Facts for Living: Do I let my baby “cry it out” or not?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1I’ve been preparing to teach some parenting classes and considering issues/challenges that new parents face. It’s no doubt that one of them is, “do I let my baby cry it out?” If you Google “do I let my baby cry it out”, you’ll get a myriad of responses, many of them are not based on child development or research, but on popular opinion.

Crying is the only way your baby can communicate with you and from the moment your baby is born, he begins to form expectations about the world. He can learn that the world is a safe, predictable environment where growth and exploration is possible. He can also learn that the world is scary, out of control and no one is there to meet his needs.

Your baby does not have the ability to soothe herself or take care of herself. Crying is the only way she can tell you she needs her diaper changed, is hungry, is too hot or cold, has a tummy ache or is in pain, or stirred up by too much noise or activity. When their cries are ignored, babies fail to learn that they have any control over how they feel. But, a consistent response teaches babies that they have some way of helping themselves feel better, by getting you to respond. Eventually your baby will be able to soothe herself.

Many parents have heard or believe that if you respond every time your baby cries, you will spoil her. You are not going to spoil your baby by giving her attention or by meeting her needs. In fact, if you answer calls for help, your baby will probably cry less overall. Sometimes the longer a baby cries, the more upset he or she becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to calm the baby.

If your baby is crying and you’ve met all his basic needs (changed the diaper, fed, burped, changed positions), there are still many ways you can help calm him, most have to do with providing reassuring contact and a pleasant environment. Try one or more of the following:

  • Rock your baby gently in your arms while standing or sitting in a rocking chair.
  • Gently stroke her head.
  • Wrap baby snug in a blanket.
  • Sing or talk.
  • Play soft music.
  • Walk (in arms or stroller).
  • Ride in a car.
  • Change locations (from light to dark and from quiet to less quiet or vice-versa).

Crying spells don’t last forever, but it can bring tears to your eyes as a parent and you may feel helpless or become frustrated. Some parents may even get mad at their baby and want to shake them. If you are feeling frustrated and afraid you’ll lose control, take a break, even if it means putting your baby in the crib and walking away for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself, or if someone is available, ask for help while you regain your composure.

Dealing with a crying baby is one of the great challenges facing you as a new parent. Remember that babies were given the ability to cry for a reason. Their moans, shrieks and howls are their first attempts to talk to you. Remember to stay calm and remind yourself that crying is just a part of the healthy development of your child.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].


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