Crying Babies

modified 2018-10-11

Crying Babies

In short:

Looks at responding to crying babies

Insights, lessons learnt:

Before 10 months, should attend to crying baby asap.

TODO: Brazelton 1992, Oakes 1994 (understanding of cause effect at 8-10months)

Highlights:

Crying is a baby’s primary way to communicate. In the first few days of life, a newborn’s cries are in reaction to both internal and external stimuli with the purpose of strengthening the heart and lung function. After the baby is born, her cries will be in response to needs such as temperature change, hunger, and pain or discomfort (Brazelton 1962).

The sense of trust that develops when a baby’s needs are responded to is the basis for attachment. Attachment is the bond that forms between a primary caregiver, most often the mother, and a baby. John Bowlby (1970) recognized that on this foundation of trust and security, a child’s emotional life is built.

Bowlby’s attachment theory came from his work with children that showed deviant, or troubled behavior. While working with teens, Bowlby found striking similarities in their family histories. Many of the teens had unstable home lives in their early years and more specifically, they had no stable mother figure.

The cries may indicate that the baby is hungry, uncomfortable, lonely, in pain, overstimulated, or tired. A baby’s cries always carry a message, so the caregiver must evaluate every cry for the meaning behind it. If the baby has recently been fed and has had proper rest but draws up her legs as the intensity of the cry grows, the caregiver might decide that the baby is in pain.

Young infants do not have enough experience to soothe themselves when they are upset. If a baby wakes up in a darkened room and his stomach is hurting because he is hungry, his cry is a cry of panic and should be attended to quickly.

Infants between the age of birth and 3 months are in a transition period in which they are moving from reflexes as a means of survival to a more organized way of processing information (Berne 2006). A baby’s reflexes and early movements are controlled by the brain stem (Gogtay et al. 2004), which is located at the base of the brain where the spinal cord connects to the brain. During periods of intense crying, the brain stem can be damaged. Bruce Perry’s research (1997) explains how this damage occurs and the effect it can have on a person in later years. The brain stem controls the release of adrenaline, a hormone that moves the body into quick action when danger or excitement is present. He found that continual stress (such as when a baby is continually left to cry alone) overstimulates the release of adrenaline and in time can cause an overactive adrenaline system.

Hewlett (1996) found that American children often have lower self-confidence than non-Western children. This may be a result of less secure attachments in infancy. Commons and Miller (1998) feel that American parents are on the wrong track when they resist being attentive to their infants for fear that they will become overly dependent on the parent. They feel that their research supports that strong attachments in infancy will make children more secure and ultimately, better able to form healthy relationships in adulthood.

In considering the possibility of spoiling a baby, the caregiver needs to understand that until babies reach the point where they have even a basic understanding of cause and effect, usually around the age of 8 to 10 months (Brazelton 1992, Oakes 1994), babies will not associate their crying with the caregiver’s response as something within their control. Babies understand, only on a primitive level, that when they cry someone takes care of them, or they will receive the message when their cries are ignored, that no one takes care of them.