poor babies are the ones who suffer most from their misinformation.

    P.S. I hope you like the Sage Parenting book. :)

  27. Megan says

    I had a baby with colic. my seccond child. 16 hours a day for NINE months. I never tried Cry It Out with her. she was screaming for a reason. yes nothing I did stopped her but I didn’t stop trying. but my father baby sat my children at the time and when she was only 6 weeks old I went back to work. I came home and he told me he didn’t like my 6 week old newborn because she was a spoiled rotting brat and gave him attitude if he tried to put her down. and I was like Dad she is not a brat she is a baby. its so disturbing that people put the blame on the child. they are crying cause something is wrong not to be bratty. older children might be capable of misbehaving but not little babies. they are brand new.

  28. Kristen says

    Hi Tracy, I thought this was interesting and thought provoking. Genuinely interested in whether you think I should be picking up my 11-month-old when she cries briefly in the middle of the night. Many nights (but not all) she will wake and whine or cry for about 20 minutes or so before going back to sleep. Thanks!

    • says

      If it’s 20 minutes, absolutely! Often the recommendation is to see if they settle in a minute or two if it’s not hysterical crying, but any longer and they are trying to communicate, even though they will eventually give up on that.

  29. Lanny says

    OMG, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is so well-written, articulate and convincing! :) It’s time we realized what we’ve been fed with – lies, puritanical views etc. It’s time we revolutionized the way we rear our children and considered them as humans.

  30. Dissapointed says

    If you are going to educate other ‘experts’ I suggest you read and understand their books first. Tizzie Hall IS NOT an advocate for CIO and neither are the millions of supporters of her methods (like me). I am so sick of biased, uneducated, scaremongering opinions which only ensures mothers feel inadequate and judged.

    I suggest you get off your soapbox and do some objective reading.

  31. Ben says

    Maybe this author should wait until she gets her doctorate… Her writing and discursive argument wouldn’t hold up to peer review…

    Signed: actual holder of a doctorate

  32. Aina says

    Yes and no. While I fully agree with what’s written I don’t think it is applicable to the modern life, as sad as it is. How will we perform during the day at work in order to earn the money for the stable future of that very kid if all we do during the night is respond to a toddler’s cry who thinks he wants the breast every hour even when he’s over a year old? How do we “protect” our personal space from turning into an endless toddlerdom when there are so many roles to assume – a breadwinner, if not the main one, a wife (comes with tons of housework to do!), a friend, a learner (I still want to be able to read!), and maybe a mother to a much older kid who needs a long serious talk at times? If I spend my days responding to my younger son’s crying, that’ll be all I do during the day (and I’ve been very attentive to his needs during the first year) and then I cannot be a part of the society we live in. To be able to raise a baby in a beautiful instinctive way you describe, I either have to live in a forest or have a rich husband, housemaid and a cook. Which is what it is – unrealistic!!!

    • says

      I don’t know – we’re not rich, no housemaid, no cook, my husband works and I’m a full-time student, and we manage okay responding to our daughter’s needs (and older son’s too). I think by simply assuming it’s possible, we find ways to make it possible. Now this doesn’t mean we give them everything they WANT, but that’s a different scenario.

  33. Aina says

    Unfortunately in my case, in between commuting, working, and doing the majority of the chores, I barely get 10-15min a day to cuddle with my son, let alone to respond to every cry.

    By the way, in many countries with warmer climate, they even say a baby should wear one layer less than an adult, not one layer more, so definitely overheating is recognized as a dangerous condition!

    And more, I know what I’d say here may sound harsh, but I have never ever purchased a single book on parenting, even though I’ve been advised on that a lot from many friends when we were dealing with months and months of sleepless nights or tantrums. Why on earth do people buy them at all? Somehow it felt and still feels wrong – I should be able to know how to raise my kid, right, without the “experts'” advice. It’s not something I have to study about unless I want to work with the kids of others, at daycare etc, earning money this way.

    Of course now and then I’d refer to the Internet, mainly “babycenter”, but I realized that if there’s anything I absolutely need to know, like not giving water to a baby till he’s 6mo, it’s already written in the hospital pamphlets.

    But apparently that market is bringing lots of profit to the writers – people do buy their books a lot! Is it that parents have lost all the confidence whatsoever? As long as the safety rules are followed, and whether one lets his child cry or not – and not cause the parent knows about cons and pros of CIO or even the concept itself, but just cause it suits their lifestyle – I think there’s absolutely nothing substantial one can learn from any of this kind of books that you rightfully criticize.


  1. […] Recently one mama commented on another of my blog posts that Evolutionary Parenting is a great resource for parents seeking research-based advice regarding the effects of mainstream parenting “advice” on normal infant behaviour. I follow EP on Facebook but hadn’t read her specific series on ‘Educating the Experts’, which the mama who commented on my post had provided a link to. Having now followed the link myself I felt that it was worth me sharing the link to this amazing site here on my blog. EP says everything I would like to say about crying, sleep training and schedules, but far better as she has the training (and, thus, the authority) to do so. Below I have provided the link to EP’s first lesson for the self-proclaimed parenting gurus; crying. There are several other lessons though and you can find those by following the links from lesson one. Go check it out: […]

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